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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)

3.42  ·  Rating Details ·  1,784 Ratings  ·  337 Reviews
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, attitu ...more
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Published May 28th 2009 by Tantor Media (first published May 14th 2009)
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Jul 07, 2010 Karla rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: cookbooks
The book cover says...."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". I was expecting a light read, with some humor thrown in - and I was blown away.

At the height of the Depression, the Works Progress Administration (WPA) was developed to put many of America's jobless to work doing things such as building parks (Eagle Point Park with gorgeous Frank Lloyd inspire
Hot dog, this book was fun! It uses documents from the Federal Writer's Program(part of the WPA) to document regional American cooking after canning was introduced, but before fast food and frozen tv dinners became a way of life. I wish this book has been published before my father died. The first sections after the introduction are about Vermont and my father was born in Bennington in 1929. This is the food he grew up with. I remember him describing butternuts and stopped at elderly ladies' hom ...more
Jun 13, 2011 Debbie rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
This book is a pretty neat idea - publishing long forgotten works from the Federal Writers project . But, alas,, much of that work deserves to remain in the dust bin of history.

I did enjoy parts of the book quite a bit. A few of the vignettes, such as the Italian feed, are quite charming. Some of the recipes are hair-raisingly gruesome - Indiana pork cake, combining ground pork and molasses comes to mind as a prime example, though lutefisk is obviously a candidate as well.

Problems, however, alm
Dec 13, 2010 Kelly rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: food, history
So, way back during the Depression, did you know that the WPA also paid writers to write? One of their projects was to compile descriptions of regional foods and eating habits. The WPA disbanded before the project was completed, and the various drafts landed in the Library of Congress until Mark Kurlansky realized how badly they needed to be published.

I was a bit concerned about the size of the book -- a book 300+ pages long, full of unedited works has the potential to drag. Instead, the short
Bill Hall
Apr 26, 2009 Bill Hall rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: history
“The Food of A Younger Land” provides an interesting glimpse at a United States not all that far in the past, but one that seems very, very far away. The materials for this book were generated by the Federal Writers Project (FWP) seventy years ago—a time still within memory for tens of thousands of Americans. Yet the food landscape of the land has changed immensely, due in large part to improved technology and transportation and the spread of restaurant chains.

Kurlansky’s introduction provides a
Jul 20, 2009 Paige rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: history, audio-books, food
Back before eating locally was trendy, it was a necessity. In Depression-era America, one of the WPA projects for out-of-work writers – including Eudora Welty, Saul Bellow and Zora Neale Hurston – was the documentation of regional food traditions. The bombing of Pearl Harbor cut the project short, and the unedited manuscripts were sent to the Library of Congress where they gathered dust for many years.
Fast forward several decades, and enter Mark Kurlansky (author of several outstanding books tha
Feb 23, 2012 Will rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: food-writing, travel
If you love food and love history and maybe also have a short attention span you will love this book. Mark Kurlansky is one of the best authors at books on food history and he did a spectacular job researching and writing Food of a Younger Land.

On the surface it may seem like an easy book, gather articles that were written for the Writers Project of America (one of the works projects around the time of the Great Depression) and put them into book form by the region where they were created.

Jul 30, 2009 Melody rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
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 fisherie ...more
Jul 06, 2009 Michelle rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: cooking
Parts of this were very interesting but parts were not so well done; not surprising since the editor just included portions of the WPA files which were never published. Astonishing to read what some people used to eat. :-) One beef--the editor said that the Midwest had lost all connection with its regional food. Perhaps if one never ventures out of Omaha or Chicago or Kansas City. But lots of people out in the "real Midwest" still make their great-grandmother's potato salad recipe or fix pumpkin ...more
Jan 01, 2011 Chris rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I’m ashamed to admit I dropped my Kansas Folklore class in college. In some ways I think I was too young to really appreciate the topic, but in other ways I enjoyed it too much. Or I enjoyed it in the wrong way, rather. It was fascinating and fun, not academic, so I listened and read with rapt attention but never really took notes or consolidated my learning, and when it came time to take tests over facts and details I realized I was totally unprepared. To preserve my GPA, I dropped it halfway t ...more
This is going to be a difficult and probably rather contradictory review for me to write.

Did I like this book? Yes. Did I want to put it down 200 pages ago? Yes. See what I mean?

Okay, first of all, the idea of this book is really cool. I'm sure everyone has heard of and knows a little bit about FDR's New Deal. Well, part of that New Deal was the Federal Writers' Project, which would create jobs for writers. The FWP's most successful endeavor was probably the travel guides that they published f
Jul 15, 2009 Deborah rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: history, food
I first heard about the book when the author was interviewed on NPR and while I was interested in the topic (the subtitle is long enough to make description almost overkill – “A Portrait of American Food Before the National Highway System, Before Chain Restaurants, and Before Frozen Food, When the Nation’s Food Was Seasonal”) I was particularly intrigued by the story behind the papers he describes - planned but never executed WPA writing project America Eats.

