This past Saturday the Friends of the Forest Avenue Library held their annual Soul Food Festival. No one seems to remember when the first one was held but it was in the old Mid-City Library sometime in the 1970s. Many of the Forest Avenue Friends have been part of it for 30-plus years and were on the frontlines of establishing the Forest Avenue Library. A lot of them are veterans of countless church suppers and know exactly how to put on such an event.
It was originally held during Black History Month, February, but for a number of years it has been the first Saturday in March when there is a little less chance of inclement weather. The Friends prepare dishes including fried chicken, ribs, black-eyed peas, greens, jambalaya, dirty rice, red beans and rice, corn bread, and a variety of cakes and pies (plus a few things I never knew were considered soul food like macaroni and cheese) at home. As a member of the Friends, I spent Friday evening preparing my own traditional contributions: dirty rice and sweet potato pie. I was lucky to get the prize-winning pie recipe from one of the founding members of the Friends.
Everything is sold at reasonable prices and all proceeds go to the Friends. Aprons with the cool logo designed pro bono by a well-known local graphic artist go for $12.
Is it a big fund raiser? Well, no. Like many bake sales, if everyone donated the cost of their ingredients, they would likely come out ahead. Was the original purpose to introduce the larger community to chitterlings and sweet potato pie? I’m not sure anyone remembers.
What it is now is a splendid community event that draws people into the Forest Avenue Library and celebrates its place in the neighborhood and greater community. While this Saturday was cool and cloudy, the first Saturday in March seems often to be one of the first warm, sunny days of the year and neighbors come out of their winter hibernation to greet each other. People come from all over the city for a piece of sweet potato pie and, more importantly, to celebrate the special gem that is the Forest Avenue Library.
The lady who gave me the pie recipe will be 92 this month. She was there, working the cash register, and had brought a number of dishes but no pie this time. She says at her age she is just going to have to cut back. My two pies were gone long before everyone wanting a piece got one. So, I’m marking my calendar for March 3, 2012 and making a note to bake a few more sweet potato pies.