106 of 112 people found the following review helpful
Format: HardcoverVine Customer Review of Free Product( What's this? ) The Federal Writers Project (FWP) put hundreds of writers to work during the Great Depression. The FWP's major project, a series of travel guides of the states, was a beautifully written work by established writers as well as new writers. It was a project whose time had come and the guides were a big hit with Americans who were looking for any excuse to hit the road.
The guides were completed in 1938, but still there was no end in sight to the Depression. The FWP started several new projects, including one called America Eats!, a guide to regional recipes and social traditions involving food. The project got off to a slow start and then after Pearl Harbor, everyone knew it was only a matter of time before funds would be diverted to the military. The unfinished project was sent to the Library of Congress for storage.
Author Mark Kurlansky dug through those old papers, and although the project was incomplete, he found enough to compile a decent collection of food writing from circa 1938.
In keeping with the plan of the America Eats! project, Kurlansky has arranged the book according to region. He introduces the chapters and provides some helpful explanations along the way, but most of the book is written by other people some sixty years ago.
Here's the problem. Much of the writing is indifferent, almost bored. Kurlansky's very interesting introduction explains how the project came about and how money and focus dwindled after Pearl Harbor. It seems as if there may never have been any great enthusiasm for the America Eats! project. The American Guides travel writing project was inspired and inspiring. The writers put everything they had into it, and it shows. The series was wonderful, as guides, or simply as good writing. But food writing was still something relegated to the "women's page" of the newspaper. Many of the writers appeared to think that writing about food and the customs surrounding regional dishes was beneath them. The editor of the America Eats! project, anticipating the writers' reluctance to write about such a frivolous topic, counseled that the writing should be "light but not tea shoppe, masculine not feminine."
Much of the text is simply recipes, or lists of ingredients. Kurlansky's introduction is easily the best part of the book. While I have no doubt that going through those old boxes in the Library of Congress was fascinating, maybe that's where those old typewritten and carbon-copied manuscripts should have remained. Perhaps Patricia Willard had the right idea with her recent book America Eats!: On the Road with the WPA - the Fish Fries, Box Supper Socials, and Chitlin Feasts That Define Real American Food. She also researched the Library of Congress archives and then hit the road to find out if truly regional foods still exist. The result is an entertaining comparison of Depression era American food customs and what remains of them seventy years later.
62 of 67 people found the following review helpful
Format: HardcoverVine Customer Review of Free Product( What's this? )
Many years ago I remember seeing a movie about some WWII soldiers assigned to a bomber plane (I think it was "Memphis Belle"). As they're approaching the limit of bombing runs when they'll be discharged they're discussing what they'll do when they get home. One says he's going to open a chain of restaurants across the country and each will have the same name, same menu, and same food. Another says it's a dumb idea, because no one will want to eat the same food they can get at home. He replies, somewhat sheepishly, "sure they will, it's comforting," while everyone laughs. I always thought that was an interesting insight into the nation prior to WWII, and while most histories usually focus on a prominent person or event, they don't often give a very good idea of what it was like for regular people who lived those times. That's one thing that sets this book apart.
During the Great Depression FDR came up with a number of "make-work" projects to keep people employed (as opposed to simply giving welfare). Projects such as the WPA and the CCC gave people the satisfaction of *earning* a living while hopefully providing a service to the community (every time I visit a National Park and see the buildings and trails I think of the CCC - which is how my grandparents met, incidentally). The usefulness and value of these projects could be debated endlessly, but one in particular was called "America Eats" and kept some writers from starving. They were sent out around America to report on the various foods and eating customs that existed in this broad and diverse land. This was in the days before interstate freeways, restaurant chains, refrigerator-freezers, and the low-quality fast food we all live on. Different regions still had very distinct foods and customs, and there wasn't as much uniformity in what we eat across the nation. The war ended this project before it was completed but Mark Kurlansky has dipped into those old archived reports to give us a look at what mealtimes were like and what regular people ate.
