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High on the Hog: A Culinary Journey from Africa to America Hardcover – January 4, 2011
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Acclaimed cookbook author Harris (The Africa Cookbook, 1998) tells the story of the African diaspora through food, from the foodstuff brought along with African slaves to barely maintain them on the Middle Passage to the undeniable imprint of African American cuisine on southern American and Caribbean food. She traces African foods (yams, okra, black-eyed peas, corn), flavoring, cooking methods, and food rituals from the abduction of Africans and enslavement in the Americas to travel throughout the American and European continents, recounting tribulations and joy. Along the way, she profiles famous and obscure but gifted cooks; cooks in the big houses of slave plantations; “Pig Foot” Mary, who grew wealthy from sales of food she cooked on a stove mounted on a baby carriage; chefs who served meals to presidents; and members of a cooperative of black hoteliers in Philadelphia in the nineteenth century. Along with historical context, Harris offers recollections from her own travels and ends with selected recipes. Photographs enhance this passionate perspective on the culinary history of the African diaspora. --Vanessa Bush
“Absorbing…Ms. Harris has an eye for detail and an inquisitive manner on the page, qualities that take any writer a long way.” ―Dwight Garner, New York Times
“Harris covers a lot of territory economically, offering a tremendous cast of characters whose names deserve wider renown.” ―William Grimes, New York Times Book Review
“Our leading historian of African-American cooking continues her quest to trace the multiplicity of ways that American food has been enriched--and in many ways created--by the Africans who were forced to immigrate to North America and their descendents.” ―Vogue.com
“Anyone interested in food history will find plenty to savor in Jessica B. Harris's latest book.” ―Saveur Magazine
“A satisfying gumbo of info, insight and research.” ―USA Today
“[A]…passionate perspective on the culinary history of the African diaspora” ―Booklist
“There is more than enough for every taste in [High on the Hog]” ―Chicago Tribune
“Harris's flavorful writing moves with an effortless voice that you feel could recite most of these pages from loving memory. As much historical document as ethnography of a vital and rich gastronomy, High on the Hog is a book to make your mouth water.” ―Paste magazine
“Rejoice, all you lovers of the personal and inimitable voice of Jessica B. Harris. In High on the Hog, she has woven her own story into the epic of the African Diaspora, using food to illuminate the intertwined tapestries of Africa, Europe, and America. From General George Washington's black cook Hercules to New Orleans' famed Dooky Chase, she shows how important are the African underpinnings of the American table. Harris's passionate devotion to languages and history, together with her own compassion and wit, resonate with the humanity she espouses in all her books, but especially this one.” ―Betty Fussell, author of Raising Steaks and My Kitchen Wars
“High on the Hog is a sweeping yet intimate view of food in African American life and the profound influence of blacks on American food culture. It is unusually well crafted and written with style and grace. Harris is an engaging guide in this journey that begins in Africa and ends in the twenty-first century. Her personal vignettes provide vivid detail of her experiences at sites of historical importance to the subject. She has rescued from obscurity many historical figures who make for fascinating reading and demonstrate the great range and diversity of African American achievement in areas of food culture.” ―Charles Reagan Wilson, Kelly Gene Cook Sr. professor of history and southern studies, Center for the Study of Southern Culture
“In High on the Hog, the inimitable Jessica B. Harris tells the story of the African American diaspora from the perspective of an accomplished food historian. Food, she tells us, is a metaphor for society. If so, I can't think of a better one. From slave food to Taste of Ebony, this is a gripping saga laced with descriptions of food that will make your mouth water.” ―Marion Nestle, NYU professor and author of Food Politics and What to Eat
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The author presents African and African-American foods from past, to present, to a hypothetical future in an eminently readable way, and weaves in her own personal experiences skillfully and relevantly. I was left with curiosity and more than a little envy as I want to learn more about the author and her life- how come she gets to visit her African motherland and all over the country/world? I so clearly need a job like hers!
Harris ably chronicles such things as visits by Europeans to African royal courts, the memoirs of the Moroccan traveler Ibn Battuta, early slave narratives, etc. In the process of reading the work, readers will learn things they never knew before. Did you know that the rice cooking of Louisiana and the southern low country is based on the cooking of Senegal, that yam is really the name of an African tuber, that slave depots were owned and operated by wealthy mixed-race free women of color? These are only a few of the fascinating tidbits Harris offers before she gets into the main course- an African-American tradition of "high" and "low" cookery- the "low" cookery being the slave diet of hog, hominy and what slaves caught or grew- the cuisine we today think of as "soul food" and its satisfying, yet calorically rich delights. The "high" cookery was perfected by black chefs who worked in the service of Presidents, planters and other white elites, such as the caterers of Philadelphia and the cooks of the White House and Monticello. The two threads seldom intersected and were often in bitter contention with each other. As Harris ably demonstrates, food was more than just food- it was a reflection of black politics, black culture, and black identity- what one ate, where it was eaten, how it was eaten and at what times of the day was a political statement.
Another plus to reading this book is that Harris maintains a positive, cheerful and optimistic tone throughout, even while mentioning problems such as unequal access to fresh food in poor black urban neighborhoods. She is unapologetic in her desire to accentuate the positive and predict a bright future for African-American food, African-American people, and America as a whole. Overall it's worth a read- I highly recommend it. It made me want to have a long talk with Miss Harris about Africa's influence on the South- some linguists even postulate that the classic "Southern accent" arose from Mandinka slaves trying to speak English! And if you're anything like me, you will be left with an appreciation of the black legacy on American cuisine and a hankering for some home-cooked soul-food delights!