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 He sifts through stories, recipes, genetic tests, and historical documents, and travels from Civil War battlefields in Virginia to synagogues in Alabama to Black-owned organic farms in Georgia.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
Michael W. Twitty is a noted culinary and cultural historian and the creator of Afroculinaria, the first blog devoted to African American historic foodways and their legacies. He has been honored by FirstWeFeast.com as one of the twenty greatest food bloggers of all time, and named one of the “Fifty People Who Are Changing the South” by Southern Living and one of the “Five Cheftavists to Watch” by TakePart.com. Twitty has appeared throughout the media, including on NPR’s The Splendid Table, and has given more than 250 talks in the United States and abroad. His work has appeared in Ebony, the Guardian, and on NPR.org. He is also a Smith fellow with the Southern Foodways Alliance, a TED fellow and speaker, and the first Revolutionary in Residence at the Colonial Williamsburg Foundation. Twitty lives in Silver Spring, Maryland.
Family Tree viii
Preface: The Old South xi
Chapter 1 No More Whistling Walk for Me 1
Chapter 2 Hating My Soul 25
Chapter 3 Mise en Place 43
Chapter 4 Mishpocheh 65
Chapter 5 Missing Pieces 81
Chapter 6 No Nigger Blood 91
Chapter 7 "White Man in the Woodpile" 99
Chapter 8 0.01 Percent 119
Chapter 9 Sweet Tooth 141
Chapter 10 Mothers of Slaves 161
Chapter 11 Alma Mater 199
Chapter 12 Chesapeake Gold 219
Chapter 13 The Queen 239
Chapter 14 Adam in the Garden 265
Chapter 15 Shake Dem 'Simmons Down 283
Chapter 16 All Creatures of Our G-d and Kind 297
Chapter 17 The Devil's Half Acre 321
Chapter 18 "The King's Cuisine" 337
Chapter 19 Crossroads 365
Chapter 20 The Old Country 381
Chapter 21 Sankofa 401
Author's Note 417
Selected Bibliography 423