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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

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

Written by Mark Kurlansky

Narrated by Stephen Hoye


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

Written by Mark Kurlansky

Narrated by Stephen Hoye

ratings:
4/5 (20 ratings)
Length:
11 hours
Publisher:
Released:
May 28, 2009
ISBN:
9781400181698
Format:
Audiobook

Description

Mark Kurlansky's new book takes us back to the food of a younger America. Before the national highway system brought the country closer together, before chain restaurants brought uniformity, and before the Frigidaire meant that frozen food could be stored for longer, the nation's food was seasonal, regional, and traditional. It helped to form the distinct character, attitudes, and customs of those who ate it.



While Kurlansky was researching The Big Oyster in the Library of Congress, he stumbled across the archives for the America Eats project and discovered this wonderful window into our national past. In the 1930s, with the country gripped by the Great Depression and millions of Americans struggling to get by, Franklin D. Roosevelt created the Federal Writers' Project under the New Deal to give work to artists and writers, such as John Cheever and Richard Wright. A number of writers-including Zora Neale Hurston, Eudora Welty, and Nelson Algren-were dispatched all across America to chronicle the eating habits, traditions, and struggles of local people. The project was abandoned in the early 1940s and never completed.



The Food of a Younger Nation unearths this forgotten literary and historical treasure. Mark Kurlansky's brilliant compilation of these historic pieces, combined with authentic recipes, anecdotes, photos, and his own musings and analysis, evokes a bygone era when Americans had never heard of fast food and the grocery store was a thing of the future.
Publisher:
Released:
May 28, 2009
ISBN:
9781400181698
Format:
Audiobook

About the author

Mark Kurlansky is the New York Times bestselling author of Cod, Salt, Paper, The Basque History of the World, 1968, The Big Oyster, International Night, The Eastern Stars, A Continent of Islands, and The White Man in the Tree and Other Stories. He received the Dayton Literary Peace Prize for Nonviolence, Bon Appetit's Food Writer of the Year Award, the James Beard Award, and the Glenfiddich Award. Salt was a Los Angeles Times Book Prize finalist. He spent ten years as Caribbean correspondent for the Chicago Tribune. He lives in New York City. www.markkurlansky.com.