The book consists of a selection of t
Prima Seadiva
3.5 stars.Excerpts from the Federal Writers' Project created during the Depression by FDR. The project America Eats was abandoned in 1940.
Fairly interesting. Some sections were better than others depending on the original writer. My least favorite were the "folksy" guffawing down home sections . Maybe it wasn't fake but it was annoying. I most enjoyed the sections where meals and events were described. One of my favorites was a description of the threshing season and the meals farmwives would pr
Iowa City Public Library
The Food of a Yonger 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 is a fascinating compendium of what Americans ate in the 1930s. The book is edited and illustrated by Mark Kurlansky, best selling author of Salt : A World History and Cod : A Biography of a Fish that Changed the World among many other titles. In The Food of a Younger L ...more
Aug 17, 2013 Dvora rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: food-wine
This book is an excellent social history of the eating and cooking habits of America in the period before and including the 1930s. Kurlansky didn't write this, he edited the raw manuscripts from the 1940 Federal Writers' Project of the WPA, rescued these essays, recipes, and poems on food, cooking, and eating, from their Library of Congress oblivion, and wrote the introductory material.

While the social history aspect is fascinating (there is not even a mention of wine until you get to the Southw
Mary Molinaro
Very interesting look into American life in the 1930s through the food of the country. Food at that time was very regionalized - that was before any chain restaurants. One could only get certain foods in certain places. These stories and recipes were collected by writers in the WPA era Federal Writers' Project. After the writers completed the American Guide Series they moved on to a project entitles America Eats. The manuscripts were to be turned in to the editors around Thanksgiving 1942. Short ...more
This is a collection of essays and recipes from the WPA writers' project. The collection itself is a bit of a mishmash and feels incomplete. But that's because it is incomplete, as the project ended before completion. But it's an interesting collection of glimpses into regional culture.

Many pieces seem biased, either in favor of the region presented (did Vermont really invent strawberry shortcake?), or in a condescending fashion (the portrait of a chitlin' feast is just awful by today's standar
Christopher Newton
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 b ...more
Aug 20, 2009 Lynne rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
I love the idea of this book. An abandoned WPA project discovered and researched by Kurlansky, then published virtually untouched with essays added by Kurlansky himself. And it is interesting to see how regional foods came into their own. But the book becomes dry at times, due in large part, I think, to the fact that these essays were published in their original form, which in the best case were hastily completed and, at worst, simply a listing of ingredients. But I feel the book's true merit li ...more
Nov 14, 2009 Natali rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Once you read the introduction of this book, you don't really need to read the rest - at least not in the way you read a novel or a theory book. The historical background of the WPA project is the most interesting part. The rest is a regional ethnography of food in the U.S. It is disjointed but that is because it was born from an incomplete writer's project.

So much of the food we know now was born out of custom and festivities. This book made me crave local cuisine such as clam bakes and maple
Oct 17, 2012 Robert rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
An almost perfect selection of food related articles from the late 30s. Every piece has at least some value, whether anthropological, historical, or humorous. Anyone interested in the small details of life before World War II should pick it up. Any student of writing should at least flip through it to see how so many different writers dealt with similar assignments. I adored this book, warts and all.
Jul 19, 2012 Sabrina rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
A mere fifteen months after Franklin Delano Roosevelt's inauguration as President of the United States, the Emergency Relief Act was passed in April 1935. And less than one month later, FDR, despite the controversy surrounding the Emergency Relief Act of 1935, signed an executive order creating the Works Progress Administration, the WPA. The goal of the WPA, as FDR envisioned it, was to put "blue collar laborers to work building government projects", focusing at first on small and useful project ...more
Sep 13, 2016 Anna rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: boldtype
I am marking this book as read, however I only made it through the Northeast and the South. As interesting as the introduction was I was really hopeful that this would be an engaging look into the traditions of an era past, however it really ended up reading more like a disjointed cookbook.

I would recommend this book as a fun accompaniment if you're driving across the US and visiting some of the mentioned regions, but not as a casual read.
Joy Ratchkramer
This is another book I really wanted to like. From a historical perspective, it's fascinating. However, it's kind of dry and quaint, and it took an effort to finish.
Aug 30, 2016 Steph rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
So many new flying squirrel, wild cat, and opossum recipes to try out! Seriously fascinating to think about how much America has changed in less than a century. Yet another amazing legacy of FDR and the New Deal. Teaches Native, Colonial, and regional American history through recipes and letters. No matter who you and how much you think you know about American history I guarantee you will learn lots of new information.
Jeffrey Hake
Mar 03, 2011 Jeffrey Hake rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition

