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Twain's Feast: Searching for America's Lost Foods in the Footsteps of Samuel Clemens Hardcover – June 24, 2010

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 336 pages
  • Publisher: Penguin Press HC, The; First edition (June 24, 2010)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1594202591
  • ISBN-13: 978-1594202599
  • Product Dimensions: 9.2 x 6.2 x 1.1 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.2 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.4 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (36 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,394,600 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

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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From Booklist

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

Customer Reviews

Thus, this book is well written and interesting.
I recommend the book both for anyone interested in Mark Twain and particularly for readers who love to read about food.
David Pruette
Twain's Feast by Andrew Beahrs is well-written and interesting.
W. A. Carpenter

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

25 of 25 people found the following review helpful By M. Hill TOP 500 REVIEWER on May 4, 2010
Format: Hardcover Vine Customer Review of Free Product ( What's this? )
The author, Andrew Beahrs, begins his book by recreating a favorite breakfast of Mark Twain's noted in the book A Tramp Abroad. Twain dreamed of the delicious food of his homeland as he traveled through Europe, disgusted with the cuisine he encountered - runny cream, tasteless chicken, half-rotted produce, etc. His fantasy breakfast included a two inch thick dry aged, grass fed porter house steak, hot biscuits with fresh butter, buckwheat cakes with transparent syrup (maple), and American home made coffee with cream. Reading Twain's written culinary daydreams prompted Beahrs to recreate, as closely as possible, the breakfast described in A Tramp Abroad, which led to a bigger project - this book. He enriched his reading of Twain's classic, ate some great food and in the process reminds all of us that fresh flavorful American food is, like jazz, something to be proud of.

This book is a study of Twain's appreciation of the quality of American food. Real food, not the fast food widely recognized as America's pathetic contribution to the culinary community. Almost in erotic terms we are treated to the delicious descriptions of a simple, but properly prepared "good homemade cup of American coffee." Coffee carefully brewed in a French press with water just below boiling. Letting the freshly ground coffee steep until dark and rich with a nice froth. Adding fresh unpasteurized cream that is so thick it is reluctant to leave its container.

What about a steak? Beahrs describes the difference in flavor between a grass fed and corn fed steak and the increased density of the dry aged meat. The Mark Twain breakfast was recreated carefully, securing foods identical or as close to the quality of product Twain would have had available in the late 1800's.
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23 of 27 people found the following review helpful By Robert J. Newell VINE VOICE on May 29, 2010
Format: Hardcover Vine Customer Review of Free Product ( What's this? )
Twain's Feast is only partly about Samuel Clemens, a.k.a. Mark Twain. A lot of the book is about Berkeley author Andrew Bearhs, his travels and opinions, and his predictable political orientation.

Now, to be fair, the book is very carefully researched (though there are a few unexpected bloopers), well written, and quite engaging in style. It's all based on some lines penned by Twain while in Europe, lamenting the state of European gastronomy, and listing a series of American dishes that he would have loved to assemble into one enormous, delicious (though not quite realistic) feast.

Author Beahrs writes a chapter on each of the major elements of the feast, tracing the food in question back to its roots, and highlighting the concept of fresh, seasonal, and regional ingredients. We learn about oysters, prairie hens, trout, and much more. The author visits the original American location where Twain would have encountered the food in question, and comments at length about what has happened since. This makes a large part of the book a lament about how things have gone downhill since "the good old days" and to a lesser extent, a plea for change and redress.

You'll certainly learn a lot by reading this book, and you'll be well enough entertained.

While an obvious Twain devotee, at times, though, the author forgets himself and shows unseemly disrespect. Near the end of the book, for instance, he's recounting his preparation of fried chicken as Twain might have enjoyed it. He quotes Twain as saying that "Yankees" can't make good fried chicken, and then follows this with "Stuff it, Twain!
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13 of 14 people found the following review helpful By C. Cook VINE VOICE on May 6, 2010
Format: Hardcover Vine Customer Review of Free Product ( What's this? )
I loved this book !

It almost reminded me of the recent movie Julie and Julia !..........only in this case the author is following a very early foodie Mark Twain.Of course mark Twain was a very traveled person ---having eaten his way through France , England , Germany and other places as well. His 4 diamond plus to me was that even with eating all these other countries specialitys he still missed and prefered our Wild American Foods.

This is a story of an American --loving American Foods. Wild foods that are only available in certain portions of the country....Ducks , Prairie Chickens , trouts and oysters from San Francisco, California.

All of this goes along with recipes from the day....very basic and early recipes.I was really into this I love the study of old foods and recipes.

If your into American History or/and foods from back in the day--you'll enjoy this
book greatly !
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6 of 6 people found the following review helpful By W. A. Carpenter VINE VOICE on April 23, 2010
Format: Hardcover Vine Customer Review of Free Product ( What's this? )
Twain's Feast by Andrew Beahrs is well-written and interesting. By looking at a list of Samuel Clemens's favorite foods and investigating the status of those animals and plants today, Beahrs makes a strong argument for the importance of local foods. There are chapters on prairie-hens, raccoons, trout, oysters, turtle, New Orleans, cranberries, and maple syrup.

The author quotes 18th and 19th century recipes for many of these foods, but the modern cook would have difficult recreating them given the vagueness of the directions and the lack of ingredients routinely used then that are no longer available. However the author does describe his method for cooking Thanksgiving turkeys and it sounds truly delicious.

Beahr's descriptions of his own cooking and that of others is frequently gripping and mouth-watering - with the major exceptions of the descriptions of muskrat, raccoon, and terrapin (turtle) which this reader found difficult to stomach.

Although I've read a lot about Samuel Clemens, I discovered new things about him in this book - did you know he started a forest fire (accidentally) at Lake Tahoe or surfed in Hawaii? Clemens and the author both emerge as interesting characters that you'd like to spend some time with - preferably at the dinner table.

With echoes of Pollan's "The Omnivores Dilemma," this book is both a fun and important addition to the books arguing for a return to local farming and foods. Recommended.
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More About the Author

Andrew Beahrs is the author of two novels, and his work has appeared in The New York Times, Gastronomica, Virginia Quarterly Review, The Writer's Chronicle, Ocean Magazine, Food History News, and Living Bird. He received his M.A. in anthropology/archaeology from the University of Virginia and his M.F.A. in fiction from Spalding University. He lives in California with his family.

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