This Food History/Background section is meant to provide information and anecdotes about foods in the following categories: Rice, Beans, & Peanuts, Soups and Stews, Main Dishes and Vegetable Dishes, and Snacks/Street Foods. Links are provided at the end of each section leading to the next category.
I’ve provided the People, Places and Events link on this page to take you where you will find sources for more background info on foods, cookbook recommendations, Chef bios, events, and more. http://africainourkitchen.com/?page id=2798
Beans and rice have been cultivated for thousands of years and are eaten all over the world. Beans coupled with rice provide close to a complete protein. There are hundreds of varieties of beans originating in Asia, Africa, the Americas and Europe. The cowpea (black-eyed pea) and pigeon pea are the most well-known beans that came to us from Africa. Most of the kinds commonly eaten fresh or dried came originally from the Americas.
Sitting around the dinner table with friends from various parts of the Caribbean one Christmas, I asked what foods were an absolute necessity as part of the Christmas menu in their homes. Number one was rice and beans (peas), whether they were from a Spanish, French, Portuguese, or English-speaking background.
I learned to cook Caribbean style rice and beans from my mother-in-law. Her Puerto Rican rice and beans introduced a new flavor profile to my cooking repertoire called sofrito. My friends from Guyana and vacations to Jamaica brought the flavor of coconut to my rice and beans.
As a cereal grain, rice is the most widely consumed staple food for a large part of the world’s human population. African rice has been cultivated for 3500 years. Between 1500 and 800 BC, African rice spread from its original center, the Niger River delta, and extended to Senegal. Its cultivation declined in favor of the Asian variety which was introduced to East Africa and spread westward
In my house we ate rice with butter and sugar for breakfast. My exposure to rice and beans as a dinner entree came when I was about four years old. My neighbors were from South Carolina and lived downstairs. There was always a pot of rice on their stove along with good smelling and tasting food; black-eyed peas, collard greens, cornbread, peach cobbler, banana pudding, etc. My mom told me they were “Geechee” and that’s why they always ate rice and talked funny.
Many years later I would learn about “Geechee” (Gullah) culture and food ways. The Gullah people are direct descendents of enslaved Africans brought here from the rice growing regions of west Africa. The Gullah culture is evident in the Sea Islands and Lowcountry of the Carolinas, Georgia and Florida. If you would like more information regarding Gullah/Geechee culture visit; www.gullahgeecheecorridor.org.
The Caw Caw Interpretive Center, made up of several former rice plantations just outside of Charleston, S.C., has a complete model demonstrating how rice was cultivated during the 18th and most of the 19th century. Miniature models allow you to see how the earthen dikes, rice trunks, and canals were the same methods used in west Africa. For more information visit; http://www.ccprc.com/1380/Cultural-History
Peanuts (or peanut butter) are used in so many recipes throughout Africa that I had to add some background information on them. I thought the peanut originated in Africa, but did some research and found out the following.
The peanut plant originated in South America. Discovery of 7,600 year old fossilized peanut hulls in the Ñanchoc Valley of Peru indicates the importance of peanuts to ancient South Americans.
After Portuguese explorers arrived in Brazil in 1500, they carried peanuts from South America to Western Africa. Peanuts were quickly accepted by African growers due to the similarity of peanut plants to the native bambara groundnut. Bambara groundnuts, and peanuts are both subterranean legumes. Peanuts largely replaced bambara in Africa.
1769 is the earliest documented account of peanuts in the North American British colonies. Peanuts were likely brought to North America by enslaved Africans from both Africa and the Caribbean before the USA existed.
Peanuts provide food, oil, and seed in a natural, protective shell. Peanut plants grow well in moderate soil, require little attention, and replenish the soil with nitrogen. Dried peanuts can be stored for months, and transported long distances without spoiling.
Humans have cultivated, and eaten peanuts for thousands of years, because they are easy to grow, flavorful, nutritious, and transportable. Few new world plants have integrated themselves into the recipes, and cultures of the old world as determinedly as the tiny peanut.
Peanut information source: http://www.boiled-peanut-world.com/peanut-plant.html
Soups and Stews