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3.8
20 ratings / 21 Reviews
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  • (3/5)
    This was more of a 2 1/2 - some bits were interesting, but there's only so many meat barbecues I'm interested in reading about. Also the library wanted it back - I mostly skimmed the last 1/2 of it. There were some interesting stories about native American foods. The whole time capsule feel of some of the pieces was fascinating, but somehow it came across more as a pile of essays rather than something that hung together.
  • (4/5)
    3.5 An enjoyable, if uneven, collection. This is a book culled, not made, so difficult to review comprehensively. Considerably redundant and more recipe based than was necessary. Worth it for sheer variance and moments of joy.
  • (4/5)
    An interesting compilation of lost regional/state culinary essays and interviews written by authors employed by the Works Progress Administration during The Great Depression. A treasure trove for food historians and anyone curious about the roots of American cuisine.
  • (3/5)
    Fitfully interesting collection. The pieces here, as Kurlansky's introduction explains, were submissions to a series of planned food guides; however, for reasons both editorial and political, the WPA ended up canceling the project, and much of the material was lost. What survived is serviceable prose, but a lot drier than one would expect, especially given that several of the writers went on to become names, and sometimes the essays resort to cliches and overdone lyricism. Also, as with any hodgepodge, the pieces vary widely in quality and interest. It might have been better to use the essays as primary material for a book that's really about the project, rather than publish these very unpolished essays themselves in anthology form.
  • (3/5)
    Takeaway: we're better off today. That home-cooking was a brave attempt at making meals out of a few ingredients used over and over. People weren't eating their veg because there wasn't any except in the summertime - or out of a can. Thai, Italian, Mexican -- all unheard of foods, except in the Southwest for Mex. Chinese food meant chop suey. Meat and potatoes, and lots of it, cooked very plainly - that was the order of the day. The book is a collection of regional essays originally planned to be in a WPA volume to be called America Eats. The outbreak of WWII put an end to the plan and the material were filed in the Library of Congress, to be rediscovered by the author many years later.
  • (4/5)
    One of my favorite Kurlansky books. The author went through some old archives of a government sponsored project right before World War II broke out. Writers from all over the USA were commissioned to collect recipes and write descriptive articles on how people in different regions cooked food; what ingredients they used, what special traditions they had. Because of WWII, the project was stopped and most of the articles were never printed. Kurlansky basically edits and summarizes some of the articles and even includes recipes in the book. As the title indicates, you discover a whole new food world before frozen food and fresh vegetables from other countries could be found everywhere...some people in the older generation will probably be nostalgicand the younger generation inspired to think more about what and how they eat. It definitely inspired me to cook some of the older recipes.
  • (4/5)
    A collection of Depression-era WPA food writing, divided up regionally. Not super propulsive—maybe better for dipping in and out of, or as a beach read.
  • (3/5)
    Spotty is the kindest word I can use to describe this patchwork quilt of a book, drawn from source material gathered by FDR's Federal Writer's Project during the heyday of the Great Depression. It's great fun for the most part. Kurlansky's section and piece introductions are wonderful, of course. Eudora Welty's piece is, well, Eudora Welty. There are some passages from the Deep South that read as shockingly racist today. There are passages that make one understand how we have abused our fisheries, to the sorrow of the modern epicure. Parts made me laugh but there were also parts I flipped through in a hurry. The description of the Oregon Pioneer dinner was purely joyful and hilarious. Some of the recipes for beans sound better than anything modern. Mint julep recipes call for four ounces of bourbon, imagine drinking four ounces of bourbon. At breakfast. *shudder*

