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Cooking with Dad (and Bacon)

National Soul Food Month was created to celebrate the ingenious tradition of taking the ingredients you have to make tasty, nourishing, and comforting food. It’s an homage to African-Americans of old, who combined cheaper, less appealing cuts of meat and vegetables nobody really likes with joi de vivre. The result is known as lip smackin’ soul food.

I have to think someone was thinking ahead by delegating Father’s Day and National Soul Food Month to the same month. Dads and bacon, dads and beer batter, dads and fried catfish–they’re all a natural pairing. When it comes to Father’s Day, there’s hardly a more delicious gift than the both of you, together, cooking up his favorite recipe. Except for maybe eating it.

The 20th anniversary of the observance comes at just the right time. Supply shortages and rising food prices of today mimic the conditions faced by the originators of deep fried chicken and candied sweet potatoes. You cook what you have, and your creativity and daring makes it taste like you prepared it on purpose.

In this month’s blog I’ve put together a history of National Soul Food Month, some recipes you and Dad will love preparing together (think bacon), and a few of the cutest cooking-with-Dad videos to inspire you. But first, how did we get from chitlins and collards to a national celebration?

Jiffy Quick History of National Soul Food Month

Twenty years ago this month the very first National Soul Food Month came out of the oven. The national observance evolved from the Grits and Greens Conferences created by Chicago-based culinary historians. They must have decided an excuse to eat soul food guilt-free in this culture of low-fat-everything deserved to go nationwide. Thus was cooked up a national observance. Eat your history, people, and your fried chicken and waffles, too! It’s just desserts to keep this cultural heritage alive: it’s a story of ingenuity rising like yeast through the dough of inequality. What sort of sheer genius does a person need to make pig intestine and mustard greens into something not just delicious, but comforting? A genius rightly worthy of national attention.

While original soul food recipes focused on a relatively small number of farm-to-table ingredients, contemporary chefs now include inexpensive, filling, grocery shelf items like pasta, cream soup, butter crackers, canned vegetables. I like to think the spirit of soul food lives on in modern kitchens as what we call comfort food: tasty dishes from simple, affordable ingredients that warm your heart and belly.

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Not sure what to get Dad for Father’s Day? Try these eco-friendly gift ideas.

Soul Food Recipes Your Dad Will Love

The cornerstone of the tastiest soul food recipes is bacon, and I hardly need mention bacon is kryptonite for every Dad save the most kosher. (Want to hear something funny? It’s recommended every blog writer–no matter what the genre–write an article on bacon. That’s how hot bacon is. ) Admittedly, nothing says Happy Father’s Day quite like a hot plate of thinly sliced fatty and salty pork, fried up in various degrees of crispiness from crumbly to tender. Try this bacon laced mac-n-cheese recipe you and Dad can cook up together–it comes from my personal kitchen, a simpler and just-as-tasty version of my Nana’s mac-n-cheese. One of you can man the bacon while the other cooks the pasta.

Recipe: 316 Bacon Mac & Cheese

Ingredients

16 oz large elbow macaroni

16 oz processed melting cheese

16 oz package bacon

Optional but likely: Dollops of reminiscing about the good ol’ days

Instructions

This recipe name comes from 16 oz of just three ingredients: mac, cheese, and bacon. Have your Dad line a frying pan with bacon and cook on medium low heat while he tells you all about how he learned to cook bacon from his grandmother, who used to cook bacon in a cast iron skillet on a wood burning stove. Chop the bacon mercilessly into bits with a meat cleaver for added drama. Meanwhile, in a large pot bring 6 quarts of water to a boil and cook the macaroni according to package directions. Slice the cheese into cubes. Just as Dad gets to the part about, when he was 10, he trained his dog Skippy not to eat a piece of popcorn balanced on the snout until he said, “OK!!!” because Skippy was the smartest darn cocker spaniel mutt you ever saw, drain the pasta. Return to the pot. Add the cheese cubes and half the bacon bits and mix well. Turn into a casserole dish and top with the remaining bacon bits. Heat at 375 for 10-15 minutes to heat through, if needed. Wipe your hands on your apron, hug your Dad hard, eat that soul food.

While pasta isn’t a heritage soul food, modern times call for modern modifications. Plus, bacon and Dad. What more needs to be said? If you and Dad just can’t get enough bacon, how about 30 more bacon recipes? Soul Food Month is 30 days, after all. 

Maybe while you’re cooking you want to record all those stories Dad tells you and (with his permission) upload them to YouTube. “Cooking with Dad” yields hundreds of videos, most notably with a tiny little girl called Rose, in some of the most forget-about-what-ails-you clips. I picked my favorite to share with you:

“Awww Factor Score – 10 out of 10”

This Father’s Day, I hope you find time to cook with your Dad, if not in person, then on video phone, or maybe just in your heart. Happy Father’s Day, everybody! May good food and the good love you share with your dad be yours this Father’s Day and every day.

What’s your favorite soul food recipe? Do you and your Dad enjoy cooking together, or just anything bacon? Share your story with us here.

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