Wednesday, February 09, 2011

Put Your Foot In It: The Culinary Reach Of The African Diaspora

Okra from my farm in Maine.

THIS BOOK will be in my hands before month's end.

In the final chapter of High on the Hog: A Culinary Journey from Africa to America (Bloomsbury, Jan. 4), Jessica B. Harris looks at the culinary cosmos leavened by the narratives of the African diaspora. The Bryn Mawr alum, a tenured professor at Queens College who holds a Ph.D. from NYU, beckons the reader into a sacred, long-loved cookery where iron pots of gumbo and the aromas of praline and molasses speak to the centuries, continents and cultures traversed by African-Americans.

Harris, the author of 11 cookbooks, uses her latest to follow the foodways of the diaspora, from the West African vendors selling pepperpot on the streets of Philadelphia to the chuckwagon cooks in the Westward migration. Throughout, Harris traces the story of African-American chefs who found cooking as a means of expression and social mobility. Harris will read from High on the Hog at the Free Library Feb. 1.

City Paper: Why write this more historically based book instead of another cookbook?

Jessica B. Harris: I thought it was time to start the dialogue about the history of this food, and the history of its people as seen through the food. We live in a world of cookbooks — Lord knows, I've contributed 11 to that world — but this is just a deeper, perhaps more thoughtful, study of it.

CP: In High on the Hog, you go back to dishes that were popular in the 18th century, many of which we don't see in the same form anymore. Has this influenced how you cook?

JH: Actually, no. I cook the same way as always. There's food that I research and there's food that I eat every night for dinner. In some cases, I will cook traditional African-American dishes for celebrations or traditional dishes from the diaspora.

CP: Have we lost some of this traditional food in our culture?

JH: Not that much has been lost, actually. People eat okra, people eat sesame, people eat watermelon. All of these are ingredients that came from the African continent. Much of what we eat on a daily basis is food and foodstuff that comes from Africa. We just are largely unaware that they do. ... Did you have a cup of coffee this morning?

CP: Yes, several.

JH: In fact and indeed, coffee originated in the Ethiopian Highlands. That's what I mean. Most of us don't know that.

Read the rest....

I didn't know it. Learn something new everyday.

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