    Overall it was a fascinating portrait, a moment in time, and well worth a read if you are at all interested in the junction between food and history.
  • (3/5)
    It's a pleasure this exists, but the sections vary widely due to the nature of the book - these are essays, notes, and recipes compiled from professional writers & interviewers and much more amateur personnel. But if you're interested in the WPA/FWP, American history, food, or funny songs about Nebraskans eating wieners, you can't really go wrong here.
  • (4/5)
    A book that takes a while to read and digest, but it is deeply interesting if you like finding out about traditional, local food. It makes use of materials gathered towards the end of the Depression years and at the beginning of the Second World War for a Works Progress/Project Administration (WPA) project for writers. The writers were asked to make observations on the traditional foods of their region, with the aim of producing a book entitled 'America Eats'. The entry of the US into the war put a halt to progress on the book and the materials ended up in the archive of the Library of Congress.Mark Kurlansky has written an interesting introduction on the background of the project and the remainder of the book comprises selected items from those materials. There is some repetition of recipes from different states or regions, but generally the variation of foods is quite startling by today's standards. I learnt a lot from this volume.I was surprised to find that even in the 1940s Los Angeles already had a reputation for faddy health foods and I had no idea that oysters were such an important part of ordinary New Yorkers' diets for many years, until people started getting sick from them because of pollution. And so many different ways of cooking with corn...
  • (5/5)
    Gee, I am most surprised that I have not logged in this book with a review. I could swear I wrote about it at length. Yes, I RARELY do write about any book at length, but this is such a terrific book that it merits a lot of words. This book chronicles the foodways of regional America before they were eroded or totally replaced by homogeneous foods, courtesy of chain restaurants and the increased ability to preserve and transport foods all over the country, and even from other countries. It makes one yearn for a simpler time and the REAL food and camaraderie of days of yore. I will have to reread this so I can write a better review. In the meantime, if you have ANY interest in the topic, I urge you to read this book--and even to buy it for your own library.
  • (4/5)
    A great look at regional foods that are special in each area of the United States.
  • (4/5)
    This book is a compilation of documents on regional foods of the U.S. that were originally written for the Works Progress Administration during the late 1930s. It was part of the Federal Writers' Project, with the goal of providing work for writers as well as serving the public interest by documenting aspects of life in America at the time. While "America Eats" was never completed and published, the project left behind a treasure trove of essays and notes. Those documents have been pulled together and organized into this book. Some of the writers of these pieces are recognizable names, while others have faded into obscurity.The book is arranged by various regions of the country, and includes popular recipes as well as observations of major celebratory feasts. In other words, it's a gold mine for those interested in the history of food and food culture, or writers wanting to get a handle on period details. My only disappointment is that some areas are covered far more thoroughly than others, and San Francisco gets particularly short shrift. This is not the modern editor's fault; the Northern California Writers' Project fell apart in 1939 with the resignation of its leader, Kenneth Rexroth. So sadly there's no recipes for Chioppino or Joe's Special, no discussion of sourdough bread or steam beer, and no essays on the contribution of the Chinese or Italian communities to local cuisine. Despite that, it's a book I'm happy to own and will probably refer to again and again.
  • (3/5)
    This book, The Food of a Younger Land, was birthed, as it says on the cover, “from the lost WPA files”. A part of the New Deal's Works Progress Administration, the Federal Writers' Project provided work for authors. Previous projects had yielded well-received books about the states. At the time, this project was called “America Eats”, but was abandoned in the 1940s before coming completely to fruition, with the work in progress languishing in the Library of Congress for 60 years, until Mark Kurlansky resurrected the old writings and transformed them into this book. Read like pieces of Americana, you glimpse the various regions of the country, what crops are plenteous in season, their specialties across time, occasional recipes and oral history. From Vermont's maple sugar to salmon in the Pacific, clam chowder in Massachusetts to gumbo file in Louisiana, and much else in between. I found most of the book quite interesting. Why were they called “hush puppies”; what was the origin of “getting stewed”? Some parts were more readable than others; that would be the fault of the original contributors. There was sometimes repetition, though, which should have been caught before printing. Bottom line, though – it is what its title claims: A portrait of American food – before...
  • (4/5)
