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American Food Writing: an Anthology: With Classic Recipes Hardcover – April 19, 2007

4.1 out of 5 stars 18 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Starred Review. This exhaustive collection of essays, anecdotes, and recipes spans three centuries of American food writing, from Meriwether Lewis's account of killing "two bucks and two buffaloe" during his famous trek across the continent, to Michael Pollan's up-to-the-minute account of the politics of organic food. In between are countless gems: Alice B. Toklas's baroque recipe for lobster, Richard Olney's meditation on paté and Edna Lewis's poignant description of killing hogs on her family farm. Ably organized and edited by the former host of the PBS series Great Food, this collection features numerous accounts of foodways long since vanished in this country; take, for instance, Charlie Ranhofer's thorough analysis of the thirteen-course society dinner, complete with "removes or solid joints," "iced punch or sherbet," and "hot sweet entremets"; or Maria Sermolino's memories of the Italian meals served at her father's Greenwich Village restaurant back when spaghetti was still a novelty. Famous food writers are well represented here (James Beard and Calvin Trillin, M.F.K. Fisher and James Villas), but perhaps even more rewarding are the wonderful but lesser-known players on the American food scene; either Elizabeth Robins Pennell's discussion of the spring chicken or Eugene Walter's tale of gumbo alone would make this volume a treasure. With so many wonderful ingredients, this rich, delectable treat is a must-have for American foodies.
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.

From Bookmarks Magazine

A cookbook author, memoirist, and longtime New York Times food columnist, Molly O'Neill has been a hardcore foodie for more years than most of us have been using utensils. In American Food Writing, O'Neill pleases just about everyone-food bullies and drive-thru junkies alike-with her diverse selections that draw on more than three centuries of writing about food. The essays and recipes provide entertaining reading, as well as a roadmap to how food and culture define each other in the march toward a "kitchen without walls." The book lacks a dominant theme (maybe not such a bad thing, depending upon where you sit at the table), and one critic bemoans a lack of writing on Eastern European and Slavic cuisine. Still, American Food Writing is more than a meal. Bon appétit.
Copyright © 2004 Phillips & Nelson Media, Inc.

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 775 pages
  • Publisher: Library of America (April 19, 2007)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1598530054
  • ISBN-13: 978-1598530056
  • Product Dimensions: 6.7 x 0.8 x 9 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 2 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.1 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (18 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,125,559 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

By Craig Matteson HALL OF FAMETOP 500 REVIEWER on June 27, 2007
Format: Hardcover
I enjoy reading good writing about food more than just about any other kind of writing, but not only for the obvious reason that I enjoy eating food. Sure, we all eat. And some of us enjoy food maybe more than most. But writing about food is something else and has many happy reasons to recommend it. The first being that one can enjoy reading good writing about all kinds of food without taking in even one calorie. I emphasize good writing because much of what passes for food writing is just filler stuff that is dashed off to fill pages in magazines between the advertisements.

But when an author gets to the soul of the food being written about, well, something very special happens for the reader. Food writing can open up new vistas for the adventurous food lover. We can learn about foods and dishes we had never expected or anticipated. We can get fresh takes on dishes we thought we knew. It can take us back in time and show us the roots of where we came from. Even the way they wrote their recipes can be instructive. We notice what they assumed the person using the recipe would assume as understood, the kinds of ingredients and equipment they assumed would be on hand, and what was new and different that had to be carefully spelled out.

Food writing also makes for wonderful anthropology. What people ate when and where provides wonderful insights into who the people were, what they valued, what was available to them, their technology, those with whom they traded, and their connections to those who came later (the way the dishes and foods evolved and changed over time). Too often we make the lazy assumption that the past was much like the present, but not as modern. In fact, it is often very different.
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Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
I have not completed reading this book. That is part of its virtue. One can pick it up and read enjoyably for 10 or 15 minutes at a stretch because the samples/chapters are quite short- many in the 3 to 5 page range. I know that I will finish reading it eventually, because the writing as well as the topics are so interesting. One gets a feel for earlier times when reading the initial chapters. I found it fascinating that in the 1830's (if I am remembering the decade correctly) that members of a wealthy family living in Philadelphia and New Orleans would ship foodstuffs, e.g, oranges, to each other between the two cities. If you are a foodie, like good writing, and are interested in history, you will enjoy this book.
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Format: Hardcover
I was so sure I would love this book that I bought it brand new, sight unseen. Library of America, Molly O'Neill, over 700 pages of food writing. How could it miss?

After slogging throught the first 300 pages (the book is chronologically arranged), I finally came to the modern era of food writing. Many of my favorites were here: Nora Ephron, Julia Child, Calvin Trillin, David Sedaris. From here on in, the selections are more interesting, if uneven. I guess it's a matter of taste, but of all the extreme adventures Ruth Reichl wrote of in her marvelous Garlic & Sapphires, the sushi restaurant chapter didn't strike me as the one to pick. The consecutive pieces on Craig Claibornes' $4,000 meal in Paris followed by Russell Baker's parody of it are classic and so is David Sedaris's menu essay. But I wonder if Michael Pollan's food writing will hold up over time. I must admit I couldn't make my way through much of his book, Omnivore's Dilemma, from which a chapter is excerpted for this collection. It's just so darned earnest.

But my main gripe about American Food Writing is the writing that wasn't there. In a book of American Food Writing that makes room for writers remembering food from the old country, why is there nothing at all from the most American food writers of all, Jane and Michael Stern? Is there any food more American than diner food? And how about those other very American food pastimes, the hot dog eating contest (or pie eating contest or twinkie eating contest, etc.) and the chili cookoff? Amy Sutherland has an excellent book on cookoffs that might have provided an entertaining chapter. What about food blogs - Julie Powell, for instance?

There have been some great books of food writing recently like Julia Child's My Life in France, Jane and Michael Stern's Two for the Road, and David Kamp's The United States of Arugula. And the annual Best Food Writing edited by Holly Hughes hasn't let me down yet.
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Format: Hardcover
An anthology of American food prose and recipes from 1753 to the present. Some amazing pieces from the country's early years demonstrate that not only does the US definitely have a rich food culture, it's been around long enough that we've actually lost and forgotten some dishes that used to be hugely popular. Who knew how much beaver tail, canvasback duck, and turtle soup we used to eat?

There are pieces here by everyone from Thomas Jefferson, to Alice B. Toklas, to Ray Kroc. That's an incredible diversity of viewpoints. Walt Whitman's description of bringing exotic and rare iced cream to wounded civil war veterans contrasts strangely, but tantalizingly, with Eric Schlosser's exploration of exactly how the chemical factories in northern New Jersey create the artificial and "natural" flavors that permeate all of our processed food. From dozens of almost completely unrelated pieces, a picture of American food pointillistically emerges.

I went to this book's release party back in 2007 at the Redcat Theater in Los Angeles. (No conflict of interest in this review; the event was open to the public.) Some chefs from around the city had prepared a variety of foods from the recipes in the book, and they were all superb. Particularly fantastic were Helen Evans Brown's 1952 gazpacho (which I have since made at home to my wife's delight), and Union Square Cafe's 1994 yellowfin tuna burgers.
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