Stirring the Pot

A History of African Cuisine

Edited by

James C. McCann

Bibliographic Details
Stirring the Pot Hardback
July 2010£50.00

Stirring the Pot Paperback
July 2010£14.99
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Africa has an immensely rich culinary history and a huge variety of foodstuffs is consumed there, reflecting the myriad influences that have shaped what people eat and how they prepare and consume food and drink. Outsiders are often surprised to learn this, given the association of the continent with famine, drought and other hardships. Stirring the Pot describes how the ingredients, methods and varieties of African cuisine comprise a repository of tried and tested household and farming knowledge, mostly preserved by women. It also reveals how recipes, tastes and culinary practices are integral to understanding the continent’s history. For example, three indigenous grain crops-millet, sorghum, and teff-made the transition from wild grasses to domesticated grains at the hands of Africans. The author also traces how African food is the sum of many parts, be they the foodstuffs of the New World – maize, peanuts, tomatoes and potatoes – or those of the Indian Ocean – spices and Asian rice. Nor does he neglect to describe how Creole, African-American and Caribbean cuisines have themselves been indelibly altered by the African encounter. James McCann is an enthusiastic advocate of African cooking, a passion conveyed by the many recipes contained in his book, such as the best way to cook jollof rice, prepare an injera pancake or thicken Nigerian yam pottage with boiled crayfish shells. He also recounts his own culinary encounters across the continent, from memorable meals, to unearthing the complex dining practices of the Ethiopian royal court or describing the hybrid, fish-based cooking of port cities such as Mombasa, Luanda and Durban.


James C. McCann is professor of History at the African Studies Center, Boston University and the author of Maize and Grace: Africa's Encounter with New World Crops1500-2000, and of Green Land, Brown Land: An Environmental History of Africa.


‘In most of the West, attitudes toward food on the African continent tend to be more about need, NGOs, and necessity than about food history. James McCann’s engaging and important Stirring the Pot: A History of African Cuisine aims to change all of that. […] a must-have for any student of the food and culture of the African continent.’ —  African Affairs

‘Well-written, clear, and informative, Stirring the Potprovides a compelling, readable history of food and cuisine in Africa – a remarkable book.’ —  Amy Bentley, associate professor in the department of Nutrition, Food Studies, and Public Health, New York University

‘A lively and engaging history of African food, cooking, and culinary cultures found within the continent and beyond. Indispensable reading for anyone interested in African history, the African diaspora, food studies, and women’s contributions to culinary history.’ — Judith Carney, Department of Geography, University of California, Los Angeles

‘This book begins with an epigraph from Felipe Fernandez-Armesto: “Culture began when the raw got cooked” and a mouthwatering description of a feast prepared by Queen Taytu Bitul of Ethiopia in 1887. The reader is thus already enticed into this study of food and cuisine across Africa and across the centuries, with the emphasis on food as a marker of cultural identity. […] Stirring the Pot is a good read and one that will send you out scouring your neighbourhood for Ethiopian or other African-themed restaurants.’ —  Africa Research and Documentation Bulletin

‘Published as part of an Africa in World History series brought out by an academic press, Ohio University Press, and aimed primarily at students and scholars, Stirring the Pot nonetheless considers a large swath of the world’s foodways and history in a valuable and, for many readers, new way. Despite the foodie fever currently gripping the culture, there doesn’t appear to be a whole lot out there about African cuisine […].’  — Wilson Quarterly

‘Historian McCann alters the typical proportions of books on food, with twenty seven select recipes supplementing generous portions of the history of cuisine in Africa and beyond. The author emphasizes disparate influences on Africa’s foodways, including encounters between the continent’s peoples and states along with seminal transformations wrought by post-1492 global circulation of crops. […] Summing Up: Highly recommended.’ — Choice

‘In this compelling study, James C. McCann provides a profound and novel way to examine history and historical change not only in Africa but also in the Atlantic basin. […] This book allows readers to peek into the African cooking pot in order to better understand the constituent parts and nuances of African cuisine, as shaped by geography, history, trade across ecological zones, and migration (forced and voluntary) across oceans (Atlantic, Pacific, and the Mediterranean).’ — American Historical Review

‘This book contains many illustrations of dishes, restaurant sign boards, and historical feasts, which add to the sense that this is intended to be a volume to enjoy and to dip into. As a result the reader will learn a lot about food, foods which provide new insights into Africa’s social history.’ — Journal of the Royal Anthropological Institute