Book Review: American Food Writing

AmerFoodWritingAmerican Food Writing

Edited by Molly O’Neill

Library of America, 2007

Rating: A

I was lucky enough to get this book from my daughter Candice and her husband Mark last Spring. I have been tasting it, a few pages at a time, ever since. It’s the perfect book for readers who love first class food writing. That’s me.

The book is an anthology of the best writing about food over the past 250 years. The editor, Molly O’Neill, gathered essays and bits and pieces from various books and magazine articles that are examples of our American culinary history.

For me the value of the book is in the quality and variety of food writing from some of the writers I love. Here are some of my literary favorites and what they wrote about:

  • Willa Cather on the little bag of dried wild mushrooms (from My Antonia)
  • Langston Hughes on the pleasures of soul food (from Soul Food)
  • Nora Ephron took a comic look at food celebrities (from Wallflower at the Orgy)
  • Wendell Berry on the pleasures of eating (from What Are People For?)
  • John Steinbeck described a simple but special breakfast (from The Long Valley)
  • David Sedaris on eating a 15-word entree in a New York City restaurant (from Me Talk Pretty One Day)
  • Frederick Douglass wrote about ash cakes, the food slaves ate for breakfast and dinner. It was not a food to be admired.

As you can see the variety is amazing. Equally valuable are the culinary writers:

  • M.F.K. Fisher has two pieces in here but I love the essay on oysters.
  • James Beard gave an excerpt from his memoir Delights and Prejudices
  • Julia Child wrote about her TV show (from The French Chef Cookbook)
  • Alice Waters on the connection between the restaurant and the farm (Journal of Gastronomy)
  • Ruth Reichl on finding the perfect sushi (from Garlic and Sapphires)
  • Jeffrey Steingarten wrote an essay on how he made sourdough bread (from The Man Who Ate Everything)

In addition to the literary pieces, there are also fifty recipes. The first recipe is my favorite because of it’s age and it’s style of writing: Thomas Jefferson on how to make Ice Cream. The last recipe in the book is one I’d lost: Pedernales Chili by Lady Bird Johnson.It has just the right mix of chili spices. I’m so glad I found it again.

In my opinion this book is a huge teaser for someone who loves food writing. Each time I read one of the 112 essays I want to read more of that author. So it’s a temptress as well as a valuable resource. I recommend this for all my foodie friends who love good writing.

spice-of-life-smallThis is the second book for the Spice of Life Challenge.

American Food Writing at Amazon

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14 Responses to Book Review: American Food Writing

  1. Molly says:

    Since watching the movie Julie and Julia, I have been longing to read more culinary themed books. I want to re-read a few of MFK Fisher’s classics, and this book sounds like a great one to add to the list. Thanks for the great review!

  2. Beth F says:

    How did I miss this one? Thanks so much for the review — I love the literary references, some of my favorite food writers, historical recipes . . . book made for me! It’s going on my wish list right now.

  3. That book sounds wonderful! I love food writing too! Interesting how many authors can’t resist writing about food!

  4. kaye says:

    what a nice gift, It sounds good.

  5. carol says:

    Thanks for the review. It sounds like one I would definitely enjoy. I’ll have to keep an eye out for it.

  6. Kathy says:

    This book sounds fantastic! Did you find yourself eating while you read it?

  7. stacybuckeye says:

    This sounds great! Actually a perfect gift idea. I’ll have to look for it at the library. Thanks for the great review – quite concise too 🙂

  8. Belle says:

    I’ve had this on my wish list for a while – now I really want to get it! I like how some of the essays are from non-food writers, too. It sounds like quite the sampler.

  9. Sue Jackson says:

    This sounds wonderful! I always enjoy reading David Sedaris and Ruth Reichl – all of the essays you mentioned sound good. My favorite food book of all time is Gumbo Tales: Finding My Place at the New Orleans Table by Sara Roahen. I used to live in New Orleans and love everything about it, especially the food!

    Thanks for the enticing review –


  10. Jenners says:

    This sounds like the perfect give for my sister-in-law! So thank you! And I’m not a foodie myself but it does sound like a great book. I read the Nora Ephron piece in one of her essay collections, and I’m a huge David Sedaris fan so I’d be eager to read that one. Perhaps I’ll give it as a gift and then borrow it when she is done!!! Very sneaky!

  11. Ti says:

    This books sounds great!! I love food writing. I am going to add this to my already toppling pile. It would make a nice gift too. I am already thinking Christmas. What is wrong with me?

  12. Elizabeth says:

    This sounds excellent. I’ve just been getting into food writing – what a great introduction this would be.

  13. Rebecca Reid says:

    This sounds so incredibly awesome! What a great way to get an overview of lots of great food writing!!! Thanks so much for the review.

  14. Pingback: Mid-Challenge Review Round-Up « The Spice of Life Challenge

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