Stirring the Pot — 2009

A History of African Cuisine

By James C. McCann

“A lively and engaging history of African food, cooking, and culinary cultures found within the continent and beyond. Indispensable reading for anyone interested in African history, the African diaspora, food studies, and women's contributions to culinary history.”

Judith Carney, Department of Geography, University of California, Los Angeles

“In this compelling study, James C. McCann provides a profound and novel way to examine history and historical change not only in Africa but also in the Atlantic basin…. This book allows readers to peek into the African cooking pot in order to better understand the constituent parts and nuances of African cuisine, as shaped by geography, history, trade across ecological zones, and migration (forced and voluntary) across oceans (Atlantic, Pacific, and the Mediterranean).”

American Historical Review

“(Stirring the Pot) makes the reader both intellectually and physically hungry.”

Canadian Journal of History

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Africa's art of cooking is a key part of its history. All too often Africa is associated with famine, but in Stirring the Pot, James C. McCann describes how the ingredients, the practices, and the varied tastes of African cuisine comprise a body of historically gendered knowledge practiced and perfected in households across diverse human and ecological landscape. McCann reveals how tastes and culinary practices are integral to the understanding of history and more generally to the new literature on food as social history.

Stirring the Pot offers a chronology of African cuisine beginning in the sixteenth century and continuing from Africa’s original edible endowments to its globalization. McCann traces cooks’ use of new crops, spices, and tastes, including New World imports like maize, hot peppers, cassava, potatoes, tomatoes, and peanuts, as well as plantain, sugarcane, spices, Asian rice, and other ingredients from the Indian Ocean world. He analyzes recipes, not as fixed ahistorical documents, but as lively and living records of historical change in women’s knowledge and farmers’ experiments. A final chapter describes in sensuous detail the direct connections of African cooking to New Orleans jambalaya, Cuban rice and beans, and the cooking of African Americans’ “soul food.”

Stirring the Pot breaks new ground and makes clear the relationship between food and the culture, history, and national identity of Africans.


Picture of James C. McCann

James C. McCann is a professor of history and chair of the Department of Archaeology at Boston University. He is winner of a John S. Guggenheim Fellowship and the 2014 Distinguished Scholar of the American Society of Environmental History.

  • U.S. and World Winner in the Best African Cuisine Book category, Gourmand World Cookbook Awards, 2010
Cover of 'Stirring the Pot'

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