Ohio University Press · Swallow Press ·

A Ohio University Press Book

Stirring the Pot
A History of African Cuisine

By James C. McCann

Winner of the 2010 Gourmand World Cookbook Awards for Best African Cuisine Book

“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

Stirring the Pot is a welcome addition to the sparse literature on African history, food and foodways, and popular culture…. The book is aimed at a wide audience, ranging from mature secondary-school students through undergraduates and general readers, but graduate students and academics will also find its detailed documentation helpful.”


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.

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.   More info →


Introduction: “African Cooking and African History”


Chapter 1: “Seasons and Seasonings”


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Permission to reprint
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Retail price: $29.95, S.
Release date: October 2009
240 pages · 6 × 9 in.
Rights: World except Africa, and Continental Europe

Release date: October 2009
240 pages
Rights: World except Africa, and Continental Europe

Additional Praise for Stirring the Pot

“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”

“(McCann’s) close reading of a feast offered in 1887 by Tatyu, the wife of Ethiopian king Menelik II, is an exemplary investigation of stat patronage and Ethiopian cuisine. The author’s use of details is eye-catching…. There has been a desperate need for this kind of study for over two decades, so McCann has done African studies a service by writing such a readable book.”

Notes & Records

“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

“The strongest part of (Stirring the Pot) is its resistance to any fixed notion of ‘traditional’ or ‘authentic’ food, and McCann’s recognition that understanding food requires bringing together ecology, history, politics, and trade.”

International Journal of African Historical Studies

“Historian McCann alters the typical proportions of books on food, with 27 select recipes supplementing generous portions of the history of cuisine in Africa and beyond. The author emphasizes disparate influences on Africa’s foodways, including encounters between the continent’s peoples and states along with seminal transformations wrought by post-1492 global circulation of crops…. Summing Up: Highly recommended.

Choice: Current Reviews for Academic Libraries

“Well-written, clear, and informative, Stirring the Pot provides a compelling, readable history of food and cuisine in Africa… a remarkable book.”

Amy Bentley, associate professor in the department of Nutrition, Food Studies, and Public Health, New York University

“For this huge undertaking, McCann focuses on the ways trade, politics, colonialism, and diaspora have shaped a dynamic and enduring gastronomic mélange. Maize, for example, came to Ethiopia via the Arab Red Sea trade and to West Africa from the West Indies in the 16th century, yet didn’t become the continent’s dominant cereal crop until the 20th century. Cheap and filling, maize made economic sense.”

Wilson Quarterly, from the review

Stirring the Pot addresses the importance of food in interpreting culture and social history in Africa and in those areas of the world touched by African immigrants…. (A)n interesting and informative book that will appeal to a broad audience and is worth the read.”

Popular Anthropology

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