In addition to discussing the differences between clam chowder in New York and Boston, he also includes a number of recipes, many of which are in the same summary form they were submitted to the main office prior to any editing or "writing." Where the writer was identifiable he gives a short history on him or her. We recently visited New Mexico and it was interesting to read the account of the meals that were eaten in the field by farmers and their families. One chapter I found especially amusing was called "A Los Angeles Sandwich Called a Taco" which gave all the ways a tortilla could be used, such as burritos, taquitos, chalupas, etc. But the book is filled with interesting tidbits and notes - everything from Choctaw indian foods to slang used in New York luncheonettes - and whether you read it cover to cover or simply pick through it, I think it will certainly be entertaining.
19 of 21 people found the following review helpful
Oh, how they ate!
Long ago, up to just after WWII, the United States was a land of regions. New England was separate and distinct from the South, for example, and the Plains States very different than those two. Culture and cuisine were influenced by local likes and dislikes, mores and folkways. Likewise, refrigerated railway cars and to a far lesser extent weren't nearly as widely used today, so many of the fruits and vegetables we take for granted in grocery stores anywhere in the country today simply weren't as widely available back then.
In short, there was a culinary America before McDonald's and what people ate and why they ate it varied widely across our great land.
During the 1930s, the federal government struggled to put people to work during the Great Depression. One of the make-work outfits was the Federal Writer's Project, called by poet W. H. Auden "one of the noblest and most absurd undertakings ever attempted by any state". Unemployed writers were hired to write.
Mark Kurlansky, who has written utterly enthralling histories of salt and the cod fish, went through the archives of the FWP project on what America ate ("America Eats"). It was the successor to the highly successful series of FWP guidebooks to the various regions of the United States. Kurlansky provides a thorough and informative history of the FWP as an introduction to the book. Some of the best known writers in America were on the government payroll during those dark days.
"America Eats" was never completed. WWII put everyone to work and budgets for the FWP disappeared.
Kurlansky has created an anthology of many of the articles from "America Eats". The quality of the writing goes from dreadful to superb. Many of the articles include recipes, some of which are mouth-watering, while not a few make you want to hold your nose or worse. The differences between the regions is grandly apparent. I particularly enjoyed the story of how "hush puppies" came to be and how they got their name. (I also became ravenously hungry for the best hush puppies I've ever eaten, in a small town in Minnesota.)
Some of the articles, particularly those from the South, reveal how ingrained racial biases were, with language that would never be allowed to see the light of day in a government sponsored project today.
Kurlansky writes an introduction to each region's articles. The book is culinary history, but also cultural history as well, of a land before nationwide restaurant chains, thousands of frozen and canned food items and a concern with sodium and carbs. The differences in our society, the massive class of factory workers in the Northeast, the agrarian society of the South, the robust farmers and laborers of the Midwest are all separated by rich detail.
This is a book for browsing. With several dozen articles divided into five sections, this is a wonderful book for just opening to a page and reading. Make sure you don't do it when you're hungry, though: many of the recipes will leave you on the verge of making gluttony a life goal. The great tragedy is that nearly all this great, carefree cooking and eating has disappeared from our land.
21 of 26 people found the following review helpful
Format: HardcoverVine Customer Review of Free Product( What's this? )
When I first ordered this book I was under the impression that it was going to be about food from an earlier time in American history...like from the 18th and 19th centuries. Instead it centers on President Roosevelt's WPA program of the 1930's.
I was initially disappointed.
I was initially wrong.
It's actually a very good book, giving wonderful historical information about America's food, region by region. Of course, being a born and bread midwesterner, that was the first section I delved into and found a fine mix of 'cuisines' from this section of the U.S. - some familiar and some not - with history thrown in to boot.
But, the Kentucky Eggnog listed in the southern region looked interesting as well.
And then there is the...well, you get the picture - - -
Although there are a number of recipes interspersed throughout, this is not a cookbook. It a pleasurable informational social history book of an era that many of our parents and grandparents can still remember.
