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Weekend Reads: “The Cooking Gene”

Hi, friends. I think this is one of the most important books I’ve ever read. Be sure to check it out for yourselves!

The Cooking Gene: A Journey Through African American Culinary History in the Old SouthThe Cooking Gene: A Journey Through African American Culinary History in the Old South by Michael W. Twitty

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I almost don’t know where to start this review. Like the author, I have been a first-person cultural interpreter. Like the author, I am interested in foodways of all sorts.

Unlike the author, I can’t trace any amazing connection between the entire history of the United States and the foodways of his enslaved ancestors … all the way back to Africa. That’s just what Michael W. Twitty has done in this book, which is part memoir, part sociology text, and part cookery book.

In between familial stories, geneology, and history lessons, Twitty talks about food and how it connects people. One of the things I learned in studying anthropology is that culture is carried via three methods: language, music, and food. Twitty focuses on the latter to show how much of what we now consider soul food (e.g., hoppin’ John) has its origins in the Senegambian, Ghanian, Nigerian, Yoruban, and other tribal regions from which slaves were taken.

There are also some family recipes interspersed with the text, and I plan to try several of them. But that’s not the point.

I was fascinated by this deep dive into Southern foodways and their origins. Twitty has not only done his homework, he’s put it into use making meals with heirloom ingredients and antiquated technologies to learn how his ancestors ate and how it influences the cuisine of the South today.

Highly recommended.

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