Stirring the Pot — 2009

A History of African Cuisine

By James C. McCann

“Published as part of an Africa in World History series brought out by an academic press, Ohio University Press, and aimed primarily at students and scholars, Stirring the Pot nonetheless considers a large swath of the world’s foodways and history in a valuable and, for many readers, new way. Despite the foodie fever currently gripping the culture, there doesn’t appear to be a whole lot out there about African cuisine….”

Wilson Quarterly, “From the Editors”

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

Canadian Journal of History

“The author of the Gourmand award-winning book Stirring the Pot is one of the biggest experts when it comes to the agricultural and cooking history of Africa.”

Gourmand Magazine

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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 the associate director of the African Studies Center at Boston University. He is the author of Maize and Grace: Africa’s Encounter with a New World Crop, 1500–2000, which was the winner of the George Perkins Marsh Prize for Best Book in Environmental History; and Green Land, Brown Land, Black Land: An Environmental History of Africa, which has been used in classrooms on five continents.

  • 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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