Recipes and Food Stories from the African Diaspora
By Toni Tipton Martin: On Christmas Eve 2011, NPR’s Morning Edition shared a sample of the 2,368 minutes of messages received on the Hidden Kitchens’ listener phone line over the preceding six months — stories that spoke not only of the phenomenal ability of food to bring people together for fellowship, but as a mysterious, unifying force that evokes “memory, a bond, a good story.”
In our homes, honoring special occasions with food — from Kwanzaa’s dishes of the African diaspora to Christmas cookies and Valentine’s chocolates — is an age-old tradition. Our ancestors imbued everything from corn shuckings to emancipation celebrations with favorite dishes chosen according to the seasonal harvest long before Dr. Karenga made the practice a formal affair. And, when the editors of eight prominent food magazines declined to publish an article proposed by independent foodways scholar Howard Paige entitled, “What Black People Like to Eat on Holidays,” he published the story as a book himself to preserve the riches of our culinary legacy.
With these folks as inspiration, and as the taste of the 2012 Kwanzaa and holiday seasons fade, my eyes are fixed on the Martin Luther King Jr. holiday. For the past three years, I have been part of a grassroots outreach that is rekindling the pie social as a a new culinary expression that honors Dr. King’s legacy the way that mint juleps are a hallmark of Derby Day. On this day, the intoxicating aroma of fresh baked pie wafts through the air inviting family and friends to come together at the table, enjoy pie while sharing memories, and to enact peace, not just on the MLK holiday, but everyday.
Pie is the perfect expression of Dr. King’s message of inclusivity, equality, and the “beloved community.” Pie can be enjoyed by anyone. It is round and filled with diverse ingredients. It is an American tradition, but savory pies also are common around the globe, from French quiche, Latin empanadas and Indian samosas to British and Aussie meat pies. And, pie is easy. This new food custom is similar in spirit to America’s Sunday Supper, which invites the community to gather over food and host conversations that lead to personal actions.
At the same time, a Peace Through Pie social also honors the African-American women who cooked in America’s kitchens, nurtured our character and salved our wounds. From their pulpits at the kitchen table, black cooks served this country as agents of reconciliation, bringing people of diverse backgrounds together to enjoy their food — a most important characteristic to remember today in the glare of the fictional women of the book and film The Help who served pie with the intent to harm.
Together, with the principles of Dr. Karenga, the inspiring words of Dr. King, and the visages of the women who nourished our hearts and souls, I am looking toward MLK Day 2013 in Michigan with a photo exhibit of black cooks from my upcoming book and blog, The Jemima Code, Peace Pie, and sharing hopes and dreams that help us recognize ourselves in each other. “The Ladies” and I will huddle around the table with Ari Weinzweig of Zingerman’s Community of Businesses, Jan Langone of the Clements Library at the University of Michigan and their guests, in conversations that make room for everyone. Like the Kwanzaa celebration, this casual gathering will provide another opportunity for us all to look back and see the ways that our rich culinary history shapes and improves our lives for tomorrow.
Before you put those baking dishes away and set off on your New Year’s diet resolutions, why don’t you plan to gather with special people, practice respectful listening, embrace differences, and encourage all voices to be heard — Peace through Pie.
Toni grew up surrounded by strong, compassionate women who nurtured their families, served their communities, and cooked really delicious food – all while working outside of their homes, but she was disheartened as a journalist and culinary historian to discover their caricature in history and literature. With her books, classes, and lectures Toni accomplishes her career ambition to reclaim the reputation of these legendary cooks. She also is leading a national peace initiative that is rekindling the age-old tradition of the pie social as an edible monument that honors these unsung heroes of the kitchen while fulfilling Dr. Martin Luther King’s dream of a “Beloved Community.” To learn more, visit ToniTiptonMartin.com. Follow her on Facebook and Twitter.
In the comment section below, tell us about your favorite pie.
The word "Kwanzaa" comes from the phrase, "matunda ya kwanza" which means "first-fruits." Kwanzaa's extra "a" evolved as a result of a particular history of the Organization Us. It was clone as an expression of African values in order to inspire the creativity of our children. In the early days of Us, there were seven children who each wanted to represent a letter of Kwanzaa. Since kwanza (first) has only six letters, we added an extra "a" to make it seven, thus creating "Kwanzaa." To learn more about Kwanzaa, visit the Official Kwanzaa Website.