For his latest work, The Food of a Younger Land, Mark Kurlansky (author of Cod, Salt, and Nonviolence) has delved into the unpublished past of the United States. The Federal Writers’ Project (FWP) was an agency of the Works Progress Administration, the massive government program established during the Great Depressi
Aug 05, 2015 J.S. rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: history-america, vine
Many years ago I remember seeing the movie "Memphis Belle" about some WWII soldiers assigned to a bomber plane. As they're approaching the limit of bombing runs when they'll be discharged they're discussing what they'll do when they get home. One says he's going to open a chain of restaurants across the country and each will have the same name, same menu, and same food. Another says it's a dumb idea, because no one will want to eat the same food they can get at home. He replies, somewhat sheepis ...more
Aug 24, 2010 Katie rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: nonfiction
Mark Kurlansky’s The Food of a Younger Land cooks up a vivid description of an earlier time when regional cuisine ruled the country. During a visit to the U.S. Library of Congress, Kurlansky stumbled upon the archives of a Works Progress Administration (WPA) project that aimed to document America’s eating habits and customs in the late 1930’s.

Written by hundreds of different Federal Writers’ Project authors dispatched to all corners of the United States, the original publication, entitled Ameri
Jess Clark
Dec 01, 2012 Jess Clark rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
A massive disappointment is how I sum up this work. Before reading this book, I had heard such wonderful things about Mark Kurlansky’s work. My husband uses Kurlanksy’s book Cod in a Wildlife biology course at Western, and he is currently reading Kurlansky’s World without Fish to our daughter – Ocean. He was stoked that I was reading this book. In fact, he even opted to offer extra credit to his Rangeland Management students to attend this book discussion (this specific discussion) because he a ...more
Feb 13, 2016 Phil rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This books comes from the Federal Writers Project during the depression. Writers (some of them quite accomplished) minimum wage to collect interviews and information and write about the history of the nation. The first project were guides to all of the 48 states and for the most part the project was a real success with some of the guide books still in print today. The second project was "America Eats." This was an attempt to capture the food and cultural activities surrounding the foods in four ...more
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Powell Branch Lib...: "The Food of a Younger Land" Book Discussion 1 12 Jun 21, 2012 02:07PM  
  • 97 Orchard: An Edible History of Five Immigrant Families in One New York Tenement
  • Perfection Salad: Women and Cooking at the Turn of the Century (California Studies in Food and Culture, 24)
  • Swindled: From Poison Sweets to Counterfeit Coffee—The Dark History of the Food Cheats
  • Paradox of Plenty: A Social History of Eating in Modern America (California Studies in Food and Culture, 8)
  • Much Depends on Dinner: The Extraordinary History and Mythology, Allure and Obsessions, Perils and Taboos of an Ordinary Meal
  • Kitchen Literacy: How We Lost Knowledge of Where Food Comes from and Why We Need to Get It Back
  • Near a Thousand Tables: A History of Food
  • Fresh: A Perishable History
  • Top Secret Recipes--Sodas, Smoothies, Spirits, & Shakes: Creating Cool Kitchen Clones of America's Favorite Brand-Name Drinks
  • Finding Betty Crocker: The Secret Life of America's First Lady of Food
  • Twain's Feast: Searching for America's Lost Foods in the Footsteps of Samuel Clemens
  • Milk: The Surprising Story of Milk Through the Ages
  • An Edible History of Humanity
  • Curry: A Tale of Cooks and Conquerors
  • A Book of Mediterranean Food
  • Chop Suey: A Cultural History of Chinese Food in the United States
  • Bacon: A Love Story: A Salty Survey of Everybody's Favorite Meat
  • America Eats!: On the Road with the WPA - the Fish Fries, Box Supper Socials, and Chitlin Feasts That Define Real American Food
Mark Kurlansky (born 7 December 1948 in Hartford, Connecticut) is a highly-acclaimed American journalist and writer of general interest non-fiction. He is especially known for titles on eclectic topics, such as cod or salt.

Kurlansky attended Butler University, where he harbored an early interest in theatre and earned a BA in 1970. However, his interest faded and he began to work as a journalist in
More about Mark Kurlansky...

Other Books in the Series

The Food of a Younger Land (6 books)
  • The Food of a Younger Land: The Far West Eats Wyoming, Idaho, Colorado, Utah, Nevada, Northern California, Oregon, Washington
  • The Food of a Younger Land: The South Eats
  • The Food of a Younger Land: The Southwest Eats New Mexico, Oklahoma, Texas, Southern California
  • The Food of a Younger Land: The Northeast Eats Maine, New Hampshire, Vermont, Massachusetts, Rhode Island, Connecticut, New York City, New York State, Pennsylvania
  • The Food of a Younger Land: The Middle West Eats Ohio, Indiana, Michigan, Minnesota, Wisconsin, Iowa, Nebraska, Kansas, Missouri, South Dakota, North Dakota

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