From Publishers Weekly
This early attempt to combine the disciplines of gastronomy and social history in "an account of midwesternsic foodways, customs,sic and lore" was in fulfillment of an assignment for which author Algren ( The Man with the Golden Arm ) himself had little esteem ("I did it because I needed the money"): a 1930s Illinois Writers Project enterprise called "America Eats." A half century on the shelf, Algren's manuscript has been eclipsed by the work of many others in the service of cuisine, and his informal anthropology seems, today, somewhat dowdy and imprecise. It is also apparent that his 33 recipes, mere sketches, are obviously not the work of a practiced cook (chef Louis Szathmary, who purchased the manuscript from Algren in 1975), provides tested, corrected and clarified versions of each recipe, in an added section). Nevertheless, the main text is attractive. Algren's sense that pioneer traditions were fragile and that knowledge of them would be important to posterity was prescient, and his presentation has considerable ease and polish. Beginning with a look at native peoples, he moves on to the settlers' groping for means of sustenance, finally considering, separately, culinary rites from each of several immigrant groups: "lutefisk," the strange dried cod cult of Lakes States Norwegians; and Serbian barbecued lamb, "waging a losing fight," even then, with the American hot dog at Serbian festivals.
Copyright 1992 Reed Business Information, Inc.
From Kirkus Reviews
In the Thirties, before he made his name with The Man With the Golden Arm, Algren was one of several soon-to-be-famous hungry writers hired by the WPA for the Illinois Writers Project's regional guides. Algren's subject was midwestern food customs, and he covered it with considerable charm and attention, though WW II disrupted the project and his report is just now being published. Algren sets a fluent pace from the beginning with an information-rich yet lively and almost lyrical evocation of Native American (``Indian,'' in his day) and frontier food-ways; and he keeps it up through rolling views of pancake-scoffing lumberjacks, bear-eating voyagers, homesteaders with their apple-peelin' socials, farmers' harvest potlucks, a community buffalo festival, slave food brought north, ethnic spectacles (such as an annual Serbian-American picnic for 2500), and the various specialties of different immigrant groups--all of whom, Algren observes, tend to make steady diets of their Old World special feast foods. None of this sounds like Nelson Algren as we know him, but it has far more style, vitality, and apt detail than the run of today's (or yesterday's) folksy foodlore. As for recipes, they hail from almost everywhere but run to solid European fare, with only one vegetable dish in the lot. Referring no doubt to the directions rather than to the dishes as eaten, Algren declares them ``lousy''--he simply wrote down what the cooks told him--and the more knowledgeable Louis Szathm ry (a Hungarian-American chef, food writer, and cookbook collector who knew Algren and bought the manuscript from him shortly before his death) has, he says here, found some outlandish. Thus the whole recipe batch is appended twice: first, as Algren heard and wrote them, and then as Szathm ry and a crew of assistants have revised them. Consider Algren's versions engaging documents and Szathm ry's doable. (Thirty-five photographs--not seen.) -- Copyright ©1992, Kirkus Associates, LP. All rights reserved.