‘The Cooking Gene’ by Michael W. Twitty

In my Quality Linkage column earlier today, I mentioned this video of culinary historian Michael Twitty showing an 18th-century style of barbecuing beef ribs, along with two BBQ sauces from around that time period. As it turns out, he has a new book titled The Cooking Gene: A Journey Through African American Culinary History in the Old South that’s about tracing both his mixed ancestry and the culinary history of the American South:

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 He sifts through stories, recipes, genetic tests, and historical documents, and travels from Civil War battlefields in Virginia to synagogues in Alabama to Black-owned organic farms in Georgia.

Twitty is a wonderful storyteller and doesn’t shy away from the uncomfortable issues that make up America’s troubled early history. You’ll likely come away from this book with a new, profound perspective on race as seen through the lens of cooking. (You’ll also get hungry at some points, guaranteed.)

Get The Cooking Gene in these formats: