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American Food Writing: An Anthology: With Classic Recipes

by Molly O'Neill

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303388,552 (3.94)5
Draws on 250 years of American culinary history to present written works from virtually every region of the country while offering a tribute to a host of ethnic cuisines and including more than fifty classic recipes.

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First, I'm not enamored of the early American so-called food writers, until the second half of the twentieth century, they all seemed very tedious and unfunny. Second, the entire book is way too heavily focused on French cuisine, which apparently Americans have been obsessed with for 200 years. Third, the receipes scattered throughout had little or nothing to do with the essays. They seemed randomly chosen. Fourth, the individual essays did not have dates, you had to hunt in the bibliography to see when they were written.

Overall the selections were disappointing. I think I would have chosen to start with the brief paragraph describing the Pilgrims' first Thanksgiving. I would have included Laura Ingalls Wilder's opening chapter to Little House in the Big Woods, with the shockingly violent and yet somehow joyful slaughtering of the pig, which is at the foundation of America's attitude to food.

I would have excerpted something from the incredibly influential Diet for a Small Planet. Instead of the endless writings about France the chapter of Elizabeth Fernia's description of a feast in an Iraqi village would have been a refreshing change. David Barry's description of food in Japan is fantastic, too, and way funnier than any of the comic writing here.

Where O'Neill did choose some good writers, she picked some of their most mundane prose. For example Ruth Reichl's famous review of Le Cirque, very typically American in its concern for equal treatment to all, should have been included instead of the workmanlike review of a sushi restaurant that O'Neill chose. Also something a little more amusing by Julia Child, maybe the chapter where her husband puts the dirty dishes in the pot of veal stock or something. And something from Nora Ephron's sad/funny Heartburn, for which I've always had a soft spot. How can you find something boring in the Federal Writers Project food writings? Somehow O'Neill managed to do it.

The whole thing was such a huge disappointment. One thing I will say is that it made me want to edit my own anthology someday. ( )
  karenmerguerian | Jul 8, 2011 |
Excellent anthology of American food writing, with a great and very amusing selection. Selections cover the history of American food classics like gumbo, fried chicken, chocolate chip cookies and others; but also the creation of Mc Donalds, processed food and gourmet snobbery. Particular highlights are a cake recipe by Emily Dickinson (complete with dashes) and Russell Baker's hilarious mock-banquet. ( )
  MariaAlhambra | Nov 26, 2010 |
This took me two years to finish! Mostly because I kept it at my boyfriend's apartment to read when he was doing things like (appropriately) cooking dinner. Anthologies work very well for that. I think spacing out the reading actually kept the pieces more interesting because there wasn't the risk of them all mushing together after a while. I'd seen some of the pieces before, but that's inevitable for a collection of this sort. And I found quite a few new authors to look into further. Oddly, the (only) two really unpleasant pieces were back to back. ( )
  kristenn | Sep 7, 2009 |
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American Food Writing: An Anthology
is published with a gift in honor of
Sarah Porter Boehmler,
Chef and Hostess extraordinaire
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Draws on 250 years of American culinary history to present written works from virtually every region of the country while offering a tribute to a host of ethnic cuisines and including more than fifty classic recipes.

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