Ralph Melton (ralphmelton) wrote,
Ralph Melton

2016 Reading #6: The Food of a Younger Land

#6: The Food of a Younger Land, by Mark Kurlansky

During the Great Depression, one branch of the WPA was the Federal Writers Project, making work for young writers. One of the FWP's projects was America Eats, a compendium of writings on local food from around the USA. World War II interrupted, and the project was never completed. Many of the pieces were lost, but Mark Kurlansky found a big collection of the source material in the Library of Congress and did his own job of selecting and compiling that into a book that's a collection of snapshots of a culinary world before chain restaurants and interstates.

Kurlansky's role in that was one of selection more than editing. As such, it is an extremely uneven book - and perhaps that's part of its charm. Some of the pieces are dry, some are written in an imitation of dialect that would grow boring to read in a whole book, and some of them are hilarious. I particularly recommend the passionate rant "An Oregon Protest Against Mashed Potatoes", and the humorous tale "Arkansas Footwashing at Lonely Dale".

A couple of quotes from "Kansas Beef Tour":
"If he samples Barbecue on the highway, he has eaten it at its worst. True Barbecue is seldom to be had, and is worth driving many miles to eat. In the strict definition of the term, Barbecue is any four footed animal—be it mouse or mastodon—whose dressed carcass is roasted whole. Occasionally it is a hog, often it is a fat sheep, but usually and at its best it is a fat steer, and it must be eaten within an hour of when it was cooked. For if ever the sun rises upon Barbecue its flavor vanishes like Cinderella's silks and it becomes cold baked beef—staler in the chill dawn than illicit love.
"This is why it can never be commercialized, for no roadside stand could cook and sell a whole steer in a day. This is why true Barbecue, like true love, cannot be bought but must always be given, and so is found only as a part of lavish hospitality in the cow country.

"While Barbecue has covered half a continent, Son of a Bitch, its companion dish, has not, and I therefore offer its recipe for the benefit of the dainty city bride, who is constantly straining the resources of her apartment kitchen to tempt her husband with new plats du jour after a weary day in the office.
"First milady will take the entrails of two medium sized steers, but she will extract from them only the heart, liver, kidneys and intestines, which she will carefully clean. This done, she will cut them into chunks the size of her fist and toss them into a medium sized copper wash-boiler on her enameled stove. To this she will add a soupçon of potatoes (say a peck of peeled ones), about the same amount of unpeeled tomatoes and a quart can of hot green Mexican chili peppers. This is allowed to simmer for about three ours, without ever coming to a boil. After it has been thickened with a 5-pound sack of corn meal and salted to taste, then her Son of a Bitch is done and there will be enough for all, particularly if a dozen of her husband's old college chums, a company of U.S. Marines and a few taxi-drivers happen to drop in unexpectedly for dinner.
"While the recipe is substantially the same all along the north bank of the Rio Grande, the name occasionally varies, and in New Mexico the dish is called Prosecuting Attorney.
  • Post a new comment


    default userpic

    Your IP address will be recorded 

    When you submit the form an invisible reCAPTCHA check will be performed.
    You must follow the Privacy Policy and Google Terms of use.