Book Reviews

The Poet’s Guide to Food, Drink, & Desire
by Gaylord Brewer

The Banquet of Donny & Ari: Scenes from the Opera
by Naomi Guttman

by Michael Pollan

Revenge Baking
by Randon Billings Noble

Biting the Apple
by Jeanie Greensfelder

Best Food Writing 2014
edited by Holly Hughes

Creamy and Crunchy
by Jon Krampner

Biting through the Skin
by Nina Mukerjee Furstenau

Feeding Orchids to Slugs
by Ann Mah

Mastering the Art of French Eating
by Florencia Clifford

Ivan Ramen
by Ivan Ramen

Third Thursday Potluck Cookbook
by Nancy Vienneau

Mint Tea & Minarets
by Kitty Morse

Prospero’s Kitchen
by Diana Farr Louis and June Marino

Mushroom: A Global History
by Cynthia Bertelsen

One Straw Revolution
by Masanobu Fukuoka

Fried Walleye & Cherry Pie
by Peggy Wolff

Day of Honey: A Memoir of Food, Love, and War
by Annia Ciezadlo

by Chloe Yelena Miller

The Hungry Ear
by Kevin Young

Best Food Writing 2012
by Holly Hughes

Dinner: a Love Story
by Jenny Rosenstrach

My Kitchen Wars
by Betty Fussell

American Cookery
by Laura Kalpakian

Apron Anxiety
by Alyssa Shelasky

Cucina Povera
by Pamela Sheldon Johns

Home Cooking: A Writer in the Kitchen
by Laurie Colwin

The Social Life of Coffee
by Brian Cowan

The Raw and the Cooked
by Jim Harrison

Modernist Cuisine
by Nathan Myhrvold, Chris Young, and Maxime Bilet

Horsemen of the Esophagus
by Jason Fagone

Coffee Philosophy for Everyone
by Scott F. Parker and Michael W. Austin

by Kathryn Borel

Food Rules
by Michael Pollan

On Reading
by Rilke and Ruskin

America the Edible
by Adam Richman

Interview with the author of Party Girls,
Diane Goodman

Death Warmed Over
by Lisa Rogak

How to Cook a Crocodile
by Bonnie Lee Black

Great Food,
All Day Long

by Maya Angelou

Love Bites: Marital Skirmishes in the Kitchen
by Christopher Hirst

Best Food Writing 2011
edited by Holly Hughes

Balzac's Omelette
by Anka Muhlstein

The Little House Cookbook
by Barbara M. Walker

Muffins and Mayhem
by Suzanne Beecher

As Always, Julia:
The Letters of Julia Child and Avis De Voto


by Jason Wilson

The Particular Sadness
of Lemon Cake

by Aimee Bender

The Bluberry Years
by Jim Minick

Livingston and the Tomato
by A. W. Livingston

by Barry Estabrook

Palmento: A Sicilian Wine Odyssey
by Robert V. Camuto

Best Food Writing 2010 edited
by Holly Hughes

by Lizzie Collingham

Four Fish
by Paul Greenberg

The Physiology
of Taste

by Jean Anthelme Brillat-Savarin

Far Flung
and Well Fed

by R. W. Apple, Jr.

The Food of a Younger Land
by Mark Kurlansky

The Dirty Life
by Kristin Kimball

by Michael Ruhlman

Cooking with Italian Grandmothers
by Jessica Theroux

Blood, Bones & Butter
by Gabrielle Hamilton

by Steve Almond

The Alice B. Toklas Cook Book
by Alice B. Toklas

Medium Raw
by Anthony Bourdain

Appetite City
by William Grimes

Twain's Feast
by Andrew Beahrs

97 Orchard
by Jane Ziegelman

Born Round
by Frank Bruni

by Kate Moses

Full English by
Tom Parker Bowles

Following Fish by
Samanth Subramanian

Eating Animals by
Jonathan Safran Foer

Immortal Milk: Adventures in Cheese
by Eric LeMay

For You, Mom. Finally
by Ruth Reichl

Farm City
by Novella Carpenter

Alone in the Kitchen with an Eggplant
edited by Jenni Ferrari-Adler

I ♥ Macarons
by Hisako Ogita

The Hamburger
by Josh Ozersky

Best Food Writing 2009 edited
by Holly Hughes

by Archestratos

Eat, Memory edited by Amanda Hesser

Eat My Globe
by Simon Majumdar

by Jason Epstein

What We Eat When We Eat Alone
by Deborah Madison

The Sweet Life
in Paris

by David Lebovitz

Modern Spice
by Monica Bhide


REVIEW by Joe Plicka

The Food of a Younger Land: A portrait of American food—before the national highway system, before chain restaurants, and before frozen food, when the nation’s food was seasonal, regional, traditional—from the lost WPA files
by Mark Kurlansky
Riverhead, May 2009, Hardcover 387 pp.
ISBN: 978-1-59448-865-8

Mark Kurlansky has the credentials. As the author of both Cod and Salt, bestsellers on the history of said foods, Kurlansky seems an ideal curator for America’s “lost” culinary legacy.

It’s a romantic image: Kurlansky (who looks vaguely like Hemingway in some photos) in a cavernous Library of Congress holding room, surrounded by gray boxes of raw files from the Depression-era’s Federal Writers’ Project (FWP), piecing together an abandoned manuscript that was to be called America Eats, the title sounding less like something out of the age of the dustbowl and more like the name of a hit Food Network series. (Don’t you feel like you’ve seen dozens of episodes of America Eats, a show that doesn’t actually exist?)

