Monday, September 17, 2007

Americans and Food

The Americans are the grossest feeders of any civilized nation known. As a nation, their food is heavy, coarse, and indigestible, while it is taken in the least artificial forms that cookery will allow. The predominance of grease in the American kitchen, coupled with the habits of hearty eating, and of constant expectorations, are the causes of the diseases of the stomach which are so common in America. -- James Fenimore Cooper, in The American Democrat, 1825 (cited and disagreed with by Frederick Marryat in his A Diary in America, 1839, on p. 30 of the book below).

Just a tidbit from American Food Writing: An Anthology with Classic Recipes, edited by Molly O'Neill. I don't think we can say that modern American cooking is not artificial in form any more (and isn't it interesting that "artifice" is considered a good thing in 1825?), and expectoration doesn't seem to be such a huge problem any more (are they talking about spitting chew? Just spitting?), but we've certainly still got the grease and heavy eating going.

This book is amazing. It's perfect for browsing - over 700 pages of wonderful excerpts from everyone from Thomas Jefferson, H.L. Mencken, Betty MacDonald, Peg Bracken, and David Sedaris to Michael Pollan, organized historically, a with wonderful section of sources and a meticulous index that starts at abalone and ends at Zuni breadstuff.

A lot of my favorite authors are in here. Frederick Douglass talks about ash cakes and hunger, Walt Whitman describes feeding ice cream to wounded soldiers in a Union hospital in Washington, D.C., and Emily Dickinson provides a recipe for her favorite cake. John Steinbeck talks about breakfast. Russell Baker describes franks and beans. Wendell Berry, Raymond Sokolov, Daniel Pinkwater- all here, as well as any famous food writer you can imagine.

The only problem with this book? It's so big that I'm not going to be able to finish it before it's due back at the library. Ah well, I really need a copy of my own to be able to consult whenever I need it. Did I mention that the recipes that interleave the excerpts are historically intriguing, often droolworthy, and that someone with a wonderful sense of graphics and balance arranged these recipes?

1 comment:

Bybee said...

This book sounds so wonderful. Food and literature: UnbEATable combination!