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

4.05  ·  Rating details ·  1,160 Ratings  ·  223 Reviews
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 o
Hardcover, 444 pages
Published August 1st 2017 by Amistad
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Petra X
Aug 29, 2018 is currently reading it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: brbnr-1, brbnr-e
This book is so beautifully written it wouldn't matter what the subject is. Or at least that's the view from the top of the book. The author is gay, black, white, Jewish and a historian and a writer, an amazing writer. With all that background, I'm hoping for some interesting angles in the writing.
Dec 04, 2017 rated it liked it
Recommends it for: nonfiction lovers
My rating for this book is actually 3,5 stars. The Cooking Gene was quite the challenge for me and for the ladies I buddy read it with. The Cooking Gene is an exploration of African-American culinary history in the south, slavery, and genealogy. I wasn't read for the way the book was laid out. I was expecting something a bit more linear than what I got, which was a jumpy, hard to stay on tract reading project. There were some key elements missing to make the reading experience better - maps, glo ...more
Sep 13, 2017 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: food
I heard Michael Twitty speak on a panel a few years ago, at an event on interpreting African-American history today. Twitty, a gay black Jewish man who passionately talked about culinary history, sparked my interest. He is well known for cooking meals on plantations in the American South using only the cookware and food that was available to slaves. I was thrilled to find out that he would be publishing a book, and eagerly awaited its publication. I was not disappointed.

"The Cooking Gene" is a m
Jenny (Reading Envy)
I have been wanting to read this book for quite a while, and the summer Reading Envy Picnic challenge helped push me into it.

"This taste in my mouth is the flavor of black folks taking their country back."

Michael W. Twitty is a culinary historian who has taken a deep look at southern cuisine through many lenses, but always coming back to his identity as a black (but not only black), gay, Jewish man. He is known to some because of a piece he wrote a few years ago, An Open Letter to Paula Deen, b
I think it’s most fitting to begin at this book’s end: “It is no sin to go back and fetch what you have forgotten.” In The Cooking Gene, Michael W. Twitty helps us rediscover a vast and influential culinary tradition that black Americans have created throughout our time on this continent.

Some people are sangers, not singers. Some people cook, and others, like my father says, can burn: Twitty is clearly in the latter group. As someone who only burns water (but washes a mean dish), I wasn’t sure
Monica **can't read fast enough**
Unfortunately, The Cooking Gene was a bust for me. I think that I was expecting a reading experience from Twitty that he wasn't really promising in the synopsis. I may have read more into what the book would be about than the premise really is. I thought that I was going to get a book that pretty thoroughly explored the social aspects and dynamics of food in the African American community. How food played and still plays a part in how many of us show affection and appreciation for one another th ...more
Oct 22, 2017 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
I've been following Twitty's blog, Afroculinaria, ever since I heard an interview with him on local Washington, DC radio a few years ago. He is a really interesting guy--and just reading his recipes will make you hungry!

A basic premise of the book is that black Americans need to "reclaim" southern cuisine. I don't really have a dog in that fight (which seems to be mostly in culinary circles anyway), I just like to eat the food! I'm white, but I've always assumed that Southern food belonged to ev
Leslie Reese
"My mouth had been watering to read Michael W. Twitty’s The Cooking Gene A Journey Through African American Culinary History in the Old South ever since I learned about it from reading Twitty’s blog, Afroculinaria, where he often writes about the intersections between history, racial politics, social justice, and food. The idea of Twitty, a black male culinary authority – who also identifies as Jewish and gay – investigating and writing about “African American History in the Old South” had me an ...more
Aug 11, 2017 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I had a complicated experience reading this book. On the whole, it rates 4* for the important and fascinating information on the history of enslavement in America, the culinary history of Southern food, and the way in which DNA can guide a genealogical project. But the book is not without its flaws.

My mother was born a Southerner (white) and I recall our family treks from Wisconsin to Virginia which was very much moving from one culture (heavily German/Scandinavian) to a foreign one. The food my
Oct 21, 2017 rated it liked it
Shelves: non-fiction
This is a troubling book is many ways.

