I was born and raised white. For those who know me this isn’t a surprise. I’m of German and English stock and while Mom was a great cook, the kind and variety of food she served was less than, shall I say, ‘colorful’?
White potatoes, either mashed or baked, were staples on our dinner plates. One of my favorite Sunday dinners was Mom’s noodles with beef tips . . . cream-hued egg noodles served over white mashed potatoes. We ate our share of pork, ‘the other white meat,’ often with sauerkraut . . . which of course is white. And I don’t remember much in Mom’s spice rack other than salt, pepper, sage, cloves and . . . ? So a chance to sample authentic soul food? Of course I went!
The Cook-Off is in its 3rd or 4th year and this year raised money for the Emergency Textbook Fund for the students at USC-L. The word was you had to get there early or you might not get any food. I arrived at 11:29 for the 11:30 opening and it was already standing room only.
The competition was between six groups – Comporium, Founders Federal, An Expression of Taste, Leroy Springs Catering, USC-L Diabetes Education Center and USC-L Student Affairs. Each had their own soul food menu and decorated their area to fit the theme. Eaters visited each station however, whenever, and as often as they wished.
First on my plate was a strip of smoked hog jowls. It was mighty tasty. Think of a thick, crispy slice of bacon. Also on this first plate – yes first, there were three – was a BBQ pork rib, creamy macaroni and cheese, corn bread and deep green collards. A waiter with a sampling of sweet potato pone also made a stop at our table about this time.
The second plate held the fried dill pickle-still a bright green under the tan batter, BBQ shrimp, flank steak, red beans and rice, and peach cobbler. And finally the third plate held something a bit healthier in a salmon patty, but the rest of the plate was filled with shrimp and grits swimming in herbed butter, spicy hoppin’ john, a short rib, and more collards. Oh! And a delicious cold peach soup.
Somewhere on these plates I also tasted two kinds of pulled pork – one with a tangy vinegar-based sauce, the other with a peppery white sauce – banana pudding, slaw, baked beans, red-skinned potato salad, another version of mac and cheese, a hush puppy, and a deviled egg.
Mix all those tastes, textures and aromas together, add a helping of soul and hip-hop music in the background that had people up and dancing and what a lunch we had! I usually tend toward a vegetarian diet but today was, as my dad says, ‘a special day’ and as a writer I’m always on the look-out for new experiences. Today’s Black History Month Soul Food Cook-Off was a treat in many ways.
But I still passed on the pigs’ feet.