15 July 2009

Book review? I hate doing book reviews!

None-the-less, here is one.

I am currently enjoying "The Food of a Younger Land" by Mark Kurlansky. Kurlansky recovered an archive of essays and recipes that were collected by WPA in a follow-on project after the successful publication of the famous guidebooks. The planned regional food books were overtaken by events -- the editorial work was in process in early December 1941. The work was archived and remained untouched until Kurlansky resumed the editorial work.

Kurlansky's portrayal of the work done and the archives he found is well done. He explains how the work is done and how he put the book together. He is a good writer. But the real treat is the old material. This is the stuff of culture in the late Depression and before as remembered by those interviewed.

I find the cultural differences fascinating and the recipes and notation particularly fascinating. Here is an example that I think gives a flavor of what I am finding:

Indiana Pork Cakes

1 pound ground or freshly chopped pork
1 cup boiling water poured over pork
1 cup of molasses
2 cups of brown sugar
1 teaspoon soda
4 cups flour
1 teaspoon of cloves
1 teaspoon of cinnamon
1 teaspoon of allspice
1 teaspoon of nutmeg

Pork must be fresh and raw, fat preferred. Will keep two or three months if wrappted in greased paper, then dry paper. Don't bake too quickly.

Kurlansky Pg 325

As you can see, there is an implicit assumption in many of the recipes -- the reader can cook. One wonders how a modern cook who expects instructions on a can of corn would handle such instructions.

In any case this is much a book about American culture as it is American recipes. I strongly recommend it.

Mark KKulanksy
Riverhead Books (Penguin Books (USA) Inc.)
New York, 2009


Sue-z said...

Aren't we glad that Drew heard it discussed on NPR and thought to look it up and purchase it as a gift for you? When you are done reading it, is it my turn?

JimB said...

Sure, it is worth reading!


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