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Cover image for The cooking gene : a journey through African American culinary history in the Old South
Title:
The cooking gene : a journey through African American culinary history in the Old South
ISBN:
9780062379290

9780062379276
Edition:
First edition.
Physical Description:
xvii, 443 pages, 8 unnumbered pages of plates : color illustrations ; 24 cm
Contents:
Preface: The Old South -- No more whistling walk for me -- Hating my soul -- Mise en place -- Mishpocheh -- Missing pieces -- No nigger blood -- "White man in the woodpile" -- 0.01 percent -- Sweet tooth -- Mothers of slaves -- Alma mater -- Chesapeake gold -- The Queen -- Adam in the garden -- Shake dem 'simmons down -- All creatures of our G-d and king -- The Devil's half acre -- "The King's cuisine" -- Crossroads -- The old country -- Sankofa.
Summary:
"A memoir of Southern cuisine and food culture that traces the paths of the author's ancestors (black and white) through the crucible of slavery to show its effects on our food today"--

"Culinary historian Michael W. Twitty brings a fresh perspective to 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 from 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 touchpoints in our ongoing struggles over race. In this unique memoir, 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. Twitty travels from the tobacco and rice farms of colonial times to plantation kitchens and backbreaking cotton fields to tell of the struggles his family faced and how food enabled his ancestors' survival across three centuries. He sifts through stories, recipes, genetic tests, and historical documents, and visits Civil War battlefields in Virginia, synagogues in Alabama, and black-owned organic farms in Georgia.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 South's past. Along the way, he reveals a truth that is more than skin deep--the power of food to bring the kin of the enslaved and their former slaveholders to the table, where they can discover the real America together."--Jacket.
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Book 641.5929607 TWI 1 1
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R.H. Stafford Library (Woodbury)1On Order
Hardwood Creek Library (Forest Lake)1On Order
Park Grove Library (Cottage Grove)1On Order

Summary

Summary

2018 James Beard Foundation Book of the Year | 2018 James Beard Foundation Book Award Winner inWriting | Nominee for the 2018 Hurston/Wright Legacy Award in Nonfiction | #75 on The Root100 2018

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.

Illustrations by Stephen Crotts


Reviews 4

Publisher's Weekly Review

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.) © Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved.


Booklist Review

*Starred Review* Referring to the Old South as a forgotten Little Africa, culinary historian Twitty explores southern cuisine through the lens of the nation's troubled racial past, which has created an amalgam of races and cultures, a blend often denied. Through a crowd-funded campaign, the Southern Discomfort Tour, Twitty traveled from Civil War battlefields to southern plantations to black-owned organic farms, reviving old recipes and using old cooking methods to get a taste and feel for the food that sustained his ancestors. Along the way, he uncovers his own family history and rediscovers for himself a connection he felt he was losing. Twitty puts his revelations in the broader context of the heritage of black cooking, noting contributions by unsung great black American cooks, including James Hemings, enslaved by Thomas Jefferson. Hemings learned French cuisine while in Paris with Jefferson but added his own heritage to create a blend for Monticello that was credited to his master. In this amazing memoir of food culture, Twitty draws the connection between Hemings and many other historic individuals and contemporary notions of southern cuisine that have ignored a neglected and often-bitter past. This is a joyous journey of discovery by a man with obvious love for history and the culinary arts.--Bush, Vanessa Copyright 2017 Booklist


