Celebrating black history through food

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Today is the first day of the rest of our lives.  In looking forward we can’t help but to look backwards.  To that extent, during the month of February we celebrate Black History Month in America.  It is hard to imagine what American History would be without great contributions of black folks.  In fact, Black History is American History.  But long before we celebrated the greats like Martin Luther King, Jr., there were freedom fighters that have gone unnamed.

Yesterday, we celebrated Black History Month at the Calvary Baptist Church here in Norwalk.  I decided to share some stories of what kept those unsung and unnamed freedom fighters alive.  In looking back at my family’s history having grown up in the Caribbean, it was clear to me that food was a huge part of our lives back then as it is now.

Today, we celebrate culture through food.  We love to sit and laugh and enjoy each other’s company over a great meal.  The late Anthony Bourdain shared his travels around the world through food in many cultures on his CNN television show.  The history of what food has meant to so many people around the world is very rich.

Food served Sunday in Calvary Baptist Church. (Contributed)

I decided to share some of the rich traditions of food with the Calvary Baptist Church, and we enjoyed learning as much as we enjoyed eating.  On the menu among other things was Johnny Cake and Salt Fish.  These two items helped sustain many of the enslaved people during days long past.  Not only do we still enjoy the foods today, but learning the history of the food is very fulfilling.

We started our discussion of the foods with Johnny Cake.  As we bit into this amazing food, we talked about its history, and we enjoyed learning and eating.

What is a Johnny Cake?  A johnnycake is a Caribbean version of a fried dumpling. It was originally called a journey cake because it was made and packed as a lunch and snack for plantation workers about to embark on long journeys.

My grandfather would tell me stories of how he and his parents would journey into the cane fields and cut sugar cane all day.  What they would eat for lunch was fried dumplings, or as he called them, Journey Cakes.  Today the food item is known by different names depending on what island you are on.  In Jamaica they simply call them fried dumpling, in Trinidad they call them fry bakes, and in Antigua and Barbuda where I am from, we still call them good old Johnny Cakes.

Nothing goes better with Johnny Cakes then Salt Fish.  What is Salt Fish and why was it eaten so much back then?  If you are hungry today, many of us simply open our refrigerators and pull out a snack, or some food to cook.  Back in the day, people didn’t have refrigerators.  As such, people relied on foods that would keep and not spoil.  Fish was often times filet and salted.  This would allow the fish to stay fresh for days to come.

Growing up I would often times see fish hanging in my grandfather’s basement in the Bronx on a wood with a nail through it.  He would be preparing the fish for Sunday morning breakfast.  The process he explained was “corning” the fish.  This tradition came from the days of slavery.  A rich tradition that has been passed down generation after generation.  In fact, my mom still prepares food in this same way to this very day.

As you can see from the pictures, we at Calvary had a great time, we enjoyed learning of our rich history through food, and I enjoyed teaching about my personal Caribbean history as much as I enjoyed eating the food.

Food connects all people, it connects our world.  During this Black History month, I encourage us to love each other the same way we love the food of each other’s cultures.  When we do this, then we are truly sitting at God’s table.


Darnell Crosland



6 responses to “Celebrating black history through food”

  1. stacey osbourne

    This story brought back so many lovely memories of my childhood in Jamaica.

  2. Deborah Thomas

    Great article for Black History month.I can definitely relate

  3. Kathleen

    Thanks for sharing this!

  4. Daniel Mushala

    Great insights into history and food! I appreciate the information!

  5. Bob Welsh

    Thank you Darnell.

  6. Margaret Suib

    So interesting! They have Johnny Cakes in Rhode Island too, wonder if that’s from the ship builders who came from Portugal and likely the islands too. The histories of people and food is intertwined, reminding us that our differences are what makes us interesting, and some of them are very tasty!

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