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American Food Writing An Anthology Hardcover – Apr 17 2007


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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 700 pages
  • Publisher: LIBRARY OF AMERICA; 1 edition (April 17 2007)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1598530054
  • ISBN-13: 978-1598530056
  • Product Dimensions: 4.6 x 16.4 x 22.5 cm
  • Shipping Weight: 907 g
  • Average Customer Review: 5.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (1 customer review)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: #640,513 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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By Gail Cooke TOP 50 REVIEWER on July 8 2007
Format: Hardcover
"Food, glorious food! Eat right through the menu." Readers will be tempted to follow that lyrical advice when they discover the mouth-watering recipes in American Food Writing, a veritable historic and cultural feast that traces our love affair with food from Thomas Jefferson's favorite ice cream to Michael Pollen's comments on the upsurge of interest in organic foods.

Charles Ranhofer (1836 - 1899) was the chef at Delmonico's in New York City for some 30 years. If anyone could describe how to serve an epicurean feast he could and did. Thoreau, of course, had quite different ideas about our daily bread, we read: "I learned from my two years experience that it would cost incredibly little trouble to obtain one's necessary food.....that a man may use as simple a diet as the animals, and yet retain health and strength."

Not every man's idea of dinner, I imagine.

Jade Snow Wong (1922 - 2006) gives instruction on how to shop on a budget for the very best in meat and produce, and how to cook rice. One of my favorite entries is Julia Child's reminiscence about her television series. However, picking favorite isn't an easy task in this 784 page volume that holds among others praise of the oyster by M.F.K. fisher, and William Styron's delight in Southern Fried Chicken.

Laced throughout this volume are comments by notable chefs, critics, and home cooks plus 50 recipes, both vintage and modern. Seldom has food been discussed so thoroughly and invitingly as it is in American Food Writing.

Highly recommended.

- Gail Cooke
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on Amazon.com (beta)

Amazon.com: 18 reviews
37 of 40 people found the following review helpful
A fabulous collection of wonderful pieces on food as well as dozens of recipes from history June 27 2007
By Craig Matteson - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Hardcover
I enjoy reading good writing about food more than just about any other kind of writing, but not only for the obvious reason that I enjoy eating food. Sure, we all eat. And some of us enjoy food maybe more than most. But writing about food is something else and has many happy reasons to recommend it. The first being that one can enjoy reading good writing about all kinds of food without taking in even one calorie. I emphasize good writing because much of what passes for food writing is just filler stuff that is dashed off to fill pages in magazines between the advertisements.

But when an author gets to the soul of the food being written about, well, something very special happens for the reader. Food writing can open up new vistas for the adventurous food lover. We can learn about foods and dishes we had never expected or anticipated. We can get fresh takes on dishes we thought we knew. It can take us back in time and show us the roots of where we came from. Even the way they wrote their recipes can be instructive. We notice what they assumed the person using the recipe would assume as understood, the kinds of ingredients and equipment they assumed would be on hand, and what was new and different that had to be carefully spelled out.

Food writing also makes for wonderful anthropology. What people ate when and where provides wonderful insights into who the people were, what they valued, what was available to them, their technology, those with whom they traded, and their connections to those who came later (the way the dishes and foods evolved and changed over time). Too often we make the lazy assumption that the past was much like the present, but not as modern. In fact, it is often very different. And we assume those who came before as less sophisticated at our own peril.

When we take a close look at the past we are often given the lesson again and again how perfectly these people used and adapted what was available and were just as motivated to get what wasn't on hand. In fact, they had to prepare for seasons of want, something we have no experience of in present day America. They were every whit as intelligent as we suppose ourselves to be. A great journalist can also be a kind of short form anthropologist by using reporting about food to make their points about culture and to inform her readers about the current state of things.

Another wonderful source of great food writing is in the hands of a skilled fiction writer. Food can be used to reveal character, give them context, or even show them out of place and in discomfort. It can move the plot or provide a necessary space in the action or allow the author some time for a leisurely disquisition and let their gift for language and food flow (always a delight).

This wonderful anthology has superb examples of all these kinds of writing about food and much more. Molly O'Neill has done us a wonderful service by providing us with dozens of examples of food writing at its best from Thomas Jefferson recipe for ice cream through Michael Pollan's 2006 piece "My Organic Industrial Meal" and everything in between. I cannot even list all the authors, but urge you to trust that your favorites are likely represented as well as those you might not expect.

Along with all the essays, articles, excerpts from novels and other books on food, and even letters, there are also about fifty recipes from Jefferson's ice cream through Lady Bird Johnson's Pedernales Chili (as given by Robb Walsh). Of course, there are also instructions for cooking in many of the articles, as well. The recipes are set off in the table of context by a star so you can see them easily and flip to them for use or enjoyable reading.

