African-Americans gathering to celebrate 'fruits of the harvest' Keeping Kwanzaa

December 16, 1992|By Karol V. Menzie | Karol V. Menzie,Staff Writer

Mary Carter Smith is just about ready for Kwanzaa.

"I already have my Kwanzaa candles up on the straw mat," Ms. Smith says, "and I have some rutabagas and walnuts on the mat, symbolizing those fruits of the harvest."

Kwanzaa means "first fruits of the harvest" in Swahili. It's the name of a weeklong celebration of African-American culture that begins Dec. 26. The tradition was established in the '60s by Maulana Karenga, a California professor of black studies, as an expression of cultural pride and a way of reminding African-Americans and other races of the strong and diverse origins of America's black populations.

Each day of the celebration focuses on an aspect of the Nguzo Saba, or principles for living, which Kwanzaa is intended to reinforce: unity, self-determination, collective work and responsibility, cooperative economics, purpose, creativity and faith.

Seven candles -- one black, three red and three green -- lighted as part of the celebration symbolize those principles. They are placed in a kinara, a seven-branched candleholder that symbolizes the continent and peoples of Africa.

On Dec. 31, the last day of the celebration, there is a feast called Karamu, which author Eric Copage, in his book "Kwanzaa," calls "an opportunity for a confetti storm of cultural expression: dance and music, readings, remembrances."

Ms. Smith is going to a friend's house for the feast: "We'll tell stories and bring the drums out and the children will sing." Ms. Smith, who has been designated Maryland's official griot, or guardian of tradition, by Gov. William Donald Schaefer, will be called on for stories. And she is contributing to the feast. "People love my chili, so I'll be carrying a pot of my chili," she says.

Karamu is a "unity feast," says Charles Duggar, an English teacher at Carver Vocational-Technical High School, who earlier this month helped organize a daylong "preview" celebration of ,, Kwanzaa for students at Morgan State University. People share family and cultural traditions through the dishes they select.

"It's really for the children," Mr. Duggar says, a good way to show youngsters that nutritious food can be delicious. "I always make banana cake and carrot cake -- and some young people just can't understand a banana can taste that way, or a carrot."

some families, the meal brings unity through diversity, reflecting the experience of the many African cultures, as well as many other places where people of those cultures have lived. "You can celebrate a different country of the African diaspora each day by cooking only foods of that country," Mr. Copage says in his book. "On the first night you might serve Jamaican dishes, on the second food from the American South, on the third African and so on . . . ending with a glorious all-out multinational banquet on the last night."

Deborah Reed, the owner and manager of Nyammin's Karibi Kafe on Charles Street, finds it easy to trace the African influence in the dishes of her native Jamaica. "A lot of the things that we grow [in Jamaica] are found in Africa," Ms. Reed says. "They were brought over." She runs down a list: yams; ackee, a fruit that goes in the Jamaican national dish of ackee and codfish; green bananas; coconut cream; rice; and beans.

When Africans arrived in other areas, they brought their cooking traditions with them. When they

couldn't find the exact ingredients, she says, "they had to make do," applying old techniques to new foods.


In 1985, Mary Carter Smith, along with Alice McGill and Elmira Washington, who are also local griots, published "The Griots' Cookbook." Among the recipes is one for a colorful salad that had been printed in a 1981 issue of Essence magazine, attributed to Venezuela Newborn.

Kwanzaa salad Serves four to six.

2 cups cooked turkey, diced

1 cup celery, diced

2 red delicious apples, skin on, diced

1/4 cup golden raisins

1 teaspoon salt

1/3 cup finely chopped onion

4-6 cups salad greens

1/2 cup mayonnaise

1/2 cup sour cream

1 tablespoon orange juice

4 navel oranges, peeled and sliced

2 purple onions, cut in rings

In a large bowl, combine turkey, celery, apples, raisins, salt an -- chopped onion. In a small bowl, combine mayonnaise, sour cream and orange juice. Mix well and pour over other ingredients. Toss gently to blend. To serve, place salad greens on plate, and spoon salad mixture on top. Arrange orange slices and onion rings around edge of plate.

The next recipe, a North African dish from Morocco, is from "Kwanzaa," by Eric V. Copage (William Morrow, $25). Mr. Copage collected the recipe from Audie Odum-Stallato, a New Jersey caterer and cooking teacher.

Yogurt-sauced chicken curry Serves four.

4 chicken breast halves, bone in, skin on

2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice

1/2 cup all-purpose flour

1/2 teaspoon salt

1/4 teaspoon freshly ground pepper

2 tablespoons unsalted butter

2 tablespoons vegetable oil

1 medium onion, chopped

1 medium Granny Smith apple, cored and chopped

1 garlic clove, minced

1 tablespoon curry powder

1/4 teaspoon ground cardamom

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