A Place at the Table: The Influence of Black Cuisine

February 23, 2022

Family reunions, church picnics, cookouts, and Sunday dinners all use food as a way to build connections in the African American community. Black cuisine has a rich, diverse, and complex history that has been historically overlooked by modern food culture. This reading list, compiled by the staff at the Stone Center Library, highlights both books and cookbooks that help to illustrate how integral Black cuisine is to American culture.

Want to see some of these books up close? Many titles listed below are currently featured in the new exhibition “A Place at the Table: The Influence of Black Cuisine” the Stone Center Library. The exhibition features 30 books and cookbooks written by Black authors that highlight Black influence on American cuisine. It also includes books and traditional recipes of cooking styles such as low country, creole, barbecue, and more. The exhibition is on display until April 30.

Food History

African American Foodways: Explorations of History and Culture by Anne Bower (2007)

Moving beyond catfish and collard greens to the soul of African American cooking, Bower Examines the combination of African, Caribbean, and South American traditions The volume’s contributors offer insights from history, literary studies, sociology, anthropology, and African American studies to demonstrate how food’s material and symbolic values have contributed to African Americans’ identity for centuries. 

Available in print.

Bound to the Fire: How Virginia’s Enslaved Cooks Helped Invent American Cuisine by Kelley Fanto Deetz (2017)  

Kelley Fanto Deetz draws upon archaeological evidence, cookbooks, plantation records, and folklore to present a nuanced study of the lives of enslaved plantation cooks from colonial times through emancipation and beyond. These highly skilled cooks drew upon skills and ingredients brought with them from their African homelands to create complex, labor-intensive dishes such as oyster stew, gumbo, and fried fish. However, their white owners overwhelmingly received the credit for their creations.

Available in print.

High on the Hog: A Culinary Journey from Africa to America by Jessica B. Harris (2011)

From chitlins and ham hocks to fried chicken and vegan soul, Harris celebrates the delicious and restorative foods of the African American experience and details how each came to form such an important part of African American culture, history, and identity. 

Available in print.

Soul Food: The Surprising Story of an American Cuisine, One Plate at a Time by Adrian Miller (2013)

Adrian Miller delves into the influences, ingredients, and innovations that make up the soul food tradition. Focusing each chapter on the culinary and social history of one dish – such as fried chicken, chitlins, yams, greens, and “red drinks” – Miller uncovers how it got on the soul food plate and what it means for African American culture and identity. 

Available in print.

Black Smoke: African Americans and the United States of Barbecue by Adrian Miller (2011)

In Black Smoke, Miller chronicles how Black barbecuers, pitmasters, and restauranteurs helped develop this cornerstone of American foodways and how they are coming into their own today. 

Available in print.

Hog & hominy: Soul Food from Africa to America by Frederick Douglass Opie (2008)

Opie’s grassroots approach reveals the global origins of soul food, the forces that shaped its development, and the distinctive cultural collaborations that occurred among Africans, Asians, Europeans, and Americans throughout history. Opie shows how food can be an indicator of social position, a site of community building and cultural identity. A juncture at which different cultural traditions can develop and impact the collective health of a community. 

Available in print and online.

The Peppers, Cracklings, and Knots of Wool Cookbook: The Global Migration of African Cuisine by Diane M. Spivey (1999)

Groundbreaking in its treatment of heritage survival in African and African American cooking This book broadens the scope of African cuisine as it examines its historical relationship to music, advertising, sexual exploitation, and publishing. Spivey dispels the myth that African cuisine is primitive, unsophisticated or simply non-existent, and serves as a reference in understanding how African diaspora contributions continue to mark our cuisine and culture today. 

Available in print.

Black Food: Stories, Art & Recipes from Across the African Diaspora by Bryant Terry and Oriana Koren (2021)

A beautiful, rich, and groundbreaking book exploring Black foodways within America and around the world, curated by food activist and author of Vegetable Kingdom Bryant Terry. In this stunning and deeply heartfelt tribute to Black culinary ingenuity, Bryant Terry captures the broad and divergent voices of the African Diaspora through the prism of food. 

