Martin Luther King, Jr.'s extraordinary achievements as an activist and leader of the Civil Rights Movement are as inspiring as ever today. As the nation honors him today, it's worth also remembering the more personal sides of his legacy: For instance, MLK had quite the appetite for soul food. Here, a few of his favorite dishes, and ideas for recreating a menu like the one Dr. King would've enjoyed.
1. Fried Chicken
MLK was born in Atlanta in 1929 to Martin Luther King, Sr., and Alberta Williams King. Their family home, though small, raised three children (with MLK as the middle child) and its kitchen turned out the main staples of meals below the Mason-Dixon line. Among those was fried chicken, especially the kind fried in buttermilk and eaten straight off the bone. This recipe from Brown-Eyed Baker has everything you need to make your own at home. Just be warned: You’ll want to brine the chicken, so get started the night before. And hey, for some added Southern flair, dip those legs in buttermilk ranch dressing.
2. Pecan Pie
In one activity book for children, MLK is used as an example of an inspiring leader, and to get the kids involved in learning about him they're asked to cut out pictures of one of his favorite foods—pecan pie—and write their dreams and goals on the back. If one of your goals—in cooking, anyway—is nailing this delicious Southern dessert classic, check out Monique from Divas Can Cook's family heirloom recipe, passed down for generations and affectionately nicknamed Ova Yonda Pecan Pie (translation: the pecan pie from over there). This one’s the real deal, but if you decide making crust is too much work, you can replace it with a store-bought one for the same crunchy, gooey effect.
3. Pickled Pig’s Feet
According to a book by Taylor Branch called Pillar of Fire, MLK had an interesting choice of travel snack: pickled pig’s feet. He wrote, “(Dr. King) took extra time at one highway rest stop to snack on pickled pig's feet from a large display jar on the counter of a rural store. (Ralph) Abernathy and others joined him to gnaw through one foot after another, leaning forward to keep from dripping on their suits, while they enjoyed the queasy abstention of Andrew Young." While those words are marinated in history, they also provide a fascinating look into the activist's palate and into local food traditions: Some of the most beloved Southern pickled products don’t often find their way out of the region. If you’re brave enough to try this at home, check out this recipe from Soul Food and Southern Cooking.
4. Macaroni and Cheese
A few days before MLK's assassination, he was due to have dinner with a pastor at the Monumental Baptist Church, Rev. Samuel Billy Kyles. Kyles and his wife had been preparing for this welcome dinner at their new home and wanted to make sure they served MLK’s favorite foods. One of those was macaroni and cheese, which originated in the South. There is no skimping on the milk percentage or the butter when you make a Southerner-approved mac-n-cheese, and we can only imagine the Kyles family was preparing to serve a version similar to this one from the blog a Soulful Twist. A truly classic version, made from scratch, this one is full of everything from cheddar cheese and whipping cream to cream cheese.
MLK liked a nice steak, especially when it was prepared in the kitchen of one of his supporters. The night before his death, Adjua A. Naantaabuu made dinner for MLK and his team. Speaking about that evening, Naantaabuu said, "I was asked if I would prepare some food. I fixed a steak dinner, baked potato, tossed salad, iced tea, some broccoli. I was grateful to do that. In those days, blacks couldn't go to restaurants. Well, there weren't many restaurants you could go to." To recreate the meal, consider this version from Utokia Langley at She’s Got Flavor. Designed to pull off on a budget, this rib-eye dinner, complete with a side of greens and rice, is truly Southern and comes with a creamy Bearnaise sauce (Langley uses an easy instant version but you can make one from scratch with this Epicurious recipe). Enjoy!
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