- Hardcover: 320 pages
- Publisher: Bloomsbury USA; 1st edition (July 15, 2008)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 1596913622
- ISBN-13: 978-1596913622
- Product Dimensions: 6.8 x 1.2 x 9.1 inches
- Shipping Weight: 1.2 pounds
- Average Customer Review: 3.9 out of 5 stars See all reviews (16 customer reviews)
- Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,255,867 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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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 – July 8, 2008
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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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Top Customer Reviews
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.
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. The city life chapter focused on New York City and included a listing of soda fountain-luncheonette slang and jargon. I recognized some of the things listed; others I had never heard. I would definitely recommend this book as an enjoyable read for anyone interested in the history of food in the U.S. with emphasis on the 1930s.
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. The mile long trenches filled with smoldering wood have fallen victim to zoning ordinances forbidding them on public land. Tobacco, once an important crop in North Carolina, is being replaced by vineyards that have led to new festivals celebrating wine.
Each chapter covers a particular type of event such as rodeos, funerals, harvest festivals and social clubs, to name a few. A relevant essay from "America Eats!" is followed by the author's own experience followed by more essays and occasionally, recipes. Because each essay was penned by a different author, the reader is able to get a sense of the local customs and culture as they were experienced by the people living at that time.
The book begins and ends with what can only be called rants about American cooking. Ms. Willard is rather defensive about our indigenous cuisine. In the first chapter she defends its shortcomings compared to European cuisines and then in the last chapter laments its demise thanks to the entry of women into the workforce leaving them no time to cook.
This would be a much better book without the author's long-winded opinions of American cooking. If you excise the first half of the beginning chapter and all of the last chapter, you have a wonderful book about Americans, their customs and their food, past and present.