Needless to say the subject of slavery itself is a difficult one. While Twitty frames his entire book in terms of himself and his family/ancestors, it's not hard to extrapolate to the larger picture. If you didn't already know how brutal/inhumane/unacceptable/etc. slavery was, there's enough here to drive it home for you.

But of course the focus is supposed to be African American culinary history and I have a hard time seeing how this book does justice to t
Nov 18, 2017 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
I wish Michael Twitty’s book, The Cooking Gene: a Journey Through African American Culinary History in the Old South, had been a hundred pages shorter, less overwhelming in detail, and much less convoluted as narration. But the truth is Twitty’s book is about as long, detailed, and convoluted as it needed to be to trace two equally long and difficult genealogies -- his own and that of Southern cooking. It is astonishing to watch him reach back to find answers--through information gaps, fissures, ...more
thoughts coming shortly
Jan 10, 2018 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This book satisfies on so many levels...a memoir with recipes and American history and genealogy.

Oct 18, 2017 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I heard about this book on a podcast (Bite, I think?) and it sounded fascinating and educational so I picked it up and started reading it pretty quickly. The book turned out to be both what I thought it was along with something different, and I learned a lot while reading it.

The premise of the book is simple enough - a black man wants to learn more about his family history via the food they eat, along with how that has been affected by social, political, and economic issues throughout the last f
I went into this read thinking that this would be a book that focused solely on cooking. Instead, it's so much more: a history text curated along the lines of enslaved African American foodways, a culinary history text examining the economics of the Old South, and an incredible examination of the author's connection to his family and his ancestors, and how he's driven to explore that connection in relation to the first two strata.

It's a lot, is what this book is.

And it took me a long time to re
Michael Twitty has penned a sweeping memoir enriched with interleaved stories of the African Slave experience. As a culinary historian who delves into the African contribution to American cooking and a docent in a living history center demonstrating slave cooking, Michael used those resources as a jumping point, ultimately traveling the world gathering details for this wide reaching tale.
Sometimes drifting into a scholarly voice Michael Twitty never loses sight of the soul rending truth of slav
Oct 25, 2017 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: genealogy
Magnificent read! In many ways it was not an easy read but the layers are thought provoking, at times jarring. The topics covered by Michael Twitty can each command special series in themselves - Ancestry DNA related groups and communities, food as a conduit of cultural norms and so forth. I have read historical cookery writers such as Fannie Farmer and Mrs. Beeton, but this goes way behind the scope of their coverage. I look forward to more from this writer and applaud him in the degree and dep ...more
Sep 27, 2017 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: book-club-reads
Didn't finish. Too disjointed and I couldn't stay awake long enough at any stretch to make this a worthwhile use of my time. May have been a function of a hectic schedule, though I think some editing was in order.
Hal Schrieve
Nov 11, 2017 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: race-in-america
Twitty is a master historian mixed with a master memoirist. This book pulls together years of research and reflection to create a work that is part historical narrative , part family memoir, and which is rich throughout with descriptions of the horrors of America’s culinary history and with moments where real people in the present come together to uncover the past and heal the present through understanding food traditions and the way they tie us together.

Twitty traces his own family history in V
Debbie Notkin
Nov 25, 2017 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
This is an extraordinary book. Twitty manages to combine his love of the South and Southern food, his deep personal and ancestral feelings about slavery, his (Jewish) religious faith, his search for his genetic lineage, and more into a compelling, emotional, complex, sensual narrative.

