American Food Writing: an Anthology: With Classic Recipes Hardcover – Apr 19 2007
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From Publishers Weekly
Starred Review. This exhaustive collection of essays, anecdotes, and recipes spans three centuries of American food writing, from Meriwether Lewis's account of killing "two bucks and two buffaloe" during his famous trek across the continent, to Michael Pollan's up-to-the-minute account of the politics of organic food. In between are countless gems: Alice B. Toklas's baroque recipe for lobster, Richard Olney's meditation on paté and Edna Lewis's poignant description of killing hogs on her family farm. Ably organized and edited by the former host of the PBS series Great Food, this collection features numerous accounts of foodways long since vanished in this country; take, for instance, Charlie Ranhofer's thorough analysis of the thirteen-course society dinner, complete with "removes or solid joints," "iced punch or sherbet," and "hot sweet entremets"; or Maria Sermolino's memories of the Italian meals served at her father's Greenwich Village restaurant back when spaghetti was still a novelty. Famous food writers are well represented here (James Beard and Calvin Trillin, M.F.K. Fisher and James Villas), but perhaps even more rewarding are the wonderful but lesser-known players on the American food scene; either Elizabeth Robins Pennell's discussion of the spring chicken or Eugene Walter's tale of gumbo alone would make this volume a treasure. With so many wonderful ingredients, this rich, delectable treat is a must-have for American foodies.
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.
In this comprehensive anthology from the Library of America, veteran food journalist O'Neill brings together some of the most significant short food writing from across the whole spectrum of American culinary history. From the eighteenth century, Joel Barlow offers a poem celebrating a breakfast specialty. A brief account of cooking at the outset of the nineteenth century comes from Henry Adams' renowned history. James Beard, Julia Child, Craig Claiborne, and other contemporary icons record the great American food revolution of recent decades. Excerpts and articles from other writers bring the anthology up to date with concerns about food origins and sound nutrition. Good food writing being an effective tonic to arouse one's appetite, O'Neill has peppered the text with historical and modern recipes beyond those that appear within the texts themselves. A valuable subject index expedites locating topics efficiently within this very diverse set of readings. Knoblauch, Mark
Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved
Top Customer Reviews
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.
- Gail Cooke
Most Helpful Customer Reviews on Amazon.com (beta)
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.
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.
There are pieces here by everyone from Thomas Jefferson, to Alice B. Toklas, to Ray Kroc. That's an incredible diversity of viewpoints. Walt Whitman's description of bringing exotic and rare iced cream to wounded civil war veterans contrasts strangely, but tantalizingly, with Eric Schlosser's exploration of exactly how the chemical factories in northern New Jersey create the artificial and "natural" flavors that permeate all of our processed food. From dozens of almost completely unrelated pieces, a picture of American food pointillistically emerges.
I went to this book's release party back in 2007 at the Redcat Theater in Los Angeles. (No conflict of interest in this review; the event was open to the public.) Some chefs from around the city had prepared a variety of foods from the recipes in the book, and they were all superb. Particularly fantastic were Helen Evans Brown's 1952 gazpacho (which I have since made at home to my wife's delight), and Union Square Cafe's 1994 yellowfin tuna burgers.
As one might expect, there are recipes throughout, and the writings of food luminaries such as Julia Child and James Beard. But, the volume includes essays, journal entries, and stories by Willa Cather (a selection from My Antonia), Thomas Jefferson, Meriwether Lewis, John Steinbeck, H.L.Mencken and Gertrude Stein to name just a few. They are written about food, not necessarily about cooking. Some use food as part of a larger landscape of writing, while other pieces directly explore the glory of eating.
All in all, it is a delicious volume of writing. I highly recommend this anthology for the joy of reading.