Available in print.

Jubilee: Recipes from Two Centuries of African American Cooking by Toni Tipton-Martin (2019)  

Adapted from historical texts and rare African American cookbooks, the 125 recipes of Jubilee paint a rich, varied picture of the true history of African American cooking – a cuisine far beyond soul food. 

Available in print.

The Cooking Gene: A Journey through African American Culinary History in the Old South by Michael Twitty (2017)

A renowned culinary historian offers a fresh perspective on our most divisive cultural issue, race, in this illuminating memoir of Southern cuisine and food culture that traces his ancestry—both black and white—through food, from Africa to America and slavery to freedom. 

Available as an e-book on OverDrive.


Mama Dip’s Family Cookbook by Mildred Council (2005)

Mildred “Mama Dip” Council serves up an abundance of new recipes for home-style Southern cooking that is sure to please, from catfish gumbo to breakfast pizza and peach upside-down cake. The founder of Mama Dip’s Restaurant offers recipes for more than three hundred dishes, including many Council family favorites. Also featured are party and celebration foods for family and community gatherings — a reflection of Council’s belief that friends, and family are essential to a rewarding life. 

Available in print.

In Pursuit of Flavor by Edna Lewis (2019)

Perhaps no other cook has played such a central role in the renaissance of traditional southern cooking as Edna Lewis. When asked who has influenced them most, chefs from New York to Little Washington to Charleston cite Ms. Lewis and her classic collection of recipes, In Pursuit of Flavor, first published in 1988. 

Available in print.

Saltbox Seafood Joint Cookbook by Ricky Moore (2019)

Moore, a formally trained chef, was led by a culinary epiphany in the famous wet markets of Singapore to start a Durham restaurant focused purely on the food inspired by the Carolina coast and its traditional roadside fish shacks and camps.  His recipes instruct cooks how to pan-fry, deep-fry, grill, smoke, and stew seafood. 

Available in print.

The Historical Cookbook of the American Negro by the National Council of Negro Women, Sue Bailey Thurman, and Anne Bower (2000) 

Organizes by calendar year traditional recipes of African Americans before the civil rights movement, and includes historical notes, tributes to significant figures, and anecdotes.  

Available in print.

Brees ‘n’ nyam: Gullah Geechee Recipes from a Sixth-Generation Farmer by Matthew Raiford et. al. (2021)  

From Hot Buttermilk Biscuits and Sweet Potato Pie to Salmon Cakes on Pepper Rice and Gullah Fish Stew, Gullah Geechee food is an essential cuisine of American history. It is the culinary representation of the ocean, rivers, and rich fertile loam in and around the coastal South. From the Carolinas to Georgia and Florida, this is where descendants of enslaved Africans came together to make extraordinary food, speaking the African Creole language called Gullah Geechee. 

Available through interlibrary loan.

The Rise: Black Cooks and The Soul of American Food by Marcus Samuelsson et. al. (2020)  

Marcus Samuelsson gathers an unforgettable feast of food, culture, and history to highlight the diverse deliciousness of Black cooking today. Driven by a desire to fight against bias, reclaim Black culinary traditions, and energize a new generation of cooks, Marcus shares his own journey alongside 150 recipes in honor of dozens of top chefs, writers, and activists—with stories exploring their creativity and influence. 

Available through interlibrary loan.

Vegan Soul Kitchen: Fresh, Healthy and Creative African American Cuisine by Bryant Terry (2009)

James Beard Award-winning chef Bryant Terry’s first cookbook uses fresh, whole, healthy ingredients and cooking methods with a focus on local, seasonal, sustainably raised food. Bryant developed these vegan recipes through the prism of the African Diaspora-cutting, pasting, reworking, and remixing African, Caribbean, African American, Native American, and European staples, cooking techniques, and distinctive dishes to create something familiar, comforting, and deliciously unique. 

Available in print.


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