Good food brings people together. While the primary purpose of food is to feed and nourish the body, good food brings people together, creating bonds, laughter, and memories.
The Church Mother’s Cookbook is more than just recipes, cooking tips, and recommendations on meals. It is a book that talks about the Church Mother as a living, breathing book of knowledge, where recipes originate from generations of orally inherited traditions formed in the kitchen.
In the Black community, Sunday dinners after church service is a much-anticipated and beloved tradition. More than just feeding members of the congregation, it is a place where Church Mothers do their magic. They not only cook their most scrumptious meals, but it is the place where they serve God and the people, as well as continue traditions that are passed on from generation to generation.
This cookbook has gathered together a collection of interesting recipes straight from the book of knowledge of Church Mothers all over the United States. These incredible recipes, which have never been documented before, are meant for chefs, home cooks, and for just about anyone who wants to bring the warmth and delicious experience of soul food right into their homes.
We’ve interviewed a great number of Church Mothers, who have generously blessed us with their time-honoured secret recipes, exclusively kept within their families, but are not being shared to the world. These are not your typical recipes, mind you. But these are heirlooms and signature recipes carved with a signature touch from each of the Church Mothers we’ve had the privilege of gaining wisdom from.
More than just recipes for Sunday dinners, The Church Mother’s Cookbook touches your soul. encourages your spirituality, and inspires you to learn and practice the art of cooking typically mastered by the mothers of the African American community.
The Church Mother
Who is the Church Mother and why do they carry so much wisdom, especially when it comes to cooking soul food?
Well, the Church Mother is what they usually call the elderly women in African American churches, who display the epitome of a wise, knowledgeable, compassionate, and warm elder member of the church.
Church Mothers are even mentioned in the Bible, in Titus 2:3-5, which states:
“Older women likewise are to be reverent in behaviour, not slanderers or slaves to much wine. They are to teach what is good, and to train the young women to love their husbands and children, to be self-controlled, pure, working at home, kind, submissive to their own husbands, and that the Word of God may not be reviled.”
Since the black church is the social hub of the black community, Church Mothers have great influence over the community with regard to faith, discipline, culture, and of course, food. They serve not only the church with their participation in ministries, but also in cooking Sunday dinners within the church, as well as in their homes for their own families.
It is an honour, therefore, to learn from these Church Mothers, not only in terms of how we live our lives, but also with cooking delicious food for the congregation, and for the family.
Also known as “Big Mama,” Church Mothers are becoming rarer and rarer in today’s time. The criteria for an elder member of the church to be appointed the title of “Church Mother” is becoming more difficult for the modern woman to meet. A Church Mother must not only devote her time to the church and its ministries but also reach out to the young mothers, as well as the youth, in terms of guidance and spiritual support.
This is why when you encounter a Church Mother and have the opportunity to learn from her, you should grab the opportunity to immerse yourself in their knowledge and experiences because the stories and teachings that come from her can never be fulfilled by simply reading a book. Her invaluable experience and wisdom are unparalleled.
The Blessings of Learning to Cook from a Church Mother
With this cookbook centred around the recipes from Church Mothers, you might be asking why it’s an honour to learn from the privilege of these elder women. If you are not familiar with Black churches, then you might have no idea why learning from these women is invaluable.
To give you a short understanding as to why it’s a privilege to learn to cook from Church Mothers, here is what you need to know about them:
- Church Mothers are usually over the age of 70. Their age provides them with the knowledge and experience of many generations. They have children and grandchildren and carry with them the wisdom of the world. They have incredible stories to tell, and the recipes and cooking tips they hold have been passed on from their parents, and grandparents. Can you imagine the amount of information and knowledge they carry? Church Mothers have more than 70 decades of information and wisdom, both from their own experiences and also the knowledge that has been passed on to them.
- Church Mothers are dedicated to the church. They earn their appointed distinctions through many years of dedication, prayer, worship, and selfless sacrifice to the ministries of the church. They have great knowledge of the Bible and have superb oratory talents that allow them to become role models, counsellors, and educators of the congregation. Not only will you learn to cook the most delicious soul food, but you will also learn about religion, spirituality, and the godliest ways to live your life.
- Church Mothers strengthen the family. They are obligated to show younger women the spiritual ways on how to promote healthy family lives. They guide these women and youth, steering them away from behaviours that can cause trouble in the home. They teach mothers, wives, and young women the proper ways to behave within the family, and how to manage households, which can include cooking for the family.
As matriarchs of the community, Church Mothers are not only some of the most distinguished members of the community but also some of the world’s greatest cooks, harbouring recipes from many generations before them.
The History of Soul Food
Soul food is one of the most popular and recognized types of cooking in the United States. Featuring typical African American meals that come from the Deep South, which is collectively the states of Georgia, Alabama, and Mississippi, soul food is typically regarded as having the “taste of home,” the “taste of tradition,” and reminds people of good, cosy, and delicious homemade food.
