'Fruits of the Harvest': A Taste of Kwanzaa

Author Eric Copage talks about foods that are traditionally served for the African-American inspired Kwanzaa holiday. His book is Fruits of the Harvest: Recipes to Celebrate Kwanzaa and Other Holidays.

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TONY COX, host:

It's the fourth day of Kwanzaa, the weeklong black American celebration of community and family. NPR's Farai Chideya spoke with a writer about one important thing Kwanzaa shares with other holidays this time of year.

FARAI CHIDEYA reporting:

It's hard to find a holiday that doesn't have food as a centerpiece. The African-American celebration Kwanzaa is no exception. Here to give us a rundown of Kwanzaa feast is journalist and author Eric Copage. His latest book is "Fruits of the Harvest: Recipes to Celebrate Kwanzaa and Other Holidays."

Hi, Eric.

Mr. ERIC COPAGE (Author, "Fruits of the Harvest"): Hey, Farai. How are you?

CHIDEYA: I'm doing great. So let's talk about Kwanzaa. First, just describe a little bit about what this holiday is and how widely it's celebrated.

Mr. COPAGE: Well, celebrated not just around the country but around the world, too. It's not a religious holiday; it's a cultural holiday. It's a seven-day holiday that begins the day after Christmas and goes until the new year.

CHIDEYA: So let's talk specifically about this book. You've written other books about Kwanzaa. You're very much steeped in the tradition. But "Fruits of the Harvest" is really a book of food and remembrance. What sorts of foods show up on a Kwanzaa table?

Mr. COPAGE: Well, there are all kinds of foods from the African diaspora that show up on a Kwanzaa table. And while this book is on one level kind of focused on Kwanzaa, it's also for other holidays, too, and also for everyday cooking. Basically what you do is use something from either your tradition or from the tradition of the African diaspora. So for instance, there's a Piri-Piri shrimp recipe by a woman, and she did it--one is that recipe comes from Angola. But the reason she uses it is to remember her heritage comes from the black fishermen of Long Island. And a lot of that knowledge has been lost over the years, and so a way of keeping that alive.

CHIDEYA: What other sorts of traditions, either from the US African-American traditions or from the African diaspora, show up in your food--in this book?

Mr. COPAGE: Well, of course, there's fried chicken. There's a delicious fried chicken recipe, which I like a lot. There's a peanut soup recipe, which of course, comes from the--from West Africa. But also in my book, there's recipes from the Tuskegee Institute for sweet potato bread with raisins and walnuts and a couple of other things. And the important thing about that, of course, is that George Washington Carver exercised a huge influence over that at one point. And they had these bulletins come out on different ways you can exploit various kinds of foods: yams, peanuts, of course, tomatoes and so on and so forth. Very full, very interesting.

CHIDEYA: Yeah, so some of the research, the historical research that went into black food can resonate today. So along those lines, let me ask about historical use of African diaspora food in use today. In the past, in the far past, when African-Americans were enslaved or even as free people didn't have a lot of resources often, people didn't eat much meat. But then, of course, as we grew richer, our diet grew richer, and now a lot of us have diabetes or pre-diabetes. What about the health aspects of the recipes in this book? Are these suitable for people who might have diabetes or high blood pressure?

Mr. COPAGE: Well, yes, because there are a wide span of recipes in the book. Some include exotic ingredients such as goat, rabbit and conch. And then also there are some more common--fish, chicken and beef. There are also healthy vegetarian recipes. There's a vegetarian droloff(ph) recipe. The person who gave me the recipe included lots and lots of different vegetables.

CHIDEYA: And finally, let me just ask you about what the food in a celebration like Kwanzaa represents. Holiday celebrations of many faiths and many cultures really use food to anchor family and friends coming together. How does the emotional level of food relate to the holiday of Kwanzaa?

Mr. COPAGE: Well, of course, it's in gathering of the people and that is, of course, how Dr. Karenga, who created Kwanzaa, meant it to be. And when you focus also on the symbolic meaning of the meals, one of the things I'm most proud about in the book is not only the messages of black pride, resourcefulness that are conveyed through the 125 recipes, but also the 75 proverbs and folk tales and snippets of biographies and autobiographies from people such as Berry Gordy Jr. and Malcolm X and Fannie Lou Hamer. And this is an important aspect for Kwanzaa because, of course, it's a time where we in a sense kind of like reignite our black pride and take stock of it, of how we've used this black pride in the previous year and how we pledge to use it in the coming year.

CHIDEYA: That's a great note to leave us with. Eric Copage is a best-selling author and an occasional commentator for this program. His latest book is "Fruits of the Harvest: Recipes to Celebrate Kwanzaa and Other Holidays."

Happy Kwanzaa, Eric.

Mr. COPAGE: Happy Kwanzaa to you.

COX: That was NPR's Farai Chideya.

Thanks for joining us. That's our program for today. To listen to this show, visit npr.org. NEWS & NOTES was created by NPR News and the African-American Public Radio Consortium.

I'm Tony Cox. This is NEWS & NOTES.

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