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America Eats!: On the Road with the WPA - the Fish Fries, Box Supper Socials, and Chitlin Feasts That Define Real American Food Hardcover – Bargain Price, July 8, 2008

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Editorial Reviews Review

Amazon Best of the Month, July 2008: America Eats! originated as a 1935 WPA project that sent out-of-work writers (mostly unknowns, but also some soon-to-be famous names like Eudora Welty and Ralph Ellison) to chronicle America's regional cuisine, focusing on the group-dining dynamic of church suppers, harvest festivals, state fairs, political rallies, lodge suppers, and any gathering where food took center stage--"In a nation inhabited by strangers, sharing a meal lessened the loneliness of wandering across unfamiliar landscapes." While bits and pieces of their work saw the light of day over the years, the project was never completed or published and was filed away in the Library of Congress like a culinary Ark of the Covenant until Brooklyn-based food writer Pat Willard used this national artifact as a roadmap for her own coast-to-coast tour to see if these traditions still exist (many, sadly, are long gone) and offer a contemporary update on the WPA's original observations. Sprinkled throughout with heirloom recipes (Root Beer, Pickled Watermelon Rinds, Chess Pie, Son-of-Gun Stew) and never-before-published vintage photos, America Eats! is a celebration of our nation's table and a welcome addition to the popular food lit genre. "It's nice to report that, when a community need arises, we're still inspired as a nation to pull out a big pot and start throwing into it a lot of ingredients, with the understanding that sharing a large batch of something delicious with neighbors and strangers alike is a fine and proper way to accomplish some good." --Brad Thomas Parsons

From Publishers Weekly

The original America Eats! was written for the WPA by out-of-work writers during the Depression of the 1930s as an account of group eating as an important American social institution, the development of local, traditional cookery by churches and communities, fairs, festivals, rodeos, fund-raisers, rent parties and the like. It was never completed or published, but when food writer Willard (Secrets of Saffron) found the manuscript in the Library of Congress, she decided to follow the footsteps of the original writers to find what remained of these feasts, or a modern equivalent. The result is an interesting anthology of original WPA writing (most by unknowns, but often lively) and contemporary experience. Willard found Brunswick Stew (historically made with squirrel meat) in North Carolina and Virginia as well as versions of it in Minnesota (booya) and Kentucky (burgoo). Recipes (not always with squirrel) are given. There are still Melon Days in Colorado and Oklahoma, and an Apple Week in Washington State. Fewer homes have kitchen gardens now, and some fair food is distinctly modern (fried Twinkies), but Willard did find a wild-game dinner in Oregon and, of course, barbecue everywhere. Where there were once tobacco farms in traditionally dry Southern counties, Willard, in this engaging book, finds vineyards. (July)
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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 320 pages
  • Publisher: Bloomsbury USA; 1st edition (July 15, 2008)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1596913622
  • ASIN: B001P80KN8
  • Product Dimensions: 9.6 x 6.8 x 1.1 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.4 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.1 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (16 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #3,078,814 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews

23 of 23 people found the following review helpful By JRB on October 17, 2008
Format: Hardcover
I can attest that the author did yeoman's duty in the research for this book! The author became a member of our Brunswick Stew Crew during a competition in Richmond ... and with her culinary background she easily manuvered her way around the Stew pot with the rest of the Crew.

The book is an enjoyable read balancing some of the original manuscripts of the WPA writers in the 30's with updated information from the author ... including some good recipes.

If you enjoyed hearing stories from your parents and grandparents about regional cuisine from yesteryear at church socials, political gatherings, and the like this would be a good addition to your library.
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9 of 9 people found the following review helpful By E. Yeakly on August 31, 2009
Format: Paperback
I collect cookbooks and also enjoy reading history books so "America Eats" is a perfect combination to grab my interest. The original idea for America Eats was a part of the endeavors of the Works Progress Administration during the Great Depression. Out-of-work writers were sent all across the country and were to submit reports on group eating and its role in the various communities. Some reports were sent to Washington, but funding was discontinued before any final document report was assembled and printed. Some reports were retained in local offices and some reports have been totally lost.

