Ask Lester Simmons to reveal his family recipe for macaroni and cheese, and the jovial voice on the other end of the phone suddenly turns ominous. “If I told you, I’d have to kill you,” he says sternly, before the jovial voice returns with a hearty laugh.
At Simmons’ L&G Southern Soul Food in New Castle, and at barbecue joints, home-cookin’ classics and soul food staples across Delaware, recipes are often closely guarded family secrets, perfected over the course of generations.
Anyone can fry a chicken or roast a rack of ribs, but once you hit on the perfect combination of time, seasoning and temperature, you hold onto the blueprints for dear life.
“It’s like any of your big corporations, like Apple. Everybody has their secrets to success,” says Larry Fletcher, who owns Walt’s Chicken Express with his wife, Beverly. “When you have a winner, you run with that horse. And you don’t give it up.”
We think of soul food as simple stuff, with its roots in West African cuisine and American slavery (when slaves were often forced to make the best use of discarded cuts of meat and overlooked greens), and indelible ties to African-American culture.
But at the center of soul food is family, and the traditions and celebrations that unfold for years around the table. In Delaware, it’s something that’s shared universally.
“Soul food is anything which lightens your soul when you taste it,” Fletcher says. “And that’s not limited to any one kind of people.” Today, Walt’s maintains its urban presence, while trays of its famous chicken can be found at Point-to-Point alongside the Bellinis and caviar.
Following is a small sampling of our soul food favorites.
Just don’t ask us for the recipes.