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PITTSBURGH (KDKA) – Most of us know western Pennsylvania was a key part of what was known as the Underground Railroad, the loose network of people who were anti-slavery and helped freedom seekers survive harsh conditions as they made their way north.
Sometimes the freedom seekers were forced to survive off the land, and some of the things they came up with are still making their way to our dinner tables today.
You know it as the movement of slaves moving from the south to the north. You’ve heard stories of Harriet Tubman helping to guide freedom seekers to freedom in Canada. For many though, it wasn’t about moving on, but more about surviving.
For many, they refused to bear living in the harsh conditions on plantations and chose to survive by living off the land just out of the reach of slave owners. They remained to stay in touch with family and loved ones.
“The majority of them never left the locality of where they were enslaved. Many of them ran away to the woods or to the swamp,” said Dr. Samuel Black, the director of African American Programs at the Heinz History Center.
Black says that the start of what is now known as soul food got its start with freedom seekers surviving on what they could get.
“Those who escaped to the woods or some area where they were enslaved left notes and messages of some kind to let the enslaved still on the plantation know where they are at and those still on the plantation would leave out food and other items and they’d come and get that food at night time,” Black said.
From stolen chickens to table scraps, really anything that was usable was passed on then oftentimes mixed with what freedom seekers could find themselves, from foraging local plants to stealing fruit and vegetables right off the vine. Things like peanuts, okra, sweet potatoes and rice were all integral to their survival.
“African meals are recognized as one-pot meals. So stews and soups and other things are cooked that way and not separately,” Black said.
“You’re talking about the basis of what we call soul food. It’s really just derived from traditional African diets,” he said.
It’s just another part of Black history that continues to fill us up today with more than enough to pass on to future generations.
This content was originally published here.