    One of the projects of the Works Progress Administration (WPA) was the Federal Writers' Project (FWP). This particular project had written a number of guides to various states that had been quite successful. It was a means of giving employment to struggling writers in a struggling economy. A later project of the FWP was called "America Eats." The projected book was never completed because the WPA and FWP came to an end before the manuscript was completed. Various submissions from the different writers' projects across the states were found in the Library of Congress' manuscript collection. Kurlansky has put these together to give us an understanding of the different foods and cultures across the States during that time. Several writers that we read and discuss in American literature classes (or regional literature classes) were among the writers employed for at least a brief time by the project. I am originally from Mississippi and was delighted to discover the Eudora Welty was one of the writers for the state. Her submission was definitely of a higher quality than some of the other pieces found in the collection. This was quite natural since some writers are more talented than others. There seems to have been a great deal of freedom in how the essays or other pieces (such as poems) were written. Some entries are little more than a list of recipes. Others, such as Welty's, attempt to discuss the people and give a little more background while including recipes. I found the most humorous entry to be a rant by an Oregon writer on why potatoes should not be mashed. I did find an error in the name of a person in Welty's manuscript. She used a person from my home county in Mississippi who, although not a cousin of mine, was from a family that is well-connected collaterally to my family. The name in Kurlansky's book for the person is Mrs. C. L. Lubb, but it should have been "Tubb." Her husband was Carlos Lovol Tubb, and she was Verlie Cordelia Ritter before her marriage. I'm not sure if the error is in the original manuscript (which may have been typed from notes) or if Kurlansky made the error in transcribing it from written copy. It makes you wonder how many similar errors appear throughout the pages of this book or in the original manuscripts. This book does provide an interesting glimpse into the foodways of the United States in the mid-20th century.
  • (3/5)
    I was disappointed to learn that Kurlansky was only an editor of this book. While his powerful and exceptional writing style bursts forth in the introduction and within some of the connecting pieces within each section, the bulk of this title is actually a collection of essays, poems and lists from the last efforts of the Writers’ Project within the WPA. Kurlansky does a good job explaining why whole sections are missing (being from Chicago, I was rather dismayed that nothing was ever written about the dining habits of the Windy City), but the works which are included run the gamut from interesting to pointless. Worthy of a heavy skim, particularly if interested in particular parts of the country, but overall, not a recommended read.
  • (4/5)
    The Kindle version that I downloaded only included the Northeast section. It consists of WPA writer's project writings about food and food related customs in the 1940's, just before any serious influx of fast foods and National advertising. I found it more readable and interesting than I might have suspected, giving a picture of what people normally ate, not what was being served in fancy restaurants. Include chowders, jonny cakes, clam bakes, maple syrup sugaring etc.
  • (4/5)
    "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.During the Great Depression, President Roosevelt's Works Progress Administration (WPA) created the Federal Writer's Program (FWP) to provide work for unemployed authors. There were a number of projects that evolved, including a series of guidebooks for the different states. Late in the 30's, the "America Eats" project began. There were actually a series of projects in different sections of the country, which were intended to be combined in one huge report. WWII intervened, and the reports from individual writers were never collated or published.Enter Mark Kurlansky, researcher extraordinaire. He has taken the long abandoned manuscripts, culled out the best and put them together in this delightful look at how our parents and grandparents ate.The book is divided into the original five geographic sections envisioned by the FWP. Each section features representative essays, stories, recipes, anecdotes, reports of festivals and church suppers, along with photographs and drawings. I started this book as an audio, which while well done, did not lend itself to savoring all the information, so I borrowed a print edition from the local library. It is such a fun read, that it is now on my wishlist to purchase so that I can add it to my food collection. It is part history, part social memoir, and part cookbook. All of it interesting and enticing. Some of my favorites includeFrom the Northeast: * the North Whitefield Maine Game Supper, * the almost infinite discussion of the variations of clam chowder, * the glorious reminiscences of the New York Automat (complete with 5 page glossary of slang and jargon for short order cooks in New York); * the "Italian Feed" in Vermont;From the South: * recipes for possum, squirrel, rabbit, rattlesnake and chitterlings; * a good recipe for crab imperial (an outstanding and scrumptious chesapeake bay dish well remembered from MY youth--it was THE dish for banquets, weddings, and any big celebration--no girl left home in Maryland without knowing how to make it). * The introduction to Mississippi food written by Eudora Welty is one of her earliest works and representative of the kind of work the FWP engendered.From the Middle West: * recipes and stories about food favored by various Indian tribes such as buffalo tongue as a delicacy favored by the Sioux (who incidentally never used salt until they were introduced to it by white men in the early 1900's); * the Lutefisk favored by the Scandanavians who settled in the Great Lakes region; * recipes from the cooks serving the vast lumberjack camps in Michigan--- "At night they came into camp stamping with cold and grim with hunger. In the cookhouse the long tables