How Hoecakes Mark the Endurance & Strength of Black Americans

During the summers when my father’s mother came to visit our family, she often cooked unforgettable soul food. Her bill of fare during those months included candied yams, mashed potatoes, cobblers, and cornbread. Born in Columbia, South Carolina, durin…

During the summers when my father’s mother came to visit our family, she often cooked unforgettable soul food. Her bill of fare during those months included candied yams, mashed potatoes, cobblers, and cornbread. Born in Columbia, South Carolina, during the Great Depression, when Jim Crow laws were still in effect, my grandmother knew well the traditional practices and importance of African American cuisine. Through one dish, in particular, she took it upon herself to mark the strength and survivorship that comes with Black roots—she’d mix up a simple batter, fire up the stove, and make us hoecakes.

Doused in a thick syrup—my grandmother used Alaga Original Cane Syrup—hoecakes are a point of pride in the African American community. The dish has a simple ingredient lineup, with cornmeal as its core, and often includes milk and eggs. Today’s hoecakes are fried with oil in a skillet; but the name is a hint at origin, a reminder of our ancestors’ abilities to make something whole out of the scraps we were given. According to my grandmother, the term “hoecakes” was used because the cakes were cooked on a shovel, or hoe, over an open flame. Their very existence is another example of perseverance and required adaptability of enslaved people, whose resources were scant. This mythos behind the dish (and its etymology) was upheld through tales told by many others in the African American community.

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Cuban-Chinese Arroz Frito Is a Reminder Of A Complex Past

Ask a Cuban-American for a traditional family recipe and you’ll find a common source of laughter. After all, years of training as tiny sous chefs to our abuelas and mamas have taught us that Cuban food (largely considered a peasant cuisine in the culin…

Ask a Cuban-American for a traditional family recipe and you’ll find a common source of laughter. After all, years of training as tiny sous chefs to our abuelas and mamas have taught us that Cuban food (largely considered a peasant cuisine in the culinary world,) is first and foremost about learning to adjust for which ingredients one might have on hand, as well as the preferences of who is cooking and eating. In fact, it seems that if there has ever been a rule to follow precisely when it comes to cooking a Cuban dish, it is to have a grasp of the history behind the meal you’re about to serve, as it has had such an influence on your identity. While being encouraged to measure out cups of rice and seasonings for dishes like ropa vieja and Moros y Cristianos by handfuls and finger pinches, young Cuban-Americans learn the essential lessons of their island country’s extensive, and often unexpected, past.

For me, a first generation-American by way of my mother (she fled Cuba along with her parents and siblings during the Revolution,) the most impressionable lesson about our island country’s culture lies in one of my favorite meals: arroz frito, a Cuban classic with Chinese roots.

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