About the Overtown Cookbook

We are Booker T. Washington Senior High School students and teachers who have joined efforts with scholars and volunteers from Overtown in order to create this cookbook. We have gathered our favorite recipes and modified them to be healthy and tasty. We asked our nutritionist for the best ingredients and our Chef for the best taste. Doctors helped us keep the recipes healthy so we can enjoy them without guilt. We even tried them out in our cooking class with our teachers to make them easy to follow.

Get the cookbook at Amazon.com or check out our curriculum. We hope you and your family accepts our contribution and follows our mission to make Overtown healthier. And, if you think your personal or family recipe should be here, email us at: 270545@dadeschools.net

And remember: “if you are what you eat, then eat right and live longer!” 

History of the Overtown Cookbook

 

Written by Anthony C. Jennings, J.D. and Cynthia Carbin, MD

 

2009

Overtown is one of the oldest neighborhoods in Miami-Dade County. This area is bounded by NW 6th Street to the South, NW 21st St to the North, NW 1st Ave to the East, and NW 7th Ave to the West.

It was first called Colored Town and was a settlement for black railroad workers when the city of Miami was founded in 1896. However, prior to the city‘s incorporation, many immigrant families from the Caribbean migrated to Miami and settled there. These immigrants trade with the native Indians for many items of sustenance. As more blacks moved to Miami to build the growing city, the community located in close proximity to modern day Downtown Miami, became known as Overtown. The name Overtown was given because many had to go “over” downtown to reach it when they were traveling around the city. (1)

Most of its black residents around the turn of the century came from northern and central Florida, Georgia, and South Carolina. However, within a few decades, workers from the Bahamas made up more than half of the black people living in the city. By the middle of the 20th century, Overtown was a thriving community. Black-owned businesses such as hotels, grocery stores and nightclubs flourished. Overtown had its own manufacturing industry like the Cola-Nip Bottling Company. Establishments like the Mary Elizabeth Hotel hosted famous entertainers such as Ella Fitzgerald, Cab Calloway, Josephine Baker, Billie Holiday, Nat King Cole, and Aretha Franklin. The main business strip Second Avenue was also called ―Miami‘s Little Broadway‖ because it was home to the Lyric Theater. This theater had been described as “possibly the most beautiful and costly playhouse owned by colored people in all the Southland.” (2)

Food and drink often took center stage in the society life along the corridor of 2nd and 3rd Avenues. One could rub elbows with ―the big shots‖ over drinks at the Flamingo Lounge and Zebra Room, of the Mary Elizabeth Hotel. At high-class clubs like the Sir John Hotel, the meal selections featured items like steak and a seafood platter of shrimp, oysters, and scallops. Everyday people were invited to the hot peanuts, hamburgers, and hot dogs sold on the street. Churchgoers also included savory foods in their events. A local writes: “There is an hour‘s wait for a table at the popular restaurants along the Avenue, but you can buy still warm sweet potato pies and ‘sho‘nuf‘ Georgia-style barbecued ribs from the sidewalk table set up by the members of the Mount Zion Church choir on an empty lot next to the church. They have hot fish sandwiches and pickled pigs‘ feet, too. For a nickel you can buy a freezing-cold bottle of Cola-Nip peach soda sold from washtubs filled with chipped ice.” (3)

The food choices of Overtown residents came from the cooking traditions of a diverse group of people. Southern food reminds you of home-style meals made up of fried chicken, barbecue, grits, collard greens, and sweet potato pie. This cuisine was created from a blend of African, European, and Native-American foods. Many of the foods eaten by blacks in the South, called Soul Food, came from Africa. These foods include yams/sweet potatoes, white rice, okra, black-eyed peas, sesame seeds, watermelon, and peanuts. Today, many culinary experts refer to these dishes as ―comfort‖ foods. Other foods considered Soul Food such as chitterlings/chitlins, pigs‘ feet, and hushpuppies are actually foods that were eaten by poor people throughout the South. However, African-Americans developed their own cooking style for traditional southern favorites. One reporter states: “In African-American barbecue places ribs are the thing. They are never boiled first but slowly cooked over charcoal or wood, then cut into short-center and long-end portions.Barbecue sauce tends to have more of a caramel undertone of molasses, and the sides are more often home-style veggies.” (4)

Meals prepared by blacks in the South were also unique because many times they consisted only of vegetables. However meat was used in the flavoring process. “Beans and Greens” was a common dish that included collard, turnip, kale, or mustard greens. Carrots, onions, peas, corn, and cabbage often complemented these meals.

Regional variations in Southern cuisine also influenced Overtown cooking. Those residents who came from other parts of Florida likely brought recipes using citrus fruits like Key Lime Pie and Florida orange juice. The people from Georgia likely brought recipes made of peanuts, pecans, peaches, or Vidalia onions. And those from South Carolina likely brought the influences of the Lowcountry Gullah cuisine. Lowcountry favorites include shrimp and stone ground grits, hoppin‘john, she-crab soup, fish & grits, and barbecue made with a mustard-based sauce.

