Soul Food Brings History To The Table

Posted: February 6, 2013

A member of “Kitchen Mama” Sadie Brannon’s crew peels potatoes Feb. 5 in the Our Community Place kitchen in Harrisonburg. (Photo by Aimee George / DN-R Features)
Annie Cantrell, worker-owner at The Little Grill Collective in Harrisonburg, preps food Feb. 5. The restaurant hosts “Downhome Cooking” on Friday nights. (Photo by Aimee George / DN-R Features)
“Soul food is all about the seasoning — the seasoning is what sets it apart,” says Miss Sadie Brannon, “Kitchen Mama” at Our Community Place.
“If you don’t season your food right, you’d be the worst cook in the world.”
The term “soul food” wasn’t clearly defined until 1964, when it appeared in Webster’s dictionary, according to, but this creative style of cooking can be traced to the blending of African and European cultures.
“People probably just call it ‘soul food’ because black folks cooked it and because it tastes different,” Brannon   explains.
At OCP, Brannon prepares lunch for the organization, using her “soul cooking” style. Her favorite dish is oven fried chicken: All it takes is a little oil, some spices and some time in the oven.
“It turns out just like you put it on the stove and fried it, but it’s baked,” she explains.
A Different Approach
Though Brannon says it’s all in the seasoning, Annie Cantrell, worker-owner at The Little Grill Collective, takes a different approach.
“Lots of butter!” is her soul food mantra.
Every Friday night for more than 10 years, the Little Grill has featured “Down Home Night,” replete with southern, soul-inspired cooking. Specials include the Little Grill’s own vegetarian spin on soul food as well as meat options.
Cantrell considers most of her side dishes to be their “own version of soul food.”
Cantrell says that soul cooking — and the collective realm of southern cooking — relies upon what is available and in season.
“In the winter, we serve collard greens; in the summer, we serve fresh squash and green beans, and in the fall, we serve sweet potato casserole,” Cantrell explains, adding that, through a partnership with the New Community Project, The Little Grill grows its own organic seasonal vegetables to serve up.
Brannon also regularly cooks collard greens and potatoes, along with catfish, black-eyed peas, pigs’ feet and ham hocks.
She says that there is a difference in methods and ingredients used to prepare soul food, and “a difference between black country folk and city folk.”
She states that, in a country setting, soul food cookers have access to hogs and lard, where as in the city, lard is a less likely ingredient.
The Best Ingredient
Technique and ingredients will only get a soul cook so far, “you have to put your heart in it. That’s the best thing about soul cooking,” says Brannon.
“You have to give it TLC.”
Christina Kang, student at Bridgewater College, sums up Brannon’s cooking in one word—“Phenomenal!”
“Just like momma made it with love,” Kang added.
For more information about OCP, call (540) 422-7727 or visit
For more information about the Little Grill Collective, call 540-434-3594 or visit
Contact Aimee George at 574-6292 or

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