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BEYOND GUMBO: Creole Fusion Food from the Atlantic Rim

Jessica Harris, Author
Jessica Harris, Author . Simon & Schuster $27 (400p) ISBN 978-0-684-87062-5
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Harris achieves the same balanced blend of personal insight, history and recipes that made her previous works (The Africa Cookbook and The Welcome Table) shine in this examination of creole food. Her first hurdle is defining the word "creole," and she comes up with a credible interpretation representing a fusion of the foods of Africa, the Americas and Europe that is "greater than the multiple dishes that spawned them." Recipes are top-notch, and Harris never skips an opportunity to illuminate in a header. Some of these notes report the origins of a dish, as in the header for Limpin' Susan, a rice and okra dish from South Carolina that is a cousin to the better-known Hoppin' John. Harris generously credits far-flung friends who have provided ideas and recipes and sometimes re-creates their notes on the dishes, as in a letter from Chef Fritz Blank of Deux Cheminées restaurant in Philadelphia that arrived with his recipe for Pepperpot Soup with Seafood and Pumpkin. For other recipes, she vividly sets a scene, explaining that bites of the Roast Corn of Jamaica are meant to be alternated with coconut, or at least that's what's encouraged by "ladies who plant themselves and a brazier under the shade of a large tree or umbrella and grill away" throughout the Caribbean. Despite the title, there are recipes for eight varieties of gumbo, including Aunt Sweet's Seafood Gumbo. Sometimes cookbook glossaries feel like throw-away elements, but in typical fashion Harris makes good use of hers, not only to define such potentially unfamiliar items as the fruit cherimoya, but also to entertain (chiles "crosspollinate with the speed of rabbits") and inform. (Mar.)

Forecast:Harris is one of those writers who could write about almost anything and make it interesting, but here she has found a subject rich enough to match her impressive talents. Given the paucity of books on the subject (compared to, say, Italian cooking) this should be a strong seller, and most likely will garner some awards as well.

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