Pat Willard went to the Library of Congress and read some of the reports housed there. Brimming with enthusiasm, she set off across the United States to visit the areas that had been documented. She was hoping to find some of the festivals and group dinners still being held. This book is a combination of many of the original reports submitted in the late 1930s and Willard's reports on similar festivals, picnics, and other celebrations she found. This book is not a cookbook in the usual sense but does have about 25 recipes as originally reported or with Willard's modern interpretation based on her travels.

I found the book to be an enjoyable read. It is easy to pick up and read a few pages when having only a few minutes or a pleasure for a longer read. There are about 50 black and white photos from the original project included. Some of the chapters cover various ethnic group influences on the eating habits of our country's people. Church suppers, funeral dinners, fairs, fund raisers, holiday celebrations, political gatherings: they all received their due recognition.
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11 of 12 people found the following review helpful By Reader from Texas on September 16, 2008
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
This book makes me homesick for some great food and fun times at the county fair! Well written, with interesting old photos. Interesting to learn about traditions in food and fun around the country.
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6 of 6 people found the following review helpful By OldRoses on October 13, 2009
Format: Paperback
During the Great Depression, many programs were created by the Federal Government to provide jobs for those who had none. We are still benefitting today from the fruits of that labor which created many public buildings, roads, bridges and parks. One project, however, never saw the light of day.

The "America Eats!" project was about traditional American food. Out-of-work writers were assigned to write about the events in their communities and the food that was served at them. The final document was not meant to be a cookbook. It was more akin to a documentation of regional foods made by non-professional cooks and served at regional gatherings such as fairs, church socials and harvest festivals.

Author Pat Willard, who stumbled on to the project while reading a book for research, was intrigued enough to visit the Library of Congress where many of the original manuscripts are stored. Reading the surviving documents inspired her to make a cross-country culinary tour, visiting the places and events written about in "America Eats!" to find out if they still existed and if so, how they had changed if at all.

She was heartened to discover that many of the local events mentioned in America Eats! are still going on albeit with a few modern changes. Squirrel meat, once the main ingredient in Brunswick stew, has been replaced by poultry, beef and pork due to the dangers of Mad Squirrel Disease (who knew?). She traces the evolution of the foodie culture in Washington State from the local harvest festivals mentioned in America Eats!, which are still going on.

Other local gatherings never made it to the 21st century. The traditional southern barbecues that were once mandatory for political events have disappeared.
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful By Diane Middleton VINE VOICE on September 12, 2009
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
Interesting review of American food of a by-gone era. Many of these regional foods have disappeared in the fast food glut found in most of our cities today. Very interesting read for food and history buffs
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful By Gerard D. Launay on December 30, 2012
Format: Paperback
Background history - Give applause to Franklin Delano Roosevelt who started the WPA during the Great Depression to help real Americans earn money and keep their dignity. All of us know about the bridges and Post Offices and roads. Amazing - nine million people received money from the U.S. Government and they paid us back with over a million projects. Jobs were handed out even to unemployed newspaper reporters, novelists, and poets. They were paid to support national patriotism and give birth to a national identity. One assignment - travel the American heartland, towns, and ports and document the way Americans feast - talk about the food at the harvest fairs, political and community fundraisers, square dances, or religious revivals.

Washington D.C. did not want recipes, it wanted stories. This book is about those stories. These colorful accounts are important historical material. After all, "politics and barbeques go so naturally together because it takes the same amount of time to cook the meat as it does to stroke the voters."

Some gems: A group of African American women argue about a fund raiser where the participants plan to serve pig feet: A woman resists: "Who wants ole pig feet? They give you indigestion. The last time the pig feet were cold and half done."

Or a huge salmon barbecue where the salmon is "dunked in a big tub of water with lots of brown sugar. After about half an hour the fish is removed and placed in the barbecue pit and covered with ferns and grass." Sounds wonderfully tasty.

Or a religious revival where the master of ceremonies shouts to the crowd: "Who danced before the Lord until his clothes fell off? [The crowd replies] - "David!
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