The best part about this book is that it is chock-full of the type of historical information that one rarely thinks about - my favorite history...social history. FOOD history.
As I mentioned, however, the title can easily throw one off. It should have a more accurate title which, I believe, might be a benefit to this book, as "The Food of a Younger Land" does have a hint of an even earlier time in our nation's history than the era in which the author writes.
All 'n' all, this is a fine collection of early 20th century history that most have probably never given a second thought.
10 of 12 people found the following review helpful
on January 2, 2010
Format: HardcoverVerified Purchase
If you are buying this for your Kindle, make sure you go to the one on the bottom of the list, or you won't get the full edition. They are being sold in sections on here and it is deceiving. The first section, The South Eats, is all you will get if you order the top. Yes, the title says "The South Eats" when you open it, but the print editions are not sold in sections, only as one book, so selling it off in sections is a bit on the deceptive side I would say.
6 of 7 people found the following review helpful
Format: HardcoverVine Customer Review of Free Product( What's this? )
Mark Kurlansky has written several excellent books in which he traces the impact of a single ingredient -- such as cod or salt -- on human society. I've read and enjoyed his work, so I was enthusiastic about my opportunity to read The Food of a Younger Land through the Amazon Vine program. It's an enjoyable read, for foodies or for those who love Americana -- but maybe not in the way you'd expect.
That's because the essays in this book were not written by Kurlansky, though he writes dandy headnotes for each. Rather, these essays are the result of the author picking-and-choosing from the best of an abandoned work from the Work Project Administration, part of President Roosevelt's New Deal. Among the Depression Era projects was one that included writers, and they were put to work (initially) writing the U.S.' first travel guidebooks. But the follow-on "America Eats," chronicling the everyday foods and food events across the country, was interrupted by Pearl Harbor -- and most of those writers went to work elsewhere.
Kurlansky found the original manuscripts, or at least what remains of them, and chose the most important or interesting for this volume. So instead of a 1942 book recording "what we eat today," what he produced is a snapshot of a generation of foodstuffs that have largely been forgotten. It's like discovering a photo album in your grandma's attic.
If you are in your 50s or older, some of these essays will bring back memories of gas station pumps on dusty highways, when bottles of Coke were sold in bright red machines. You'll remember the roadside stands of your youth, where you bought piccalilli or Shoe-Fly pie. And it will, indeed, fulfill the book's title: The Food of a Younger Land. For instance, an essay called "Foods along US1 in Virginia" extols the virtues of spoon bread, Brunswick stew, Virginia ham and herring roe scrambled with roe. And as Kurlansky comments, "Imagine an article [today] about eating along I-95."
Overall, it works. As much of a foodie as I am (and the number of cookbook reviews I've written should be proof enough), there's plenty in this book that I never knew, from recipes for Brunswick Stew (too bad I lack a handy squirrel) to the steps in a Vermont "sugaring off." I'm reminded how exotic it once was to eat a taco in California, and how incredibly food was tied to what was in season locally. (When I was a child in New York, it was a big deal to have a family member send you oranges from Florida.)
Still, this is not a "read at one sitting" book. Reading it is like listening to a music album by a singer with a unique voice; a couple of songs at a time are good, but an entire album's worth is tiring on the ear. Some of the material is understandably repetitive, and I like Kurlansky's choices -- but after a while, I've read *enough* about the (much debated) appropriate ingredients for New England clam chowder or how various southerners make chitlins. I read most of it within a few days (it was the only book I'd taken with me on a road trip), but I wish I'd spread it out over a week or two. If you do that, I think you'll like this book very much indeed.
2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
on April 30, 2013
Format: PaperbackVerified Purchase
As an avid Kurlansky reader, I was expecting a bit more, but left the table feeling less than satisfied. I was first engaged by Kurlansky when my wife gave me the CD compilation of "Choice Cuts" which I avidly consumed on my commute too and from work. I avidly sought out his other works, "Cod", "Salt", "The Big Oyster" and delved into his other non cooking related books with "The Basque Hisory of the World". I could not finish that one.
