The Cooking Gene: A Journey Through African American Culinary History in the Old South by Michael W. Twitty
Hardcover: 464 pages
Publisher: Amistad (August 1, 2017)
A renowned culinary historian offers a fresh perspective on our most divisive cultural issue, race, in this illuminating memoir of Southern cuisine and food culture that traces his ancestry—both black and white—through food, from Africa to America and slavery to freedom.
Southern food is integral to the American culinary tradition, yet the question of who “owns” it is one of the most provocative touch points in our ongoing struggles over race. In this unique memoir, culinary historian Michael W. Twitty takes readers to the white-hot center of this fight, tracing the roots of his own family and the charged politics surrounding the origins of soul food, barbecue, and all Southern cuisine.
From the tobacco and rice farms of colonial times to plantation kitchens and backbreaking cotton fields, Twitty tells his family story through the foods that enabled his ancestors’ survival across three centuries. He sifts through stories, recipes, genetic tests, and historical documents, and travels from Civil War battlefields in Virginia to synagogues in Alabama to Black-owned organic farms in Georgia.
As he takes us through his ancestral culinary history, Twitty suggests that healing may come from embracing the discomfort of the Southern past. Along the way, he reveals a truth that is more than skin deep—the power that food has to bring the kin of the enslaved and their former slaveholders to the table, where they can discover the real America together.
This is not a true cookbook, it’s also a mix of historical non-fiction, the African Slave experience, how and what the slaves cooked and what they used to cook it. It’s about how the author became so obsessed with food and his need to to learn about his ancesters who were slaves.
The book is funny, sad, thought provoking and at times a tough read. I learned a lot from this book. But the library wanted it back sooner than I wanted to let it go, and so I rushed through it. Because of that I feel the need to re-read it, slowly next time. I want to take my time and enjoy it completely.
I love the photos that were in the book.
Here are the first two things I plan on making from the book:
Kitchen Pepper: Goes in everything in place of just pepper
1 tsp coarsely ground black pepper
1 tsp ground white pepper
1 tsp red pepper flakes
1 tsp ground mace
1 tsp ground Ceylon cinnamon
1 tsp ground nutmeg
1 tsp ground allspice
1 tsp ground ginger
Mix together and store in a cool place
Mr. Wesley Jones’s Barbecue Mop
1/2 stick unsalted butter
1 large yellow or white onion, well chopped
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 cup apple cider vinegar
1/2 cup water
1 tbsp kosher salt
1 tsp coarse black pepper
1 pod long red cayenne pepper or 1 tsp red pepper flakes
1 tsp dried rubbed sage
1 tsp dried basil leaves or 1 tbsp minced fresh basil
1/2 tsp crushed coriander seed
1/4 cup dark brown sugar or 4 tbsp molasses (not blackstrap)
Melt the butter in a large saucepan
Add onion and garlic and saute on medium heat until translucent
Turn heat down slightly and add vinegar, water, and the salt and spices
Allow to cook gently for about thirty minutes to an hour
To be used as a light mop sauce or glaze during the last 15-30 minutes of barbecuing and as a dip for cooked meat.
I highly recommended this book, and I also recommend his blog, Afroculinaria