Soul Food was started by freedom seekers surviving off the land – CBS Pittsburgh

PITTSBURGH (KDKA) — Most of us know that western Pennsylvania was a key part of what was called the Underground Railroad, the loose network of people who were anti-slavery and helped seekers of freedom to survive harsh conditions as they headed north.

Sometimes freedom seekers were forced to survive off the land, and some of the things they invented still make their way to our dinner tables today.

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You know it as the movement of slaves moving from south to north. You’ve heard stories of Harriet Tubman helping to guide freedom seekers to freedom in Canada. For many though, it wasn’t a question of moving on, but rather of surviving.

For many, they refused to live in the harsh conditions of the plantations and opted to survive by living off the land just out of reach of the slave owners. They stayed to stay in touch with family and loved ones.

“The majority of them have never left the locality where they were enslaved. Many of them fled into the woods or into the swamps,” said Dr. Samuel Black, director of African-American programs at the Heinz History Center.

Black says the beginning of what is now known as soul food began with freedom seekers surviving on what they could get.

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“Those who escaped into the woods or an area where they were enslaved left notes and messages of some kind to let the slaves still on the plantation know where they were and those still on the plantation would leave food and other items and they’ll come get this food at night,” Black said.

From stolen chickens to table scraps, anything usable was passed on and then often mixed with what freedom seekers could find themselves, from foraging for local plants to stealing fruits and vegetables straight from the vine. Things like peanuts, okra, sweet potatoes, and rice were integral to their survival.

“African meals are recognized as all-in-one meals. So stews, soups and other things are cooked that way and not separately,” Black said.

“You talk about the basis of what we call soul food. It’s really derived from traditional African diets,” he said.

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It’s just another part of black history that continues to fill us today with more than enough to pass on to future generations.

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