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Delta Food: Part 3 Juke Joint as Eateries

A crossroads store, bar, jook joint in the cotton plantation area of Melrose Natchitoches Parish, Louisiana, 1940, related recipes below (Courtesy of the Library Congress) Click to image to enlarge

In Louisiana and the Mississippi Delta entrepreneurs operated juke joints where music played while black cooks prepared all kinds of comfort food including inexpensive cuts of pork like pig’s feet, fried chicken, biscuits, all kinds of greens, and sweet potato pie. Rural laborers who spent long days at work picketing cotton used the juke joints as places to shoot the breeze with friends, catch up on local news, drank, dance, and court. In the Mississippi Delta Juke joints also served as places where laborers ate their daily meals. In a strange reversal of Jim Crow before it’s demise white men snuck into Juke Joints unobtrusively to drink and pick up takeout orders of food and drank in brown paper bags. The grilled, smoked, and barbecued meats that came out of these places represented a continuum of the cookery that came from the slave quarters and special occasion meals during the antebellum period. Steamboat and railroad cooks brought these cooking styles with them as they migrated out of the south and they became part of the menus of working class bar and grills in places like Chicago where so many Delta went during the Great Migration. The local bar and in Chicago served as the Juke joint's double where live- music, down-home food, alcohol, and romance served important role in the lives of many blue collar workers. I’m down in Mississippi doing field work and attending a Southern Foodways Alliance symposium a Old Miss. Yesterday at breakfast in Greenwood, I heard Delta farmer Bonita Conwell of the Southern Rural Black Woman’s Initiative tell the story how she is producing sweet potatoes and selling the sweet potato tops or greens to a market in Houston that caters to West African customers who love the greens. Historically West Africans used a varied of sources to obtain their greens including the tops of tubers like yams which are indigenous to Africa and sweet potatoes introduced to Africa during the Colombian exchange. By the way, the term juke has its origins in West Africa and it means something wicked or evil.  Here are some related stories and recipes for sweet potato greens below.

Sweet potato green recipes:

Southern Rural Black Woman’s Initiative: http://www.srbwi.org/

Delta Food: Part 4 SNCC and Black Farmers

Examing Soul Food and North Carolina Foodways