were loaded with food; smoking platters of fresh mush, bowls of mashed potatoes, piles of pancakes and pitchers of corn syrup, kettles of rich brown beans, pans of prunes, dried peaches, rice puddings, rows of apple pies." pg. 269.From the Far West "The life of these people is not entirely one monotonous round of fried beans, baked beans, boiled beans, and just beans,varied only by an occasional jack rabbit or two..."; * there were numerous recipes and essays about salmon, smelts, clams, Montana Beaver Tail, and Washington Wildcat parties. * This fascinating section also included a list of Colorado superstitions (pg. 296) of which my favorite is #12: " You will receive mail from the direction in which your pie is pointing, when it is set down at your place at the table." * The recipe for Depression Cake is almost identical to one I inherited from my gram (via my mom) which is known in our family as "YUM YUM Cake"--I still make it every Christmas. * And the essay by Claire Warner Churchill entitled "An Oregon Protest Against Mashed Potatoes" had me rolling on the floor.The Southwest section was the shortest--for some reason the WPA lumped only Arizona, New Mexico, Oklahoma, Texas and Southern California into this section. Most of the recipes were heavily influenced by the Spanish American presence so prevalent in that area. * Don Dolan contributed an essay entitled " A Los Angeles Sandwich called a Taco." * There were also several essays and discussions of the food (and customs) of the Choctaw and Hopi Indian tribes, and * A story about Oklahoma prairie oysters (aka the results of 'cattle neutering'.)The book concludes with lists of cookbooks available during the era, and a current bibliography for more up-to-date resources. This is a tour de force. Kurlansky has done a yeoman job of taking a ton of material and getting it down to a manageable and enjoyable volume. A great read for anyone interested in social history and food.
  • (4/5)
    Ever wondered how Manhattan Clam Chowder got its name, since folks in NYC never claimed it, or exactly what hoecake is? If so, this is the book for you. The Depression-era WPA (Works Progress Administration) program, the US government put writers to work creating guidebooks to each of its States and some of its cities. These guidebooks were such a great success, both as travel books and as cultural documents, that a new project was funded to collect essays about the foods and recipes held dear by each region of the country. Unfortunately, with US entry into WWII, the project fell by the wayside and was never completed, although quite a lot of essays had been completed. Mark Kurlansky, the noted food author who wrote Salt, has pulled together the various completed pieces of the project from Library of Congress records, and compiled them. He's added notes to fill in background information on such items as the origin of domestic mushroom farms in the US, the invention of the Automat, and the unique qualities of a New England clam bake. Kurlansky also provides welcome information on the writers involved in the project. Some of the contributors were no more than literate secretaries, others were accomplished journalists or novelists who have since faded into history, and a few -- such as Eudora Welty and Zora Neale Hurston -- are admired today. The book is a fascinating read, providing a picture of America’s not-to-distant past through the foods that were prepared, shared and enjoyed before frozen foods and Hamburger Helper took the lead.
  • (4/5)
    We may not have had fast food until the last half of the 20th century, but we had interesting, regional food and this book shows us, historically, how food has evolved in various sections of the U.S. Made up of stories compiled by Works Progress Administration writers in the 30s and 40s, it was abandoned until author Mark Kurlansky found it and put it in print. He's done us all a great service.
  • (4/5)
    Everyone knows about how the US government supported artists during the Great Depression through the New Deal, although most people only know about the photographers who worked with the WPA. A lesser known organization within the WPA was the Federal Writers' Project, which employed over 6000 new and established writers during those hard times.The first major project of the FWP was to write travel guides for all the states (as well as DC and some territories). Some of these are apparently still in print. The second major project was a book titled "America Eats." Unfortunately, work on the book was slowed and eventually abandoned as the situation with WWII made the economy turn. The files for "America Eats" (at least, the bits that were collected and basically dumped into a box in the Library of Congress) were forgotten for years. Author Mark Kurlansky came across the file while researching another book at LC. In this book, he has compiled what was in that LC file (whether the pieces are good or bad), but most importantly, he puts in some context for the pieces, describing the FWP, the WPA, and pre-war America.I was really struck with how different this country has become in such a short time. This entire book revolves around home-cooking. Very few restaurants are mentioned, and these pieces were written before convenience foods were available like they are today. The country is also divided into regions that seem a little strange today (New York paired off with New England? California split, so Los Angeles and south goes with the Southwest, while San Francisco and the north go with the Far West?) The book shows an absolutely fascinating slice of life - I don't know if I would use the term "a simpler time," but definitely a different time.There a few famous names in here too (Eudora Welty, Zora Neale Hurston, Nelson Algren) and it's interesting to get a little background on how writers (whether they were already famous or became so later) were part of the FWP.