He certainly added to my understanding of culinary history, especially in the American south and Africa, but also in northern Europe and elsewhere. He gave me a whole new slant on what the transition of southern ec
Rebecca Gomez Farrell
Twitty provides a fascinating look into how African cooking during the Slave Trade influenced the modern day and historic foods we associate with Southern cooking today, and how climate, cash crops, and the violence visited upon the enslaved all are evident in the cuisine. It's a deep dive into his own personal genealogy and family oral histories as well, written in a way that doesn't provide conclusion, as so many African American people can never fully re-discover their lost roots. A few chapt ...more
The Cooking Gene goes on our must read list - no wonder this book is Number 1 on Amazon releases right now. Read our full review here!
I can understand some reader comments on the cohesiveness (or lack thereof) of this book, but right from the start, Twitty makes no claims that the book is anything other than what it is- the genetics and geneaology of his family and, by extention, of African Americans in general, as well as the culinary and cultural history of African Americans in the creation of a southern or soul food cuisine. The book is certainly a mosaic and there are chapters in which I did not follow the tribal African n ...more
Nov 13, 2017 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
The book traces Twitty's journey through his families food history and how it relates to modern African-American culture. Tracing how food and culture inform each other he looks at the genealogy of his own family to explain how certain foods and food cultures developed. I really wanted to like the book more than I actually did, but found the style, which Twitty describes as "bric-a-brac" made it a disjointed and often difficult read. It is however an important book for anyone interested in Afric ...more
An exploration of the history of African American cuisine via one man's investigations into his enslaved ancestors. Memoirs are usually compulsively readable, even if grim; despite appearances this is too broad in scope to be a memoir, and it's certainly not quick reading. Twitty makes some attempts to justify the book's messy structure, and he's right that the subject, particularly the genealogical focus, is by nature disjointed and complex; this still wants for a refined introduction, a strong ...more
Melissa Fondakowski
Nov 14, 2017 rated it it was amazing
I don't have the words to really express what I felt reading this tremendous work. I only feel lucky that Michael Twitty wrote this story and I got to read it. I learned about the experience and struggle of enslaved Africans and their descendants not as objects of an old discarded history (as our childhood textbooks would have it, if they had it at all), but rather as living truth, alive in our hearts, minds, and foodways. Michael Twitty is such a generous and inviting writer, I am forever chang ...more
Anna Helvie
Oct 27, 2017 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
The Cooking Gene is an astonishingly beautiful book: heartfelt and raw, funny and sad, witty and profound. It is actually one of the only books I've ever given as a gift. This is not a cookbook per se, although there are some recipes in it. This is a journey into history and identity through the lens of the heritage foods and foodways of Black people brought here from Africa to be slaves: foodways they further developed and bequeathed to every person born in the South, white or black, as part of ...more
Mary Jane
Jan 30, 2018 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Fascinating recounting of how the 'foodways' of enslaved Africans have influenced American cuisine, particularly Southern cooking--interwoven with Twitty's own tracing of his family's genealogy back to specific parts of Africa and Europe and through slavery in different parts of the South. Beautifully written, a few recipes interspersed in the chapters.
In The Cooking Gene, culinary historian, historical interpreter, and food writer behind the blog Afroculinaria Michael Twitty uses the lens of his own family's history to examine how culinary traditions brought by enslaved peoples from Africa shaped Southern life and cuisine.

That's the short-short version, the one that makes this sound like the structured narrative I was expecting. Given Twitty's oft-mentioned work recreating cooking methods used by African Americans at various plantations, I wa
I used to work at Fort Snelling, a historic site here in Minnesota, and one of my main stations there was working in the kitchen of the large house on the property. While there I would help run cooking demonstrations on the open hearth, using tools that would have been used at the time. While this site is in a Northern state where slavery was illegal, it's not too surprising that some of the army officials who were stationed there broke this law and brought their slaves with them (two of whom we ...more
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Michael W. Twitty is a food writer, independent scholar, culinary historian , and historical interpreter personally charged with preparing, preserving and promoting African American foodways and its parent traditions in Africa and her Diaspora and its legacy in the food culture of the American South. He is also a Judaic studies teacher from the Washington D.C. Metropolitan area and his interests i ...more

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“So much was lost—names, faces, ages, ethnic identities—that African Americans must do what no other ethnic group writ large must do: take a completely shattered vessel and piece it together,” 4 likes
“The body count alone marks the plantation as a sacred place, and yet that's not what hallows the grounds to most. Traditionally, the plantation is a place where architecture and windows and wallpaper are lauded but the bodies who put them up are not. It is still marketed as the crux of the Old South, a place of manners, gentility, custom, and tradition; the South's cultural apogee. It is where much of Southern culture was born, and that includes much of Southern food, and it is the place where, by and large, black America was born - and that's precisely why I use the plantation as a place of reclamation.” 2 likes
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