KEARNEYSVILLE – With the start of February’s Black History Month, Leetown resident Margaret Walker says she finds herself thinking about the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.’s “I have a Dream” speech.
“These words had to be inspired by God, the creator of all,” she said. “We’re as different as are the flowers of the field that make a bouquet that glorifies the grandeur of our God – he’d like us to one day get to the place we celebrate our differences without judgment.”
A commemoration that dates to the 1920s, Black History Month happens in February because the month marks the births of both Abraham Lincoln, the president who issued the Emancipation Proclamation 150 years ago, and Frederick Douglass, who escaped slavery to become the nation’s preeminent abolitionist, social reformer and writer.
One of Walker’s favorite dishes is Chicken Chili with Black Beans and Corn. She sees the colorful ingredients in this recipe as another example of the marvelous grandeur of God’s creative plan. The colors and differences marinating together will give your taste buds an explosion and create a smile on your face.
Here’s how to make it: Heat one tablespoon vegetable oil on medium-high heat. Add 1 pound boneless skinless chicken breasts (cut into 1-inch cubes), 1 cup chopped green bell pepper and 1 cup chopped onion. Cook 6 to 8 minutes, stirring often, until chicken is lightly browned.
Add 1 tablespoon paprika, 1½ teaspoons oregano leaves, 1 teaspoon ground cumin, 1 teaspoon garlic powder and ¼ teaspoon crushed red pepper. Mix well. Stir in remaining ingredients: 1 15-ounce can black beans (drained and rinsed), 1 15-ounce can great Northern beans (drained and rinsed), 1 14½-ounce can diced tomatoes (undrained), 1 cup chicken broth and 1 cup frozen corn.
Bring to a boil, reduce heat to low and simmer for 20 minutes.
This Black History Month, Walker said she plans to focus on appreciating the differences among us that together create “the Glory of God that he always intended.”
Elizabeth Diggs of Kearneysville says the tradition in her family is to meet at her mother’s for a meal, with each family member bringing a favorite dish. Before bread is broken, those gathered form a circle and tell what they are thankful for, including beloved family members who have passed away. “Nothing fancy,” she explains, “just love in the air.”
Here, she offers her famous Macaroni and Cheese, the dish she often takes to family get-togethers and to her family reunion held each August: Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Cook a 2-pound box of macaroni and drain. Stir in one large bag of sharp cheese (or, if you like, a mixture of different types of cheese), two beaten eggs and 1/3 cup butter along with salt and pepper to taste. Let sit for 5 minutes, then slowly pour on 2 percent milk to moisten to the mixture. Add more cheese on top and a sprinkling of paprika. Bake for 30 minutes.
My former neighbor Fannie Hazelton, who celebrated her 105th birthday before she passed in 2009, was known for her love of sending thank-you notes. She was always grateful when my husband would arrive with side meat, bacon and cracklins from one of our old-fashioned butcherings. Cracklins make the best seasoning for collard or mustard greens, she used to say.
Flavorful cooked greens and many other “soul food” favorites have a tie to black Americans’ African heritage. Foods that would have been luxuries to slaves – butter, jam, buttermilk, white flour and abundant meat – translate to dishes much loved today such as fried chicken, cornbread, grits, biscuits and sausage gravy and hush puppies. Enjoy a Black History Month-inspired food today and know you’re celebrating an essential part of the American story.
Look for more on Black History Month in the Spirit throughout February and send feedback on this column to Patt Welsh at firstname.lastname@example.org. If you’re prefer to mail your thoughts, write a note to Welsh in care of Spirit editor Robert Snyder, 114 N. Charles St., Charles Town 25414.