"Food of a Younger Land" appealed to me as I grew up during the great Interstate Highway building period of the 1960's and saw first hand how it transformed the way we eat.
It may be mind boggling to most Americans how Eisenhower's project transformed the country. To realize it, you really need to travel outside the United States. Europeans are astounded how a country as large as the US is so homogeneous. It is one of great strengths that you can travel from Florida to Washington state and everyone speaks the same language and the same food. No other country on Earth as large as the US can claim that. In Europe alone, traveling The distance from Virgina to Texas would have you crossing three or four national boundaries and encountering at least as many different languages. Russia and China are the same, India too, although India does have the common thread of English as the official language.
I grew up with Virginan region cooking and food preparation: from the Mennonite cooking of my mother's family, to the Shenandoah home cured hams of my paternal grandfather. Everything was home made for a time, milk was unpasteuized, bread was home baked, fruits, vegitables, even meat were mason jar canned for the off season.
The book touches on some of this, but more often misses the mark when it comes to satisfying ones curiosity. Some sections were down right boring, and I fault Kurlansky's editing for this. I am sure there had to be more interesting bits in the volume of material that was churned out by the government program that originated it all. But alas this is a typical government program: money for words with no accounting. The fact that the work product languished in the national archives for over half a century before Kurlansky exhumed it it testament to the inefficiencies of our government.
Is it work a look? Yes if you are interested in food, its history and how it made us, and its slow demise. Some recipes are worth the experiment. Others dispell popular culture myths.
Just don't expect something as interesting as Cod, or The Big Oyster, or Salt.
2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
on July 11, 2009
"America Eats" was conceived as a collection of socially and anthropologically relevant essays about food throughout the United States. Despite millions of words written and presented, "America Eats" was never published and moldered away in the Library of Congress. Bestselling author of "Cod" and "Salt," Mark Kurlansky poured through the files and wrote the "The Food of a Younger Land," published on May 14, 2009 by Riverhead Books, a division of Penguin Group.
The premise for Kurlansky's collection of essays is, "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 Works Project Administration files." Author's tour schedule and biography are available at the publisher's website.
Recently reading the food section of newspapers, culinary magazines and food bloggers confirms that the United States (and many other countries) have returned to these same themes. Today, Alice Waters, owner/chef of Chez Panisse in San Francisco is hailed as the reigning queen of seasonal and regional cuisine and her many disciples pepper the country.
Simmering along the surface of extraordinary unemployment figures in the 21st century - growing daily - is the memory of the Works Progress Administration (WPA), created by Franklin Delano Roosevelt as an outshoot of the 1935 Emergency Relief Act. A public works program, the WPA created a Blue-collar workforce to construct government projects.
During the Depression, which our present economic turmoil echoes, the Emergency Relief Act also launched a nation-wide program creating gainful employment for artists, writers, entertainers, musicians and actors including The Federal Writers' Project (FWP).
Journalist, foreign correspondent and Columbia Law School graduate Henry Alsberg was the Director of the FWP and authored the eligibility guidelines; no money, no job, no property, literate and able to type and deliver copy (content). This moved relief from the streets into the office and put more than 4,500 writers to work. Many internationally acclaimed authors were included in this group including Ralph Ellison, Saul Bellow, Richard Wright, Nelson Algren, Studs Terkel, Zora Neale Hurston and John A. Lomax.
Kurlansky has divided the book into the very same sections as the original "America Eats" project including the Northeast, South, Middle West, Far West and the South West. His introduction brings the reader through the creation of the WPA and the FWP along with the dividing lines of race and gender. "It is rare to find this kind of untouched paper trail into the past," writes Kurlansky. Reading this collections awakens the appetite for regional cuisine, teases forth childhood memories of comfort foods and reminds one that a government can create programs that put people back to work in times of need. Perhaps our current leaders should take a hint or two from Roosevelt.
