Buttermilk and cornbread take UNT doctoral student Deah Berry-Mitchell back to childhood. Her grandmother would mush them together for the dish called Cush Cush and spoon-feed it to Berry-Mitchell and her cousins as she read Bible verses on their front porch.
"You can communicate so much through food," Berry-Mitchell says. "On that front porch with my grandmother, I felt safe. That Cush Cush was like a hug that made me feel loved and all warmed inside."
Food has helped Berry-Mitchell learn about her own culture as a Black American and, in recent years, she's been sharing it with others as a food historian. Inspired by her own interests to experience the rich cultural history of her travel destinations, she started Soul of DFW in 2018 to lead bus tours immersing participants in local Black culture and history through food. She wrote the 2019 book Cornbread & Collard Greens: How West African Cuisine & Slavery Influenced Soul Food and continues to write about history as a regular contributor to The Dallas Morning News.
"Once you study history, you'll see that there are a lot of threads connecting us in this large, beautiful quilt that we call America, so it's exciting to be able to go back and unravel those threads," she says.
Berry-Mitchell chose to pursue her Ph.D. in history at UNT because of its flourishing food studies program.
"This degree will help me grow as a historian and getting to have mentors like Dr. Jennifer Wallach, who is an established scholar of African American foodways, makes success in this field feel a lot more attainable," Berry-Mitchell says.
For her dissertation research, she is exploring the foodways of enslaved African Americans in Texas.
"Being a Black American, we have a pretty broken history as far as what's been documented. A lot of us can't trace our family roots back past a few centuries," she says. "This is a way for me to not only add a bridge and connect with my ancestors, but also be able to pass that knowledge on to others who might be curious about it."