The large number of Bahamian immigrants also had a major influence on the foods eaten in Overtown. Seafood, pigeon peas and rice were staples of Bahamian cooking. The pigeon pea is an example of food that is native to Africa. Many dishes included conch which was served deep fried, steamed or made into soups, salads, stews, chowder, and fritters. Bahamian food also tended to be hot and spicy due to the peppers used in the cooking process. An elderly Miami resident from South Carolina made the following comment about Bahamian immigrants in the early years: “They were very nice people. They had a culture which sometimes I found difficult to understand. For instance, their eating habits were different. They ate seafood, mainly fish, crabs, conch and grits but didn‘t know much about vegetables. Many looked small and  undernourished.” (5)

Today you can still experience the food traditions of Overtown. Popular restaurants in the

community include Peoples Barbecue, Jackson‘s Soul Food, Two Guys Restaurant, and China

Tea (see menus). You can celebrate the community‘s culinary heritage at the annual Red Velvet Cake Festival and Things Are Cooking in Overtown Gala. You can also sample recipes passed down through generations in the homes of Overtown‘s people. In addition, newer residents from Cuba, Haiti, Jamaica, and other countries that share a common African heritage continue to add spices of Floribbean cuisine to Overtown cooking. Food has fostered good times in this community that has suffered from the effects of racism, drugs, and poverty. Yet society‘s ills may also continue to impact the eating habits of Overtown residents. Nationwide trends suggest the African American diet is changing. Forty years ago studies showed that blacks were twice as likely as whites to have adequate intakes of fiber, fruit, and vegetables. However blacks now have poorer quality diets when compared to whites. This trend is seen more among children, elderly and the poor. It may, in part, be explained by community grocery stores stocked mostly with processed foods, the high cost of fresh produce and lean meats, and the use of frying or fats in food preparation. (6) It is the goal of this project, to transform the unhealthy eating habits of this historic community; while maintaining the culinary traditions of its legacy recipes. This goal will be accomplish by instructing its youth in all aspects of nutritional science and culinary arts. These youths will act as ―change agents,‖ that will lead and guide the transformation to a healthier Overtown community.

There is an African proverb that says there is wisdom in learning from the past to guide the future. Therefore the Overtown Cookbook calls its readers to honor a culinary heritage and enhance its recipes to promote a healthier tomorrow.

 

References

1. Adker, Ann Marie interviewed by Heidi Allespach-Stanley, Miami 1991. Black Miami in the Twentieth Century. Pg 151. Gainsville: University Press of Florida, 1997.

2. Quote from Miami Metropolis 1915 in article by Dr. Dorothy Jenkins Fields. http://dhr.dos.state.fl.us/services/magazine/02winter/overtown.cfm. 6/5/2006

3. Dunn, Marvin. Black Miami in the Twentieth Century. Pg 143.

4. Kessler, John. ―Cue quest.‖ Atlanta Journal-Constitution. February 5, 2004. http://www.accessatlanta.com/restaurants/content/restaurants/reviews/0204/05bbq.html. 2006

5. Dunn, Marvin. Black Miami in the Twentieth Century. Pg 98.

6. M. Cristina F. Garces Lisa A. Sutherland. Diet of African Americans. http://www.faqs.org/nutrition/A-Ap/African-Americans-Diet-of.html. 2006

7. Borgerding, Alyson. ―A Bite of History – Culinary tour fills Charleston, SC visitors with

facts, fine food.‖ The Columbus Dispatch http://www.carolinafoodpros.com/news/default.aspx?newsid=1. 2006

8. Hutchinson, Willard and Beryl. Island Remembered: Great Food and Food Times at

Spanish Cay. http://www.islandremembered.com/beryl_hutchinson.php. 2006

9. Jurcova, Vladia. ―Culinary Heritage Walking Tours of Historic Charleston.‖ Travel Lady Magazine. http://www.travellady.com/Issues/July04/795CulinaryHeritageWalkingTours.htm. 2006

10. Cuisine of the Southern United States. Wikipedia. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cuisine_of_the_Southern_United_States. 2006

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2 Responses

  1. Hi I am doing a class assignment about this project for my MPH, and I was trying to search about your outcome objectives, after reading all the articles and presentations I would think that they are related to the decrease in specific percentages of the Diabetes disease and cardiovascular disease in Overtown community. Can you correct me and /or explain? thanks

    • Hi Maia. We would like to have an impact on disease rates in Overtown. However, because we are a mostly volunteer effort and a developing collaborative, our current objectives are focused on developing and testing recipes, and engaging youth and professionals in service-learning.

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