I said things would be different!
I don’t know about you, but food is pretty intricately woven into my family history! Ever since my childhood two of very very favorite foods were Cornish pasty and Bohemian knedliky! I grew up loving both of these foods that I was to learn, much later in life, have the deepest roots in my genealogy. No wonder I love them! They are both in my genes — quite literally it seems!
But there were other foods as well that were important in my life. Many of these differed by the area of the country that my family members lived in. What my mom cooked in Ohio was different than my Aunt in Michigan and that was different than my cousin in California.
Needless to say, as a result of these memories, I was delighted when I was given a copy of Mark Kurlansky’s book “The Food of a Younger Land: a portrait of American food – before the national highway system, before chain restaurants, and before frozen food, when the nation’s food was seasonal, regional, and traditional – from the lost WPA files”, 2009, Penguin Group. It doesn’t get much better than being able to meld history, genealogy/family history, and food especially when done so by a tremendous author.
If you don’t know author Kurlansky, you can check out his website here. Briefly, Mark Kurlansky is a New York Times-bestselling author, a James A. Beard Award winner, and the author of nonfiction, anthologies, fiction, children’s books, and even a translation of a work by Emile Zola. Obviously a man of many considerable talents!
In “The Food of a Younger Land”, author Kurlansky searched through what he calls ‘a broad and rich mountain of copy’ that was generated by the Federal Writers’ Project. He notes that he encountered so much material that publishing it would have necessitated many volumes so he sifted through unedited and unpublished manuscripts for this wonderful edition for us to enjoy!
Aside: The Federal Writer’s Project was a portion of the Federal Works Progress Administration and was begun in1935. It is a phenomenal treasure trove of material from recipes to slave narratives, American life histories, and much in between. More to come on this valuable resource in a future story!
Now back to “The Food of a Younger Land”.
Author Kurlansky takes us from the Atlantic to Pacific and from Florida to Minnesota on his tour of local, regional, historic American food. Plus he even offers us some of the original recipes. No kidding!
A sample of one entry will give you an idea of some of the work in this great book. This one happens to be about a food subject I also love …. mashed potatoes by one Clarie Warner Churchill (1898-1956). Ms. Churchill was an author of history. She wrote several books on Oregon history including a book on Sacajawea, which was entitled “South of the Sunset”. The FWP afforded her the chance to further study Oregon history at a time when the last survivors of the Oregon Trail were still living. As I said, she must have been a woman after my own heart.
She wrote: “No, I am not to be fooled by your whipped potatoes, your fluffed potatoes, your watered pastes that pass in many restaurants for honest to God mashed potatoes. I know them for what they are: horrible travesties upon a self-respecting dish of mashed, and I mean mashed, not macerated potatoes.”
All I can add is AMEN and thank you, Claire!
Thanks to the work of author Kurlansky, we can read some real Americana, wonderful history of states, regions, and food that was so integrated in those early families. Where else can you read about Oregon Blue Ruin, Florida Shrimp Pilau Supper, Nabraska Pop Corn Days, Raising Mushrooms in Pennsylvania, and An Editorial Memorandum on Clams! Nowhere that I know of but here in “The Food of a Younger Land”.
So treat yourself! A bit of history, a bit of Americana, a trip through the United States at an earlier time, and some great food!
Personally, I am going to be trying my hand at Depression Cake, created by a young woman in the far west for the 4th of July.
Then I am going to jump into some of the Native American cooking described!
It is a fun, easy, terrific read brought to us courtesy of Mark Kurlansky.
Now back to my book!
Onward To Our Past,