I love good mixtures -- chocolate cake & ice cream, a hot day & the pool, a rainy day & a good book... One of my favorite "mixtures" is the pairing of books & food. In essence, the "foodie book." To some people, this may sound really boring. However, given the large number of Food Network viewers, I will have to say that I'd say more people are interested in reading about food than ever before. I wanted to share some of my favorites so that you can also enjoy these excellent pairings:
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, and traditional -- from the lost WPA files by Mark Kurlanksky
I am currently only about a third of a way into this book. It's something I picked up from the "new books" shelves of my local library with a passing sort of interest. I'm reading a couple of other things right now, including a great Michael Connelly mystery. This book seemed like something I could pick up & put down in between the mystery-solving pages of Connelly's tortured LAPD detective Harry Bosch & his rather depressing life/ case. I was wrong -- not because you couldn't do that with this book, but rather because I'm not letting it get out of my hand. Although never a history buff, and usually not a non-fiction reader, this history of food in America is fascinating. Kurlansky begins his compiled articles and recipes with an introduction. Now, let me preface this by saying that I usually skip introductions. Most of them are boring & unneccessary for the greater understanding of the books they introduce. However, because I wanted to know what I was getting myself into (and technically, what in the world it was about -- despite the rather long & descriptive title), I started with the introduction this time. Kurlansky pulled me in with his never-boring historical telling of Roosevelt's efforts to stimulate the Depression-era economy. Roosevelt included something in his plan which I can't see flying today, despite our own economy's similarities to that time period. He gave money to the arts! Roosevelt signed a bill creating the Works Progress Administration (which I had never heard of -- how do they leave these things out in school?!?). According to Kurlansky, the WPA
was charged with finding work for millions of unemployed Americans. It sought work in every imaginable field. For unemployed writers the WPA created the Federal Writers' Project, which was charged with conceiving books, assigning them to huge, unwieldy teams of out-of-work and want-to-be writers around the country, and editing and publishing them. . . . Katherine Kellock . . . came up with the thought of a book about the varied food and eating traditions throughout America, an examination of what and how Americans ate. . . . Kellock called the project America Eats. (1-2)The book was never published, due to funds being cut -- that and a little thing called World War II, which switched America's focus from the Depression & its aftermath to Germany and Japan. Kurlansky found the old files in piles in the U.S. Library of Congress and began sorting through the entries sent from all over the United States.
So far, I have learned everything there is to know about clam chowder in all its forms (with tomato or without? with rich cream or broth?). I've learned about the molasses trade and how that shaped Boston baked beans & brown bread. I've just started the section on the south and a piece entered by Eudora Welty, a Federal Writers' Project employee in the 1930s. Kurlansky touts it as "mimeographed pamphlet that she wrote for the Mississippi Advertising Commission . . . . [and] possibly Welty's only peice of food writing" (101). It is fascinationg reading, as an English major who worshiped Welty's short stories and read the novels of southern writers who list her as inspirations in their careers.
Trail of Crumbs: Hunger, Love, & the Search for Home by Kim Sunee
I thought I had already written about Kim Sunee and her food-obsessed life in an earlier blog devoted to good books I'd read lately. Apparently not... Therefore, I will definitely include it here. This is a must-read included in this list because of its relation to the topic. While the book is a memoir of Sunee's life so far, it is also about her relationship with food.
Sunee was adopted from Korea as a toddler. She went from the food-steeped atmosphere of a Korean market where she was abandoned to the city of New Orleans, rich in its own food history. In this way, she becomes a life-long food lover, interested in both her roots and her new family's traditions. She includes recipes in her memoir, which actually reads as a novel. Which foods does she choose, you might ask? A little bit of everything. She provides readers with a Quick-Fix Kimchi from her native land, followed by a complicated recipe for her Louisiana grandfather's Crawfish Bisque.
Later in life, Sunee expands her culinary repertoire to include French cuisine. Sunee lives for many years in Florence and Paris, where she learns to cook elaborate dinners for her boyfriend's friends and family. Cream of Chesnut Soup, Chicken Thighs with Cinnamon and Dates, Figs Roasted in Wine, crepes, salads, chilled fruit soups... The list goes on and on of new recipes she culls from the people and land surrounding her.
The story is one of searching -- Sunee searches for her home, for her place in the world. And throughout this search, food remains her steadfast anchor. No matter the land, Sunee finds that she can create "comfort" and "home" by pouring her soul into dishes she and her loved ones enjoy experiencing -- tasting, smelling, etc. There is no true conclusion (Sunee won't turn 40 until next year!), but one thing is for sure -- we gain a lot as readers just from the many recipes Sunee shares with us. Click here to read Sunee's blog and continue to experience her food-soaked days in cities around the world. Sunee includes both experiences, reader writings, and recipes.
Consuming Passions: A Food-Obsessed Life by Michael Lee West
West is one of my favorite southern writers. She is famous for her novels, including Mad Girls in Love and American Pie. However, she also wrote this book, a memoir-style ode to food. It is a recipe-laden book which includes recipes from funerals and church potlucks. It also reads as one of West's novels, full of interesting characters and southern tales. The only difference? These stories are true & the characters are West's family members. Drink some sweet tea and enjoy!