American Food Writing
Edited by Molly O’Neill
Library of America, 2007
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.
This is the second book for the Spice of Life Challenge.