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

Amistad: HarperCollins. Aug. 2017. 464p. illus. notes. bibliog. ISBN 9780062379290. $28.99; ebk. ISBN 9780062379283. COOKING
OrangeReviewStarCulinary historian and blogger Twitty ( recounts his personal mission to document the links between his forebearers' foodways and family history from Africa to America, from slavery to freedom. His effort is part food memoir, part ancestral findings, and a paean to the culinary successes of his ancestors. Twitty visited cultural locations pertinent to his story, lectured on his findings, and engaged in genealogical research to comprehend his roots and food heritage. The author details his childhood aversion to soul food, introduction to cooking, devotion to family, conversion to Judaism and mastery of its dishes, while providing genealogical insights along the way. During his visits to plantations throughout the South, Twitty made fascinating discoveries, such as that farmers markets and community gardens served bondsmen well, and that their personal gardens acted to moderate slavery itself; that the slave's diet was perhaps healthier than the master's table; and that field labor tended to preserve the manhood and brotherhood of many of the enslaved. Conversely, Twitty's search for his ancestors in slave auction advertisements reveals the human costs and indignities associated with these sales.
VERDICT A valuable addition to culinary and Old South historiography with lip-smacking period recipes. Recommended for regional historians, professional chefs, cuisine enthusiasts, and general readers.
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