This Thursday, the Historical Museum of Southern Florida presents African Diaspora Culinary Delights as part of its ongoing exhibition on “Black Crossroads: The African Diaspora in Miami.” Three local cooks will present sample dishes and savory food history. Brenda L. Jackson will discuss soul food. She will showcase her cornbread casserole, collard greens with tomatoes and lemon pepper panko crusted fried chicken Dinkinish O’ Connor will present Jamaican food. She will offer a new take on Jamaican cuisine–jerk ice cream. Liliane Nerette Louis will demonstrate the cuisine of Haiti.
I interviewed Jackson and O’Connor about the family cooking that continues to feed their souls. To learn more about Louis and Haitian cooking, check out an article that I wrote for the WLRN Under the Sun blog.
Brenda L. Jackson is the author of Culinary Roots, a cookbook about “soul food dressed to the nines.” Jackson describes soul food, “in its whole sense, as based on where you are from and cooking from the heart.” In her case, soul food is Southern because of her roots. Her parents (named Orlando and Florida) were raised in Georgia and Florida. Her cookbook is sprinkled with stories about her family, whose life centers around the kitchen.
In her “old school” family, Jackson truly learned the process of getting food to the table. As the eldest of six, she often helped out in the kitchen, watching and learning from her mother. “The adventure came from my dad because he was a great cook, plus he was a great fisherman. So, I know what it is to clean a fish and gut it. Pardon the word–I know people don’t like to hear it, but you have to take those things out. I know what it is to clean turtle. I know how chickens are killed because I helped do it. I know what it is to dress a hog.” The family kept a garden in their Miami yard. They grew collard greens, tomatoes, corn and peas.
Jackson describes her cookbook as eclectic. “I have the usual standard soul food cooking, but I like to do things with a twist. If I keep giving you the same thing over and over in the same way, you’re going to be living in a box, and that’s not how we should live.” One of her favorite recipes from Culinary Roots is sausage stew. “I love that because it’s everything in the pool. It takes on a little bit of everything I learned in life and tasted at different restaurants.” The hearty stew includes chorizo and andouille sausage, wild rice, sweet potato, peas and chicken stock, flavored with cumin, salt, red pepper flakes and nutmeg.”
Jackson adds a kick of Scotch bonnet and cilantro to her collard greens with tomatoes. Her fried chicken is made with Japanese panko rather than traditional breading. She makes her mashed potatoes with wasabi.
If you’d like to taste Jackson’s cornbread casserole, lemon pepper panko crusted fried chicken and collard greens with tomatoes, you’ll have the opportunity at Thursday’s event.
Dinkinish O’ Connor writes about wine, food, fashion and travel. She grew up in Miami. O ‘Connor says that “Jamaican cuisine is a lot like the music. There’s a lot of rhythm. There’s a lot of flavor.” Jamaican cuisine is famous for jerk seasoning, which “depending on who you talk to, is a technique or a seasoning blend. It’s the amalgam of allspice and Scotch bonnet pepper. It’s such a dynamic rub for barbecue.”
Allspice is a common flavor in jerk seasoning rubs, but thyme is “really the most significant seasoning you’re going to find in Jamaican food. Thyme is used with stew peas—it’s a stew that’s made with red peas–boiled dumplings, pigs’ tails, brown stew chicken, oxtail, even rice. We make our rice and beans with coconut milk or coconut cream and you’ll find thyme in the background.”
For O’Connor, nothing beats a home-cooked meal when it comes to Jamaican food: “I’m a little biased. My parents are Jamaican.” O’ Connor grew up in a household where “food was a cause, like global warming…At 5 AM, you hear the clanging of pots and pans, your mother or your father getting ready to prepare the day’s meal. When you come from that background, it’s difficult for a restaurant to come close to that.”
Some of her favorite dishes are stew peas and curry. “When I lived in New York City, the stew peas’ flavor brought me home to my mother’s house. It was like throwing a blanket over my stomach.” Jamaican curry is distinct from Trinidadian or Indian curries; garlic and thyme are strong flavors.
Since she whet everyone’s appetite with the traditional flavors, O’Connor plans on bringing a novel food to the African Diaspora Culinary Delights event. She recently wrote an article for the The Miami Herald on the international ice creams available in Miami, including jerk ice cream. “There’s a man named Paul Johnson-he’s created this vanilla based ice cream with some of the seasoning you find in a jerk blend. He hasn’t given me his recipe, but what I detect is cinnamon, nutmeg, cloves and, right at the finish, a little bit of Scotch bonnet pepper….it’s really good.” If you are as curious as I am about what this delicacy tastes like, be sure to attend on Thursday evening.
When: Thursday, July 16 at 6:30 pm
Where: Historical Museum of Southern Florida, 101 West Flagler Street, Miami. Discounted parking at Cultural Plaza Garage, 50 NW 2nd Avenue.
How much: Free