The term “soul food” wasn’t used until the 1960s when civil rights and black nationalist movements saw many Black Americans wanting to carve their path in the American cultural legacy. The terms “soul sister,” “soul brother,” and “soul music” were used to define African American characteristics, which then included the food. And thus, the term “soul food” was born.
Church Mothers who cook Sunday dinners in the church or in their homes typically prepare soul food for the congregation or for their families at home. Their soul food recipes stick to tradition, which has been orally passed on from previous generations.
We say “orally,” because the origins of soul food came from the era of the slave trade when African Americans were prohibited to learn to read and write, and so, they would share their knowledge and traditions through stories and word of mouth. These recipes are inculcated in the hearts and minds of the Church Mothers, pinching a salt or seasoning here and there, tasting the dish itself, and using their very own judgment and tastes to determine if the dish is ready or not. The use of cookbooks by African American elders in the kitchen is almost nonexistent. They prepare food from experience and knowledge that has been passed on to them.
In the time of the Transatlantic slave trade, enslaved Africans were fed with meagre food rations which were low in flavour, in quality and nutritional value. To make their food more appetizing, they would adapt African food traditions to what was available. Oftentimes, they would be fed with meat byproducts, such as intestines, the head, brain, and other lower-quality parts of meat. They would use these meats and add seasoning, as well as vegetables that they would grow themselves, to prepare better dishes.
There were four key ingredients to soul food during this time, which were:
Rice is not indigenous to America. Rice was fed to the enslaved Africans on board the slave ships, and they replanted them on American soil.
Okra is also not indigenous to America, as they were brought from African countries, such as Ethiopia, during the 18th century through slave ships as well. This slimy and green vegetable is used as a soup thickener and can be added to stews and rice dishes. Gumbo, which is a rich stew typically added with pork or seafood and served with rice, is a popular soul food dish that features okra.
The common method of preserving meat in the past was salting and smoking. This job was usually done by enslaved Africans, and the process was later on adapted to preparing meat-by products given to them as their food raions. They would create a mixture of hot red peppers and vinegar and used this to add flavour to the pork by-products that were given to them by their masters. The cheapest and least desired cuts of meat commonly given to enslaved Africans included the head of the pig, the ribs, feet, and internal organs. Making do with what they had, they would grill these cuts of meat with the seasoning, and this basic BBQ sauce has become the staple sauce in soul food today.
And of course, the veggies. A typical soul food meal consists of a vegetable side dish. These boiled greens would be cooked in pork fat and added seasoning. The leftover juice, which is called “potlikker,” would be used as a dip for cornbread. This style of eating is often seen in many African nations, such as Nigeria and Ethiopia, where a practice of dipping a starchy piece of food into a sauce or meat-gravy is commonplace.
Today, the perfect example of a soul food meal includes these staples:
- Entree – Usually fried chicken or BBQ ribs
- Side Dish – Black-eyed peas, macaroni and cheese, boiled greens
- Beverage – “Red Drink”
- Dessert – Banana pudding, peach cobbler, sweet potato pie
Soul Food and Sunday Dinners
In Black communities, and typically after church, soul food is served for Sunday dinners. Church Mothers would wake up early in the morning or even as early as 3 am to start preparing the after-church Sunday feast.
This tradition goes way back to the era of enslaved Africans, who would receive their food rations on a Saturday night. They would typically have a Sunday dinner feast once they had gathered together the rations, and after church (the only place where they felt free), they would gather together, eat, talk freely, and laugh till their stomachs hurt. Sunday dinner was the only time of the week when enslaved Africans got to enjoy life, spend time with family, and indulge in the resources that were given to them, no matter how meagre.
In modern times, after church events usually end with Sunday dinners where Church Mothers take over and prepare the most special soul food they can make. In the privacy of their own homes, it is a time to get the family together, take turns helping in the kitchen, and sit down on one table as a family. The usual BBQ ribs, mac and cheese, and greens would be prepared with more passion and love, and dessert would be served with the sweetest and most delicious pies.
Black folks love eating together because they love to cook and eat. It also provides optimal family time, where stories are shared, memories are made, and a sense of belongingness and tradition is created.
Church Mothers require their children, their grandchildren, and even cousins and aunts to join the weekly Sunday dinners. This is the place and time where younger generations can learn the traditional and generational recipes that have been passed on from their ancestors.
Today, you can find many soul food cookbooks, but when it comes to down-home cooking, no one does it right than Church Mothers who blend their spiritual teachings and experiential wisdom to the people they serve.
Soul food is more than just a cosy dinner at home or a delicious treat. Soul food with Church Mothers is about time at the table, a time when family, love, belongingness, and tradition are practised, shared, and continued.