This week on My Classic Soul podcast, hosts Bethany Dawson and David Nathan, the British Ambassador of Soul, talk Soul Food, including the time Aretha Franklin made Nathan peach cobbler.
This week on My Classic Soul podcast, hosts Bethany Dawson and David Nathan, the British Ambassador of Soul, celebrate Soul Food, not only the history of our favorite dishes but fun stories of soul musicians and their favorite eats.
WHAT ACTUALLY IS SOUL FOOD?
Nathan: “Think of soul food as being associated with dishes primarily that come from the black American community. It would have gone probably somewhere in the 60′, using that particular term.”
Dawson: “And how did you as a young man in England discover this new cuisine?”
Nathan: “Well, I discovered it in a, in a kind of funny way. It wasn’t really called soul food in England. I discovered it because I was hanging out in Brixton. I was hanging out with Brixton in 19, late sixties, early, early seventies. Um, when, um. There were not a lot of people who look like me coming out of the Victoria line chief station.”
“I had a lot of bushy hair, but most of the people who lived in Brixton at that time were, was Indian. No, I’m taught not completely 100%, but you know, that was a lot of people, guys I hung out with. And I became familiar with the first dish – rice and peas.”
“So I didn’t really know what soul food was in England because we didn’t have it here. It wasn’t called that until I went to America. That’s when I discovered what soul food was.”
ON NATHAN”S FIRST SOUL FOOD EXPERIENCE IN AMERICA:
Nathan: “Brenda [Rooney and Herb from the Exciters] said, ‘Oh, you should come out to our house. I’m gonna cook you a proper soul food meal.'”
“I thought, ‘Wow, I’m finally gonna find out what soul food is like for real, the real thing.’ So I went out to their house. I remember she met me at the subway station, and we went to the house in Queens. She had made this big, massive load of soul food, which consisted of some dishes.”
“I was already familiar with the rice and beans, the American equivalent of rice and peas, which I think was red red beans and rice. I think that’s actually the equivalent now that I’m thinking about it. Maybe some yams, some other stuff.”
“But collard greens for sure. We had collard greens, which I had never heard the term ‘collard greens’ before, for sure. And then chitterlings she made, I didn’t know what they were. I’d heard of chitlins cause I’d heard of the Chitlin’ Circuit, which was this circuit of clubs mostly in theaters mostly in the South America, where they would all just tour.”
“Anyway, I didn’t know what chitterlings were. I just heard, heard the word. She said, ‘What do you think your first soul soul food experience was?’ ‘Fantastic. Yeah, I loved it. Loved it.'”
“So then a few months later, I went back with my friend Gary, who was from here – from Britain, I should say. He was my flatmate in Britain, and he had gone to live in New York and we went out again to, to the house in Queens. And she said, ‘I’ve been up all night, you know, preparing the chitterlings,’ and I didn’t think anything about that.”
“Anyway, so we start to eat the food, and I think Gary did know what they were, but I said, ‘You like those?’ ‘Oh yeah, the chitterlings are good, I suppose.’ ‘What are they?’ And she said, ‘Oh, you don’t know where they are?’ I said, ‘No.’ She said, ‘Pig intestines.'”
ON THE TIME ARETHA FRANKLIN MADE NATHAN PEACH COBBLER:
Nathan: “It’s 1980 and of REFA has left her Atlantic recording home for many years and she’s now signed a recording deal with Arista Records. But it was before the record came out for the first album.”
“We really had a really good relationship, you know, as a journalist, but also, she knew I was a real Aretha aficionado. I don’t mean like someone l’ll call up on the everyday on the phone, but we had to kind of have more of a personal relationship as much as it was a professional relationship.”
“So she called me and she says, ‘I have this new album coming out there and I would love you to come out and do an interview before the record comes out, just like to hear it.’ So I said, ‘Well, I’ll tell you what, because this was not being paid by a record company for me to go out there. Well, I’ll tell you what. I’d love to do that, but I’m gonna put a condition on it.”
“And she said, ‘Okay, what’s that?’ I said, ‘Well, I’ve heard all about your culinary skills, and I know you’re known for your peach cobbler. Now for those who don’t know what peach cobbler is…it’s a dessert made of peaches [laughs].”
“Peach cobbler is, particularly American cobbler, is a particular American kind of way of making a pie. So, you know, fast forward about a month or so. I arrived in Los Angeles, same with a friend of mine, and I called her and said, mom, I’m on my way this evening. Gut only one thing. I just want to make sure – did you make the peach cobbler that’s important?’ She said, ‘Yes.'”
Before we started the interview, she said ‘Let me give you some peach cobbler first.’ So it was like, ‘Wow.’ So then we did the interview and I said, ‘Well, now I need a little more peach cobbler, I think I might’ve taken some away with me too.”
Listen to the full podcast here.