New York Review of Books Review

When Twitty visited the South for the first time, he and his father stopped to get some chicken, "golden, greasy, sweet and plump," and the boy was impressed by the refills of sweet tea on offer. His conclusion: "They give you all you want to drink, and lots of chicken and stuff, but there's flies everywhere and it's really hot all the time." On that trip, the 6-year-old Twitty met each sunny morning with a wide smile, danced for his cousins and was introduced to a few farm animals. But the meat of his book derives from a more recent trip, dubbed the "Southern Discomfort Tour." The innocence is gone. Twitty is a culinary historian who cooks traditional antebellum meals and dresses the part: "They call this a costume but it is my transformative historical drag; I wear a dusting of pot rust, red clay and the ghost smells of meals past." After he researches his own genetic makeup, he feels he has come into his own as an "obsessive cook with compulsive genealogist tendencies who can point to a map of Africa, Europe, North America, and with it, the South, and guide you on trade winds to tidal creeks leading to ports, leading to roads and to plantations and more roads and more plantations to cities." His account of that journey tends to be a little breathless. "It's exhausting," he writes, "but necessary." Twitty leans hard on the past, yet much of his personality - which shines through these pages - is rooted in his homosexuality and in his conversion to Judaism. Things get extra fascinating when he marches out a brilliant idea for an "African-American equivalent of both Passover and Yom Kippur, where we atone for our sins and remember our history" by eating "gross" food from each cuisine. "Like a Seder plate, we could have a slave plate." It's no surprise, then, that on a visit to the British Museum, Twitty meditates on the Akan drum, which "captured three moments in time. The movement of the drum from an Akan town to a slave ship, the beating of the drum ... and the moment the antelope skin wore through and the American deer had to suffice."


Kirkus Review

Food historian Twitty, creator of the Afroculinaria blog, serves up a splendid hearth-based history, at once personal and universal, of the African-American experience.The author accounts himself a citizen of the Old South, "a place where people use food to tell themselves who they are." It is also, he continues, a fraught place where food controversieswhether to put sugar and not molasses in cornbread, saypile atop controversies of history, all pointing to the terrible fact of slavery. Twitty's book is not just about food, though it certainly covers the broad expanse of African-American cooking over the centuries and how it shaped the larger Southern American culinary tradition. The author delights in the "world of edible antiques" that his researches take him into, a world requiring him to think in terms of gills, drams, and pecks. Twitty also traces his own family history, beyond the eight or so generations that carry documents, to places all over the world: a white ancestor here, an Indonesian by way of Madagascar forebear there, Native Americans and West Africans and Anglos meeting in bloodstreams and at table. On all these matters, the author writes with elegant urgency, moving swiftly from topic to topic: on one page, he may write of the tobacco economy of the Confederacy, on another of the ways in which "the food of the Chesapeake grew legs as the culture of the Upper South was forced to branch out" beyond the Appalachians and Mississippi into new territories, such that "turkey with oyster dressing on a Maryland plantation became turkey with freshwater clam and mussel sauce on a slaveholding Missouri farmstead." Drawing on a wealth of documentary digging, personal interviews, and plenty of time in the kitchen, Twitty ably joins past and present, puzzling out culinary mysteries along the waye.g., "chickens got served to preachers because chickens had always flounced in the hands of African priests, and nobody remembered why." An exemplary, inviting exploration and an inspiration for cooks and genealogists alike. Copyright Kirkus Reviews, used with permission.


Table of Contents

Family Treep. viii
Preface: The Old Southp. xi
Chapter 1 No More Whistling Walk for Mep. 1
Chapter 2 Hating My Soulp. 25
Chapter 3 Mise en Placep. 43
Chapter 4 Mishpochehp. 65
Chapter 5 Missing Piecesp. 81
Chapter 6 No Nigger Bloodp. 91
Chapter 7 "White Man in the Woodpile"p. 99
Chapter 8 0.01 Percentp. 119
Chapter 9 Sweet Toothp. 141
Chapter 10 Mothers of Slavesp. 161
Chapter 11 Alma Materp. 199
Chapter 12 Chesapeake Goldp. 219
Chapter 13 The Queenp. 239
Chapter 14 Adam in the Gardenp. 265
Chapter 15 Shake Dem 'Simmons Downp. 283
Chapter 16 All Creatures of Our G-d and Kindp. 297
Chapter 17 The Devil's Half Acrep. 321
Chapter 18 "The King's Cuisine"p. 337
Chapter 19 Crossroadsp. 365
Chapter 20 The Old Countryp. 381
Chapter 21 Sankofap. 401
Author's Notep. 417
Selected Bibliographyp. 423
Acknowledgmentsp. 439
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