For many Black Americans, our holiday traditions reflect the ways our ancestors celebrated during and after they were enslaved in the South. However, we know our roots stretch much farther than the United States, and it’s become important to find ways to connect with and honor our African diasporic traditions.
Perhaps one of the simplest ways to get a taste of a nation is through its hand pie recipe. Every culture has a version of the hand pie, which originated during the Neolithic period and then later spread to the rest of the world by the Cornish in the 14th Century. In the Caribbean, the cornish meat pastries were flavored with Jamaican and African spices like cumin, cayenne pepper, and Scotch Bonnet chilis. And in Nigeria, the traditional hand pie recipe calls for a meat, potato, and carrot filling. In the 1960s, Jamaican immigrants introduced hand pies to the United States and they were embraced by Black Americans as a taste of home.
The Kwanzaa holiday blends different customs from various countries and cultural groups within Africa, as a way to unite the Black community and celebrate our African roots. The seven-day celebration features a special candles ceremony, seven principles that encourage kindness and sustainable living, and a traditionally plant-based feast.
Many of the robust tastes that represent the African diaspora can be found in the celebratory dishes on the Kwanzaa table. The Kwanzaa feast features traditional African delicacies such as jollof rice, hand pies, plantains, and stew. It also includes vegetables like okra, peanuts, and yams, spices like berbere and mace, and flavorings like hibiscus, tamarind, and ginger—all of which reflect the bountiful harvest festivals held by African tribes during this time of year.
This hand pie recipe is filled with a mix of flavors and spices from both Black American holiday experiences, Christmas and Kwanzaa, for a celebration dish that packs a lot of tradition into one bite. In my recipe, I made a flavorful, well-seasoned jackfruit turkey reflecting many of the native spices and herbs of the Americas, and filled my hand pies with the beloved soul food ingredient of sweet potato, as well as cranberry sauce and brussels sprouts. These ingredients and their synthesis into one sweet, savory package represent our blended histories and pay ode to the multiplicities of our identities.
More vegan soul food recipes
To cook more of my vegan soul food recipes, including vegan mustard-glazed ham with southern-style biscuits, vegan smothered pork chops with cauliflower mash, and my deliciously-torched update to a traditional corn pudding, go here.