Soul food and wine

Sincere pairings for dishes steeped in history

By Annelise Kelly

Tender, juicy chicken on the bone wrapped in a savory, crispy crust. Gooey, creamy and decadent macaroni and cheese. Shiny lacquered ribs with the scent of smoke and coated in caramelized barbecue sauce. Supple greens melting into a tangy pork broth.

While the traditional New Year’s lucky cabbages and black-eyed peas are still fresh in our memory, we’re celebrating soul food. It’s Black History Month, and soul food is one of the many culinary achievements of the African diaspora. Naturally, we will taste it with wine.

Soul food deserves a pairing of thoughtful wines as much as any cuisine, but it’s often served by casual restaurants or food trucks where the wine list isn’t part of the menu. For tips on pairing Oregon wine with soul food — perfect for takeout — we spoke to Chevonne Ball, a sommelier who grew up on it.

Cultural background

We caught up with Ball in France, who was wrapping up a three-month business trip from Portugal to Norway and points in between. There, she studies the circuits that she will organize in June in Beaujolais and the Rhone Valley. Ball did not earn his place on the Passionate about wine List of top 40 taste makers under 40 of 2020 being outdone.

Before we could discuss wine pairings, Ball outlined the origins of soul food. “I think it’s really important that people know where it comes from,” she says, noting that slaves had access to the worst cuts of meat, sometimes spoiled too. “That’s why soul food tends to be very seasoned.” After slavery, poverty kept these less desirable cuts on the table, including the squirrel, rabbit, and opossum. “That’s where a lot of stews and, again, seasoning come in.” Ball continues, “[Creating] such incredible food that now has a sort of cult following outside of black culture is quite an amazing thing.

Food etiquette originated in the 1960s, “when the term soul was commonly used for music and clothing during the black culture movement. In fact, it was coined by a famous poet who was also part of the movement. of black power and arts, Amari Baracka.

“For me, soul food is made with feelings and love and care. So even though it’s part of black culture, I also think it’s a kind of peasant food, food made with heart and soul.As in France, most of the dishes that I like are those that the peasants cooked at the time.

Such cuisine in Italy is known as “la cucina povera” (poverty cuisine); in France, “de campagne” (countryside). Ball was raised on a parallel kitchen in the Pacific Northwest. “I think it’s so funny, my grandfather was a hunter – he’s from Mississippi – so eating elk, deer, salmon and things like sweetbreads, liver and heart was normal when I was growing up. Then I went through this phase where it was not cool. But then, working at the Pigeon, people were paying exorbitant sums for what would be considered terrible cuts. It’s sort of a full circle, but it’s part of our history and our culture.

Ball notes that even humble macaroni and cheese has noble ties to our founding fathers. For her, the history of food is essential. The first recipes incorporating pasta and cheese date from 14th-century Italy; the dish evolved and migrated across the continent. Thomas Jefferson sampled the dish while visiting Europe, bringing the concept back to his chef. Ball explains, “He was an enslaved African by the name of James Hemings, who perfected mac and cheese as we know it today, which is a staple of soul food and a big deal in black culture. . If you don’t do things right, you could be left out of the family.

Pairing Somm Chevonne Ball Wines

When it comes to pairings, why not start with a mac and cheese? “With all these creamy flavors, a very acidic rosé would be delicious here, or a very nice bright white wine, like Leah Jørgensen Cellars Cabernet Franc white.” Creamy, cheesy grains deserve the same crunchy treatment. For example, the shrimp and grits call for a rosé or pinot gris in contact with the skin, it’s “a bit bright but with some complexity”.

As for the other pinnacle of soul food, fried chicken, Ball has only one word: bubbles. “You have this nice crispy chicken, hopefully not too greasy, but it definitely has some oil in it, along with the spices – and you eat it with your fingers, hopefully. So take this crispy, crispy, salty, hot fried chicken and carve it with a sour fizz with a fine foam (scum) in your mouth. You cut out all that fat and get all those lovely citrus fruits, buns, and toast coming out. Then you go straight back to that fried chicken. It’s a back and forth game.

Ball continues, “I don’t want to get off topic, but champagne goes with any food, literally any food, salty, sweet, whatever.” She further advises that sparkling wine is not just a party drink. Bring it to the table. Two of his favourites: the sparkling Pinot Gouges Blanc from Dolores Wines and Crimson Vineyard White and black.

For fried fish, Ball recommends a very acidic white like Pinot Gris or Riesling. “Anything that is dry, shiny and very acidic. Eyrie Vineyards Pinot Gris comes to mind.

Regarding the crawfish stew, Ball asks, “Can I throw my own wine over there?” Absoutely. “The dirty radish The Gamay Noir would be delicious with the crayfish stew, which is personally one of my favorite dishes. My Eola-Amity Hills Gamay Noir from Jubilee Vineyard has a very nice balance of bright fruit and high acidity. It’s going to go really well with the spice and that creamy roux, and all the flavors and the crawfish too.

With the okra, Ball suggests serving it with “a blend of white wines from Shiba Wichern. There are very beautiful flowers in his wines and very beautiful bouquets of seasoning in the okra. And there’s just enough spice to balance out with the white she makes.

For the barbecue, she offers a more full-bodied and fruity red, like her own Gamay or the Gamay of A brick house, Ridgecrest and evening land. Ball explains, “These high acid chewy reds will go great with all those smoky BBQ flavors.”

As for Oregon’s signature product, pinot noir, Ball recommends serving it with stewed chicken (or turkey) because it pairs perfectly with the herbs that characterize these dishes. Pinot is also the winner for greens, yams, and baked beans, all of which contain earthy and/or smoky flavors that pair well with wine.

Faced with a variety of dishes on the table, Ball observes, “If you have that many dishes, I guess you’re sharing with a lot of people, so don’t be afraid to open several different bottles. But when in doubt, “bubbles can go with anything.”

Read and collect

Gain more knowledge in the kitchen and celebrate the diverse culture of African American cooking with these award-winning cookbooks from black authors

black food by Bryant Terry. October 21, 2021.
A beautiful, rich and groundbreaking book exploring black eating habits in America and around the world, curated by renowned chef, food activist and “Vegetable Kingdom” author Bryant Terry.

Jubilee by Toni Tipton Martin. November 5, 2019.
Toni Tipton-Martin brings African American culinary masters — current and historic — to our kitchens with this James Beard Award winner. Explore over 100 recipes including techniques.

Black girl cooking by Jerelle Guy. February 6, 2018.
Jerrelle Guy takes readers on a baking journey using the five senses, recounting and reimagining food memories while using ingredients that make him feel more in control and more connected to the world.

Freeda S. Scott