Many of the authors and essays are introduced by Kurlansky enticing readers into the culture of America's regions and the struggles of the writers. Nora Zeale Hurston's exceptional essay, "Diddy-Wah-Diddy" speaks of a mythical land where food appears by magic for the hungry. Her prose paints a picture of an Eden-esque nirvana where a "big baked chicken will come along with a knife and fork stuck in its sides."
The book is best dipped into reading what strikes one's taste buds. Selections include Wisconsin Sour-Dough Pancakes cooked at lumber camps; Choctaw Indian Dishes from the Southwest; Divinity Chocolates and Spoon Bread from Kentucky; Rhode Island Johnny Cakes and Long Island Rabbit Stew.
"North Carolina Chitterling Strut" by Katherine Palmer, who wrote about folklore, explores the food preparation of Mehitable and Doak Dorsey. Mehitable cooks up chitlins and her husband welcomes guests who pay "two-bits and twenty-five cents," for the homemade meal, strutting and chatting.
The essays are anything but stuffy and much of the cuisine is still prepared today. Kurlansky weaves it all together turning what could be a dry accounting of American food into a historical banquet.
2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
I enjoyed Mark Kurlansky's books about "Cod" and "Salt," but they were not complete enough. When you read a book about fish, you want to know all about that fish.
"The Food of a Younger Land" also is incomplete, but this time Kurlansky cannot be faulted.
He discovered five boxes of unedited submissions for the Federal Writers Project's "America Eats" guides, which were intended to record regional foodways at a time when it was obvious that they were being erased.
World War II interrupted. Kurlansky says it is fortunate, in a way, that the unedited pieces remain, because they contain relics not only of diet and custom but of attitudes, some no longer acceptable.
But no less real for all of that.
In light of the current silly furor about "pink slime" (meat trimmings treated with ammonia), it is amusing to learn (or, in my case, relearn) that in the '30s, soda fountains sold, along with cherry Cokes and vanilla Cokes, ammonia Cokes.
Curiously absent from these memoirs - which take the form of recipes, short paragraphs, poems, short stories, pioneer memoirs and some rather arch attempts at humor - is cheese. We are and were a nation of cheese-eaters, but neither the Wisconsin nor the Vermont sections have much to say about it.
On the other hand, nearly every section had something about journey cakes and other cornmeal breads. It's doubtful whether, even as long ago as 1940, many Americans had eaten an ash cake or a hoe cake, and today almost no one has.
Regionalisms were still pronounced, but by 1940 nationally marketed foods had been around for 75 years or more. Many's the recipe here that calls for store-bought ketchup.
A big gap is the absence of any mention of a blue plate special, although a writer from Portland appears to be referring to a rather upscale version of it that she calls a "merchant's plate." At 65 cents, it was far more expensive than the lunch the typical city worker sat down to, even if the menu was about the same.
Kurlansky made a selection. Perhaps an essay on the blue plate special is still in one of the boxes.
"The Food of a Younger Land" leaves us wanting more.
1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
on September 18, 2011
I wish for such enormous food-inspired events to become part of our food culture today. This book describes a history of food culture across america and seemed to intend to to illustrate a unique quality to each regions cuisine. Instead I left with an overwhelming sense that our food culture has dramatically changed course. Each region shared stories of enormous meals that required the effort of communities coming together to produce. Clam bakes in New England required trenches to be dug, filled, covered, tended to for days, and then consumed in great mass. In Long Beach, (where I've lived for 6 years and had no prior knowledge of this history) Grunion Runs used to be celebrated with huge friers on the beach so that families could grab the fish in buckets and eat them real time. What happened to these big rockus pig roasts, fish fries, harvest festivals? These stories and recipes made me want to erect a fire pit in my non-existent yard and e-vite 50 friends over to a goat roast tomorrow. It was a fascinating description of a recent but surprisingly distant past that provided an unseen perspective on what a thriving food culture might feel like.