A holiday all-purpose spice mix and The Cooking Gene for Cook the Books

October/November’s Cook the Books selection is My Cooking Gene by Michael S. Twitty.   Simona at briciole is hosting.  You can read the announcement post here.

Publisher’s Blurb…

A culinary historian travels the routes of his ancestors in the Old South, immersing himself in a complex weaving of food history and politics, genealogy and genetics, and discovers on the way surprising truths about family, identity, and the destiny of the Southern table. 

My first baby food was cornbread and potlikker, the broth from a pot of collard greens; the first taste of the world given to multiple generations of my family going back to the time of slavery.  However, growing up in a world of flashing color TV’s with kid-seducing  pizza, chicken nuggets,  juicy burgers and crispy fries led me astray.  Like many African American kids the search for identity and a sense of place put me through mental contortions before I found a way into our story through food. In the process I went on a journey that would lead me back through the Old South to our Ancestor’s origins in Africa, tasting from the pots of Southerners of all colors and in turn I got a lesson in the real meaning of the word family.   The Cooking Gene is a genealogical detective story, a culinary treasure map, a blueprint for finding your roots, a series of history lessons, a revealing memoir and a spiritual confessional sprinkled with recipes.     —Michael Twitty

What I thought…

Twitty traces this “gene” through generations, but I was struck early on by his poetic remembrances of his grandmother’s kitchen:

Summer mornings were the smell of bacon and grapefruit.  The smell of fried green tomatoes and scallions—which were a relish for everything. (38)

His grandmother was a Southern cook, steeped in traditions of collards, candied yams, BBQ spareribs, lemonade, iced tea and cornbread muffins.  His mother, a daughter of the Great Migration, brought a worldly influence: “My mother was pomegranate molasses, hoisin sauce, brioche, and samosa—tastes far beyond the Cotton Kingdom” (39).   These along with Twitty’s own personal influences (like his conversion to Judaism and his quest with finding the origins of authentic slave foods) round out his “cooking gene.”

As Twitty searches, he is authentic.   He’s authentic with his voice and his journey.  As he becomes Colonial Williamsburg’s ‘”Revolutionary in Residence,” he is dedicated to being as authentic as possible, dressing in scratchy and hot and uncomfortable garb of the era, toiling over open fires, and using ingredients and techniques indigenous to the region and period

I applaud Twitty in his journey and his suggestion that perhaps healing our nation may come from understanding the tribulations and terrors that others have experienced along with the merging of food into one shared experience.


The Food…

Since I was short on time (with Thanksgiving and all of that) and I am constantly on the lookout for possible gifts from the kitchen this time of year, I decided to make Twitty’s Kitchen Pepper.   It will be in a gift basket of homemade spice mixes for my BiL.

Kitchen Pepper

Michael S. Twitty, The Cooking Gene

“Goes in everything in place of just pepper”


  • 1 t. coarsely ground black pepper
  • 1 t. ground white pepper
  • 1 t. red pepper flakes
  • 1 t. mace
  • 1 t. Ceylon cinnamon
  • 1 t. ground nutmeg
  • 1 t. ground allspice
  • 1 t. ground ginger


  • Mix together. Store in a cool place.

Yield: a little over 1 oz.

Try this on pork chops or grilled chicken!

Yes, this is a great spice mix.   As I savored the grilled pork chop sprinkled with these warming flavors, I also was struck by just how much blood and enslaved toil may have gone into the history of the spices in this recipe.  An entire island was conquered and enslaved due to the high value of nutmeg.   How many enslaved people died in the delivery of some of these spices?

It does make one pause, reflect, and hopefully think.

Thanks to Simona for recommending this book.


I am linking up with November’s Foodies Read.

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