The soul food cook-off gave everyone a taste of black culture and the chance for those who entered to win a dinner for two and tuition for three
"This is more than just a competition or tasting experience," said Joan Forcet, director of the college's Creations Art Gallery and a member of the planning committee. "We want people to know that black history is made up of many things, including food."
Winning first place were black-eyed peas with neck bone prepared by Mount Holly resident Derrick Hannah, a student studying information systems.
Although he said black-eyed peas are his favorites, "I'm no cook. My mother deserves the credit."
The second-place winner was Eunice Lamson of Pemberton Township, an employee at the college bookstore who prepared ham hocks and black-eyed peas.
"I don't call it soul food," said Lamson, who has entered the contest every year for the last three years. "I just call it plain home cooking."
Although he won no prize, Claude Henderson's cornbread muffins disappeared before he had a chance to sample any of them.
"My roommates and I got together and decided to make something," Henderson, a student at the school, said while judges sampled the entries. ''We figured cornbread would be easiest to make."
The students all do their own cooking in an apartment near campus, with the only prerequisite being how long it takes to prepare a recipe, Henderson said.
"I like things that are easy to cook because I don't like to wait for my food," he said.
Soul food is eaten by black families throughout the year, but on New Year's Day it takes on special meaning, Munson said. Eating black-eyed peas on New Year's Day is a tradition among many black families, one that is supposed to ensure good luck. Eating collard greens will guarantee that a wad of money will come your way soon, he said.
Now called soul food or black cuisine, the foods are marked by distinctive spices and, frequently, hot sauce. One staple is pork, whether it be pigs' feet, ham hocks (the knee joint) or the small intestines of the pigs, which are known as chitterlings.
The cuisine had its beginnings as leftover food unwanted by plantation owners, said Forcet, who called soul food "the cheapest dishes poor people could make." Black families managed to scrape together what foods they could find to survive.
"But it's a mistake to say only black families ate this food," Forcet said. "This was the food eaten by poor blacks and whites."
As he tasted Lamson's black-eyed peas and pronounced them "almost as good as the ones my mother makes," Munson reflected on the success of monthlong activities celebrating Black History Month at the college.
"I think this cook-off is a good indication of what has happened all month," he said. "People of all races and different backgrounds have gotten involved with Black History Month, and that's a good sign because this is a celebration for everyone, not just a month of events by and for blacks."