Alex Drace-Francis's book The Making of Mămăligă tells the story of maize in Romania—and more broadly in central and southeastern Europe—over six centuries. In a pithy and highly entertaining history of the crop, Drace-Francis covers, often in surprising detail, known historical moments and periods in a new light by foregrounding maize as the lens through which to view Romania's history. Maize, and later that Romanian national-cultural dish mămăligă (a maize porridge), becomes the focal point of a history of capitalism, a social history, a history of political crises, and—especially toward the end of the book—a cultural history.

The book opens with a detective story that is never solved: How and when did maize become an established cereal in southeastern Europe? The opening chapter takes us on a transatlantic journey from the Caribbean to the Carpathians—a remarkable feat to link two regions so convincingly—and concludes that the origin story of maize...

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