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Twain's Feast: Searching for America's Lost Foods in the Footsteps of Samuel Clemensby Andrew Beahrs
Synopses & Reviews
One young food writer's search for America's lost wild foods, from New Orleans croakers to Illinois Prairie hen, with Mark Twain as his guide.
In the winter of 1879, Mark Twain paused during a tour of Europe to compose a fantasy menu of the American dishes he missed the most. He was desperately sick of European hotel cooking, and his menu, made up of some eighty regional specialties, was a true love letter to American food: Lake Trout, from Tahoe. Hot biscuits, Southern style. Canvasback-duck, from Baltimore. Black-bass, from the Mississippi.
When food writer Andrew Beahrs first read Twain's menu in the classic work A Tramp Abroad, he noticed the dishes were regional in the truest sense of the word-drawn fresh from grasslands, woods, and waters in a time before railroads had dissolved the culinary lines between Hannibal, Missouri, and San Francisco. These dishes were all local, all wild, and all, Beahrs feared, had been lost in the shift to industrialized food.
In Twain's Feast, Beahrs sets out to discover whether eight of these forgotten regional specialties can still be found on American tables, tracing Twain's footsteps as he goes. Twain's menu, it turns out, was also a memoir and a map. The dishes he yearned for were all connected to cherished moments in his life-from the New Orleans croakers he loved as a young man on the Mississippi to the maple syrup he savored in Connecticut, with his family, during his final, lonely years.
Tracking Twain's foods leads Beahrs from the dwindling prairie of rural Illinois to a six-hundred-pound coon supper in Arkansas to the biggest native oyster reef in San Francisco Bay. He finds pockets of the country where Twain's favorite foods still exist or where intrepid farmers, fishermen, and conservationists are trying to bring them back. In Twain's Feast, he reminds us what we've lost as these wild foods have disappeared from our tables, and what we stand to gain from their return.
Weaving together passages from Twain's famous works and Beahrs's own adventures, Twain's Feast takes us on a journey into America's past, to a time when foods taken fresh from grasslands, woods, and waters were at the heart of American cooking.
"In his first book, Beahrs uses the palate of America's great humorist and satirist to celebrate and explore native foodstuffs and even make the case for him as a passionate locavore. Though the author follows Twain's life and literary works along loosely chronological lines, he ranges deep into a personal and journalistic agenda. The book intersperses Beahrs's firsthand experiences, such as observing Illinois prairie chickens in mating season and attending an Arkansas raccoon supper, with Twain's gastronomical record. The sheer breadth of Twain's travels and jobs permit discussion of such 21st-century topics as the far west's Great Basin water reclamation and cranberry bog expansion with historical developments like the invention of 'modern' farm machinery and its impact. The author's upbeat tone doesn't dodge the darker side of his hero, entertainingly entwining more commonly known biographical facts with the surprising (who knew the author of Tom Sawyer once sought cocaine?). Beahrs frequently interrupts the narrative with historical culinary asides about dishes like oyster ice cream, but his passion and scope of detail are bracing. (June)" Publishers Weekly (Copyright Reed Business Information, Inc.)
One young food writer searches for America's lost wild foods, from New Orleans croakers to Illinois prairie hen, and employs Mark Twain as his guide.
One young food writer's search for America's lost wild foods, from New Orleans croakers to Illinois prairie hens, with Mark Twain as his guide.
In 1879, Mark Twain paused during a European tour to compose a fantasy menu of the American dishes he missed the most. A true love letter to American food, the menu included some eighty specialties, from Mississippi black bass to Philadelphia terrapin. Andrew Beahrs chooses eight of these regionally distinctive foods, retracing Twain's footsteps as he sets out to discover whether they can still be found on American tables. Weaving together passages from Twain's famous works and Beahrs's own adventures, this travelogue-cum-culinary-history takes us back to a bygone era when wild foods were at the heart of American cooking.
About the Author
"What a gift this is! Inspired by the foods most loved by Mark Twain, Beahrs has given us a warm and nostalgic history of wild foods in the United States. His search for once abundant native foods reveals how much we have lost. This book should encourage food lovers to get busy and rescue the wild foods that remain."
-Marion Nestle, author of What to Eat
"Twain's Feast is a celebration of the way America used to eat. Andrew Beahrs shares with the reader the delightful appetites of Samuel Clemens, a bevy of old-timey recipes, and his own journey to discover whatever happened to our culinary traditions. Beahrs's attention to detail had my mouth watering for a Tahoe trout cooked over a campfire, freshly shucked oysters on the half-shell, and I'm sad to admit, the now endangered prairie chicken, roasted."
-Novella Carpenter, author of Farm City
"Twain's Feast takes us on an engaging, quixotic search for the lost regional specialties Mark Twain loved-and reminds us of how food always shapes our sense of where we come from and who we are. Whether gorging on barbecued raccoon, mourning the endangered terrapin, or whipping up a chess pie with his young son, Andrew Beahrs pays attention to the details that make meals memorable. Anyone who likes Twain, or cooking, or the bittersweet history of our changing landscape will savor this feast."
-Jane Smith, author of The Garden of Invention
"Long before the Slow Food movement, Mark Twain championed regional American cooking. In this beautifully written ode to Twain and local delicacies like possum, oysters and Philadelphia terrapin, Andrew Beahrs has given us an instant classic in the literature of the table."
-Andrew Todhunter, author of A Meal Observed
"I had no idea that a menu written down by Mark Twain over a century ago could teach us so much about American food, but in the skillful hands of Andrew Beahrs, it does that and more. Twain's Feast is a brilliant book: elegant, insightful, and funny, part history and part hungry-making. It's not only an illuminating and relevant read, but a fun one."
-Molly Wizenberg, author of A Homemade Life
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