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Book recommendation, if you're into this stuff... The Cooking Gene - A Journey Through African American Culinary History in the Old South, by Michael W Twitty. I'm currently halfway through, and it's fascinating. It delves deep into the roots of pre-20th century recipes and food traditions, and how African, European, and Native American cooking techniques and ingredients (along with the social structures of slavery) joined to create what became Southern cooking.

Take that Thanksgiving standby, sweet potatoes with marshmallows on top. That dish can be traced directly to slavery in the Caribbean! Yams were a big part of the diet (a food from Africa), and on sugar plantations, they would take cooked yams to the boiling vats and ladle boiling sugar juice directly onto the yams. This came to America via the slave trade (many American slaves came from the Caribbean rather than directly from Africa), and evolved into new dishes that preserved the flavor without easy access to giant vats of boiling sugar.

The tracing of family recipes back to their origins is amazing.




I’ll also add the recommendations I usually make.

Anyone interested in learning to cook, Americas Test Kitchen Cooking School (And also Cooks Illustrated Cooking Science and Science of Good Cooking) would probably be good for much of HN's audience. It is much more of a cooking "textbook" than most cookbooks. It explains what you are doing and why you do it instead of just a big list of recipes. There is also Modernist Cuisine but those are really pricey.

These books tackle the “science” side of cooking rather than your recommendation’s history side. Both are, of course, excellent approaches and are much better than your standard cook book’s vomit of recipes with no context.


As long as we're doing recommendations :-) Before the days of Alton Brown, I lived by The Cake Bible https://www.amazon.com/Cake-Bible-Rose-Levy-Beranbaum/dp/068... I'm amazed that it still costs about the same that I paid back in 1988!

Classic Home Desserts (https://www.amazon.com/Classic-Home-Desserts-Treasury-Contem...) seems to be back in print!!! Yay!!! Not as theoretical as The Cake Bible, but it has interesting notes about the origins of various recipes. Try the Jack Daniels Raisin Roll -- one of my favorites.


Certainly, The Cooking Gene is not just a straight cookbook - it's barely a cookbook at all. Instead, it's a history book more than anything, using the evolution of a cuisine to trace the cultural history of the African diaspora in America, and its broader impact on American culture. The appearance of certain foods, of ingredients and techniques, is a map of history. Fascinating stuff! (I got it on recommendation of a friend in the State Department, who called it the best book she read in 2017.)

As for learning to cook... yeah, the more I see "recipe" books completely decontextualized, the more bizarre they seem to me. Cooking is cultural, and arises from available ingredients, available tools, and known techniques. The idea that you can just make dishes completely in isolation from their cultural context is weirdly postmodernist.


So I'm making weird, postmodernist curries, pho, and tacos? Fun!


One could argue that the ready global availability of ingredients, plus YouTube and blog recipes, has itself created a new cuisine. But without a coherent form, it's hard to say what that actually is. So yeah, postmodernism...

I wonder how this ties in with the observations about Green Revolution agriculture and its impact on obesity and other modern dietary diseases? Like Michael Pollam's research?




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