The Cooking Gene: A Journey Through African-American Culinary History in the Old South

Michael W. Twitty. Amistad, $28.99 (464p) ISBN 978-0-06-237929-0
In this tasty but overstuffed food odyssey, Afroculinaria historian Twitty recounts his “Southern Discomfort Tour” that he documented on his blog The Cooking Gene: revisiting the varied cuisines of the antebellum Tidewater, Low Country, and Cotton Belt South, talking to chefs and farmers, giving historical cooking demonstrations, and piecing together biographical and gastronomic lore on his enslaved (and enslaving) ancestors. On the peg of the tour he hangs a surfeit of information, from history and agronomy to genealogical research, recipes, and boyhood reminiscences of his grandmother’s Sunday soul food feasts. Yet that information is not always well-digested: the author’s DNA testing results prompt lengthy disquisitions on the ethnogeography of West Africa, and some cultural-studies verbiage—“our food world is a charged scene of culinary inquiry”—could use trimming. For food lovers, his descriptions are rich: “the collard greens spiked with hot pepper, sugar and fatback, fried chicken, Virginia country ham… sweet cornbread, biscuits, string beans that swim in potlikker.” Throughout, Twitty integrates historical details into the narrative, as in accounts of the backbreaking slave labor of tobacco and rice farming or the emotional anguish of slave auctions—and the results are fascinating. (Aug.)
Reviewed on: 07/24/2017
Release date: 08/01/2017
Paperback - 978-0-06-237927-6
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