From Publishers Weekly
In his first book, Beahrs uses the palate of America's great humorist and satirist to celebrate and explore native foodstuffs and even make the case for him as a passionate locavore. Though the author follows Twain's life and literary works along loosely chronological lines, he ranges deep into a personal and journalistic agenda. The book intersperses Beahrs's firsthand experiences, such as observing Illinois prairie chickens in mating season and attending an Arkansas raccoon supper, with Twain's gastronomical record. The sheer breadth of Twain's travels and jobs permit discussion of such 21st-century topics as the far west's Great Basin water reclamation and cranberry bog expansion with historical developments like the invention of modern farm machinery and its impact. The author's upbeat tone doesn't dodge the darker side of his hero, entertainingly entwining more commonly known biographical facts with the surprising (who knew the author of Tom Sawyer
once sought cocaine?). Beahrs frequently interrupts the narrative with historical culinary asides about dishes like oyster ice cream, but his passion and scope of detail are bracing. (June)
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At the end of a grand tour of Europe, Mark Twain professed himself thoroughly bored with local fare and composed a wish list of American foods his palate most missed. A few of these more than six dozen dishes, such as steak, turkey, and corn on the cob, continue to appeal to contemporary palates, but others on the list—canvasback duck, possum, frogs, and turtles—shock today's sensibilities. Moreover, in the Starbucks era, Twain's yen for American coffee simply mystifies. Twain's inventory sets Beahrs on a quest to rediscover American cuisine. He prepares grass-fed steak for breakfast. In New Orleans he discovers how much human taming of the Mississippi has changed local agriculture and foodways. He culls recipes from nineteenth-century cookbooks to determine what manner of American victuals Twain might have actually consumed. Beahrs laments recent years' industrialization of agriculture, yet his survey is equally an indictment of the timorous vapidity of present-day taste. --Mark Knoblauch