This is another fine volume from the Library of America and to whom we all owe a debt of gratitude (along with the author) for their support of such quality projects.
19 of 23 people found the following review helpful
"FOOD, GLORIOUS FOOD!" July 8 2007
By Gail Cooke - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Hardcover
"Food, glorious food! Eat right through the menu." Readers will be tempted to follow that lyrical advice when they discover the mouth-watering recipes in American Food Writing, a veritable historic and cultural feast that traces our love affair with food from Thomas Jefferson's favorite ice cream to Michael Pollen's comments on the upsurge of interest in organic foods.

Charles Ranhofer (1836 - 1899) was the chef at Delmonico's in New York City for some 30 years. If anyone could describe how to serve an epicurean feast he could and did. Thoreau, of course, had quite different ideas about our daily bread, we read: "I learned from my two years experience that it would cost incredibly little trouble to obtain one's necessary food.....that a man may use as simple a diet as the animals, and yet retain health and strength."

Not every man's idea of dinner, I imagine.

Jade Snow Wong (1922 - 2006) gives instruction on how to shop on a budget for the very best in meat and produce, and how to cook rice. One of my favorite entries is Julia Child's reminiscence about her television series. However, picking favorite isn't an easy task in this 784 page volume that holds among others praise of the oyster by M.F.K. fisher, and William Styron's delight in Southern Fried Chicken.

Laced throughout this volume are comments by notable chefs, critics, and home cooks plus 50 recipes, both vintage and modern. Seldom has food been discussed so thoroughly and invitingly as it is in American Food Writing.

Highly recommended.

- Gail Cooke
6 of 6 people found the following review helpful
An Interesting Anthology Aug. 23 2007
By Carol Goter Robinson - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
I have not completed reading this book. That is part of its virtue. One can pick it up and read enjoyably for 10 or 15 minutes at a stretch because the samples/chapters are quite short- many in the 3 to 5 page range. I know that I will finish reading it eventually, because the writing as well as the topics are so interesting. One gets a feel for earlier times when reading the initial chapters. I found it fascinating that in the 1830's (if I am remembering the decade correctly) that members of a wealthy family living in Philadelphia and New Orleans would ship foodstuffs, e.g, oranges, to each other between the two cities. If you are a foodie, like good writing, and are interested in history, you will enjoy this book.
17 of 22 people found the following review helpful
Too Much Gristle July 30 2007
By takingadayoff - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Hardcover
I was so sure I would love this book that I bought it brand new, sight unseen. Library of America, Molly O'Neill, over 700 pages of food writing. How could it miss?

After slogging throught the first 300 pages (the book is chronologically arranged), I finally came to the modern era of food writing. Many of my favorites were here: Nora Ephron, Julia Child, Calvin Trillin, David Sedaris. From here on in, the selections are more interesting, if uneven. I guess it's a matter of taste, but of all the extreme adventures Ruth Reichl wrote of in her marvelous Garlic & Sapphires, the sushi restaurant chapter didn't strike me as the one to pick. The consecutive pieces on Craig Claibornes' $4,000 meal in Paris followed by Russell Baker's parody of it are classic and so is David Sedaris's menu essay. But I wonder if Michael Pollan's food writing will hold up over time. I must admit I couldn't make my way through much of his book, Omnivore's Dilemma, from which a chapter is excerpted for this collection. It's just so darned earnest.

But my main gripe about American Food Writing is the writing that wasn't there. In a book of American Food Writing that makes room for writers remembering food from the old country, why is there nothing at all from the most American food writers of all, Jane and Michael Stern? Is there any food more American than diner food? And how about those other very American food pastimes, the hot dog eating contest (or pie eating contest or twinkie eating contest, etc.) and the chili cookoff? Amy Sutherland has an excellent book on cookoffs that might have provided an entertaining chapter. What about food blogs - Julie Powell, for instance?

There have been some great books of food writing recently like Julia Child's My Life in France, Jane and Michael Stern's Two for the Road, and David Kamp's The United States of Arugula. And the annual Best Food Writing edited by Holly Hughes hasn't let me down yet.
4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
Comfort Food for Thought Sept. 11 2007
By Catherine C. Wakelyn - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
These essays are witty and informative -- an unintended cultural history of our national relationship with our collective palates. I read a number of them aloud to my partner while he did the driving on an extended automobile trip.
I have only two quibbles with Molly O'Neill's selections: First, she didn't include anything from her own Memoir, "Mostly True," which was not only hilarious in places but reveals her substantial culinary and writing talents. Second, she didn't include a selection from Robert Farrar Capon's "The Supper of the Lamb" -- a small cookbook with reminiscences, published in the 1970s and probably out of print by now.
I should add that I bought this particular copy of "American Food Writing" as a gift because I liked it so much.
--Catherine Carl Wakelyn

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