As part of the Works Progress Administration, the FWP hired hundreds of writers to do things like churn out travel guides for American states and cities, chronicle disappearing slave narratives and, in this its final act of cultural preservation, compile a broad record of native eating traditions. America Eats was scrapped when Pearl Harbor happened and the country jumped out of the New Deal and into the new war. And while it is unfortunate that the work of so many was never finished, maybe we are fortunate not to have it until now, fresh and unedited, ripe for examination and interpretation, rather than being fixed in some moldy, forgotten volume wasting away on the bottom shelf at the Wabash Public Library. Writes Kurlansky in his introduction: “Ironically, the chaotic pile of imperfect manuscripts has left us with a better record than would the nameless, cleaned-up, smooth-reading final book. . . .” As Kurlansky points out, what we have now are thousands of words by dozens of voices—black, white, Native American, Chicano, immigrants, Democrats, Republicans, Communists, sportswriters, actresses, playwrights, journalists, children’s authors, mystery writers—as opposed to five “regional essays” compiled and written by five different editors.

While much of the original material was likely lost or forsaken, Kurlansky has acted as archeologist, selecting “not always the best but the most interesting pieces, both signed and unsigned,” and reading the book is rather like strolling through a museum. Apart from a 20-page introduction, Kurlansky’s own contribution comes in the form of short notes at the beginning of some entries that serve up a smattering of biographical/ background information on the author or dish in question. And while the book was promoted featuring the work of literary legends like Eudora Welty, Zora Neale Hurston, and Nelson Algren, the fact is their roles in the project were very minor and mostly forgettable. Many of the most remarkable sections, like “Colorado Superstitions” (“Always make vinegar in the full of the moon”!) and “Mint Julep Controversy,” are of unknown authorship.

The Food of a Younger Land has been out for almost two years. Some reviewers, such as Jane and Michael Stern for the San Francisco Chronicle, have criticized Kurlansky for daring to suggest that American cuisine has lost something since the days when most people cooked from scratch, in their homes, using whatever was available at the time. While I can see how such a claim might be offensive to the Sterns, who have “30-plus years on the road tracking down American eats,” and have written books like 500 Things to Eat Before It’s Too Late, Kurlansky never claims to be pointing a finger at the good cooks and restaurateurs of America who continue to provide old-time fare and off-the-beaten-path dining experiences. What he laments more is the loss of some of the nation’s spontaneously creative culinary energy, and the way geography, the seasons, and slower transportation had preserved our most distinctive food traditions. Is it nostalgic? Yes. Is nostalgia to be questioned? Yes. But, after plowing through The Food of a Younger Land, I find it hard to disagree with the sentiment, however little I desire to return to a time when one spent hours in the kitchen preparing meals.

And it’s not that we don’t appreciate food done right in the 21st century. In fact, maybe we like to think we live in the age of food. Food television, food literature, food tourism, diet fever, eating contests. Concern over what to eat, where to eat, how much to eat, what to feed our kids, and why.

Was it really ever any different?

Scene from one of Kurlansky’s selections: Polk County, Arkansas, 1939. The annual banquet of the Polk County Possum Club. Total guests, 500-600. Attendants include governors, senators, farmers, woodsmen. The main course: baked possum. Main entertainment: the rambunctious election of club officers and the initiation of new members. Does such an event not recall our own gusto for food as both fuel and spectacle?

Other delightful passages include the rise of tomato cultivation in the Northeast and speculation on an ongoing furor regarding clam chowder: “Now it is entirely possible that some convert to the rank of the tomato may, in an unpremeditated burst of enthusiasms, have dropped an innocent tomato into the clam chowder—when no one was looking.”

Read on and you will be introduced, by celebrated anthropologist Frances Densmore, to the eating customs of the Sioux and Chippewa Indians. Writes Densmore, “The old-time Chippewa ate only once a day, usually about the middle of the morning, but children could get food whenever they were hungry.” Densmore also give us the Chippewa word for blackberry pie: “muckode-tututs-gominum (blackberries), minisigun (sauce), bukwezhigun (bread).” “A Chippewa,” says Densmore, “can say this whole word without stopping for breath.”

So, what has changed? The players, the methods, the raw materials. What hasn’t changed: the fact that every day, several times a day, we look for something to nosh on, and someone to share it with.

Anthony V. Ragusin

Oysters and a political rally, No. 1

Gelatin silver print, ca. 1930-1941

Prints & Photographs Division, WPA Transfer (199A.2c)

Stetson Kennedy

The rice and chicken is boiled together in iron kettles, no. 8

Gelatin silver print, ca. 1930-1941

Prints & Photographs Division, WPA Transfer (199A.2d)

Removing the barbeque beef from the pits--Los Angeles Sheriff's Barbecue, no. 22

Gelatin silver print, ca. 1930-1941

Prints & Photographs Division, WPA Transfer (199A.2e)

Stetson Kennedy

Picking the meat from the Chicken bones is one of the big jobs in preparing the pilau, no. 9

Gelatin silver print, ca.1930-1941

Prints & Photographs Division, WPA Transfer (199A.2f)

March 17, 2011