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 Cynthia D. Bertelsen

Twain's Feast: Searching for America’s Lost Foods in the Footsteps of Samuel Clemens
by Andrew Beahrs
Penguin Press HC, June 2010
Hardcover 336 pp., ISBN: 978-1594202599

For a book to be more than merely good, it needs a compelling character, one that strides onto the page and holds the reader in a gripping half nelson. A great book inspires the reader to find out more after “The End.” Andrew Beahrs, in Twain’s Feast: Searching for America’s Lost Foods in the Footsteps of Samuel Clemens, certainly found his character—larger-than-life nineteenth-century writer and humorist Mark Twain (aka Samuel Clemens).

You may recall reading Adventures of Huck Finn or The Adventures of Tom Sawyer, but who knew Mark Twain was a foodie? “If I have a talent,” said Twain, “it is for contributing valuable matter to works upon cookery.” And for anyone who’s traveled in Europe seeking the glorious cuisine grand-mere of France or the true cucina di povera of Italy, Twain’s comments about European cuisine can sound distressingly familiar, even after 130 years: “If one could always [eat] with private families, Europe would have a charm which it now lacks. As it is, one must live in the hotels, of course, and that is a sorrowful business.”

Homesick in 1879 in Venice for something to “hit the hungry place,” Twain sat alone in a hotel room and litanized eighty foods that essentially defined the cuisine of America of his time, from radishes to biscuits and pumpkin pie. Published a year later in his account of his European travels, A Tramp Abroad, Twain’s litany lit a fire under Andrew Beahrs 130 years later, inspiring his pilgrimage. In eight well-researched chapters, one covering mostly raccoon and its noisome fat, Beahrs uses Twain’s menu of Americana as an itinerary. Each chapter of Twain’s Feast serves up a specific, vanished food: prairie hens from Illinois, Arkansas possums and raccoons, plump Lake Tahoe trout, oysters and mussels in San Francisco, Philadelphia terrapin, sheeps-head and croakers from New Orleans, Massachusetts cranberries, and Vermont maple syrup.

Influenced in part by the local foods movement and its guru Michael Pollan, Bearhrs’s mantra became “I wanted to know what we still have. I wanted to know what we were losing, and what we might be getting back. I wanted to know what was gone.” In other words, Beahrs—who earned a master’s in anthropology/archeology at the University of Virginia—set out not only to find Twain’s foods, but something far grander. Like Anne Vileisis in her Kitchen Literacy: How We Lost Knowledge of Where Food Comes From and Why We Need to Get it Back (2010), Beahrs sought, and found, the history of American food and agriculture, now seeping away in eroding shorelines and shrinking wetlands and plowed-up prairie.

Larding his book with Twain quotes and anecdotes, Beahrs digresses here and there at times into Jeopardy-rich trivia. He describes in detail the efforts of twenty-first century people harvesting oysters and cranberries or producing maple syrup. He plucks numerous recipes from period cook books, illustrating how people in Twain’s time cooked the foods Twain swooned over, like Juliet Corson’s Terrapin (turtle) Clear Soup or Fried Trout (Practical American Cookery and Household Management, 1886). He delves into the culinary mysteries of New Orleans and expounds on Thanksgiving.

One tantalizing comment that Beahrs drops into this complex, roiling, yummy stew of a book invites more attention. He says, “Twain’s menu is full of dishes with African roots.” Beahrs’s great book, like Walt Whitman’s poem “Song of Myself,” sings an ode to America and its food, to the people who grow it, to the people who cook it, and to the people who love it. Twain’s Feast: Searching for America’s Lost Foods in the Footsteps of Samuel Clemens ought to inspire readers everywhere to read more Twain and to seek the foods he loved, too.

November 7, 2010