Food Folklore

Food culture

Denise Valentine, Storyteller

Pepper-Pot Woman Food As A LensPepper-Pot Woman Food As A Lens
John Lewis Krimmel (German-born American artist, 1786-1821) Pepper-Pot Woman at the Philadelphia Market. 1811

A negro-woman selling pepper-pot soup, Philadelphia, circa 1803. The recipe for pepper pot called for herbs, onions, potatoes, and okra seasoned with smoked meat.”

Traditional pepper-pot recipe

Vegetarian pepper-pot recipe



Hollers were sung by street vendors in the city calling out their wares.  In a Philadelphia marketplace the Pepper Pot lady sang:

Pepper Pot, All hot.

Makee Back Strong. Makee Live Long!

Come n’ buy my Pepper Pot.

The “Hominy Man” called out:

Hominy man come out today
For to sell his hominay.
Hominay man is on his way
For to sell his hominay.

Watermelon man

Oscar Brown Jr., poet, singer, songwriter and activist, turns this street holler into a love ballad.


During enslavement, plantation owners forbid certain customs and traditions. Nevertheless, enslaved peoples found many ways to express what they could not say or do outright. Stories, music, and song and dance served as a way to pass on forbidden cultural practices. Coded messages were sung in spirituals and sewn on quilts. Others were disguised in the double-talk and wit of trickster tales, tall tales and riddles.

Hand-clap games

A minstrel man, brown skin darkened with burnt cork and grease, dressed in a too-small, tattered suit and worn-out shoes, woolly hair stuffed under a crumpled top hat, sang out loud:

Hambone Hambone where you been?
Around the world and back again!

As he sang, he did a hand-clappin’ and body-slappin’ dance.

Hambone, hambone
Where’s your wife
Out to the kitchen, cookin’ beans and rice!

I learned to play Hambone, like many other children who grew up in North Philadelphia, whose parents or grandparents had migrated from the South.

Some things that enslavers thought were harmless–like children’s games–were overlooked. The children poked fun at their owners or overseers without them being any the wiser.

Pattin’ Juba

Juba dis and Juba dat, Juba spoiled da yella’ cat.

Juba up ‘n’ Juba down, Juba all aroun’ the town.

I grow the corn, you gimme the husk

I bake the bread, you gimme the crust

I cook the meat you gimme the skin

And that’s where my momma’s trouble begins…

Juba for my Ma, Juba for my Pa., Juba for my brother-in-law.

Juba jump, Juba sing, Juba cut that pigeon wing.

The name “hambone” refers to the daily activities of the early African-American slave communities. In the days of slavery, families had to stretch the little food they were given, relying on their resourcefulness and creativity to survive under adverse conditions. The hambone (the bone of ham) was used to make a big pot of soup, which, with lots of water, and little scraps of vegetables and spices, was stretched to feed many families. That same hambone would be passed around and used repeatedly in different pots of soups, making something from nothing as a way of survival. (North American Dance)

“In them days…  People would all work together. Even the farmers would help one another. Plowing, chopping, picking cotton … they’d help one another. One’s through and the other one ain’t through, you go help them. Everybody trying to get through before it rains.” Cheryl Wright (1994) oral history interviews in Brazoria’s African-American descendant community.

Reggae version:

“Everybody want to raid de barn, nobody want to plant de corn.”

Anthony Barn 
Real Revolutionary (1998) live @ Reggae on the River – Video

Raid de Barn lyrics slide – Anthony B

Fairytale version:

Remember the saying: “Everything we need to know, we learned in Kindergarten?

Little Red Hen

Once upon a time there was a little red hen.

“Who will help me plant this grain of corn?” she asked.

“Not I,” grunted the pig.”

“Not I,” quacked the duck.”

“Not I,” purred the cat.”

Well, … you know the rest of the story. My point is…

Reciprocity is not charity, or a socialist-like “entitlement” program. Everyone sows, everyone reaps.

We would do well to gwon bach to the past, to remember, recover and restore the concepts of resourcefulness and reciprocity in our communities.

See my post Food for Thought about restoring heritage-based food practices.

For more Food Folklore see Speaking of Chicken

About Storymama01

Professional Storyteller, Blogger, Teaching Folk Artist, Cultural Curator, Consultant, History Lover, Humanist
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2 Responses to Food Folklore

  1. Pingback: FOOD FOR THOUGHT | storymama01

  2. Pingback: Speaking of Chicken | storymama01

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