Twain’s Feast is equal parts biography, travelogue, culinary, literature and history. In it, Andrew Beahrs goes in search of the foods that Mark Twain...moreTwain’s Feast is equal parts biography, travelogue, culinary, literature and history. In it, Andrew Beahrs goes in search of the foods that Mark Twain included on a list of American foods Twain longed for while he was traveling in Europe. I had no idea that Twain was such a foodie.
The author succeeded in making me feel nostalgic for foods I have never had and, in some instances, did not know existed. So many of Twain’s favorite foods are now gone entirely or on the endangered species list or nearly so: Lake trout (now known as Lahontan cutthroat trout), Midwest prairie-hens, San Francisco Bay oysters, Philadelphia Terrapin. We can treasure the ones we still enjoy in abundance, such as cranberries and Maple syrup. For all of these foods, Mr. Beahrs provides an entertaining description of each food, describes where it’s found or was found. He travels to those locations to find the foods or what’s left of them. He describes what happened to those that are gone.
He visits a modern-day prairie in Illinois, an oyster-bed restoration project in San Francisco Bay, a tribal Lahontan trout fishery in Nevada, fish markets in New Orleans, a possum dinner in Arkansas, cranberry bogs in Massachussetts, and sugar maples in Connecticut. His travels are guided by the geographic timeline of Twain’s life from his childhood and the foods he enjoyed at a young age in Missouri, through each phase of his life, including travels along the Mississippi River to New Orleans as a riverboat pilot, through the rugged West to Lake Tahoe and San Francisco during the Civil War era, and to New England later in life.
Twain’s own insightful writing about his favorite foods seasons the book throughout. One of my favorite observations was, “I think that there is but a single specialty with us, only one thing that can be called by the wide name ‘American.’ That is the national devotion to ice-water.” So true.
The author channels Twain in his comedic observations also, “My grandmother spent decades trying to roast a good, moist bird. Still, her turkeys were dry enough that after carving one you had to dust the mantel; cranberry sauce was less a condiment than a survival tactic.”
I counted this book a treat to read. I enjoyed all aspects of the book and recommend it heartily. (less)
Until reading this book, Julia Child was largely a caricature to me from Saturday Night Live. I am now very impressed by her and her wonderful life. S...moreUntil reading this book, Julia Child was largely a caricature to me from Saturday Night Live. I am now very impressed by her and her wonderful life. She lived a life most people can only dream of -- and, by that, I mean, she found her passion and lived it. Her depictions of Paris and other parts of France in the 40s and 50s are magical. I loved her little off-hand reference to their reaction to the news of the television craze that was sweeping the United States in the 50s, but which was yet unknown in France.
Julia Child's book opens a world of the culinary arts to me about which I had little prior knowledge. I've traveled in France and eaten wonderful food there, but did so with a very uneducated palate. It's amazing to me how much she added to the cook-bookery world, as she would call it. She was a ground-breaker in so many ways. The book is written very well. I recommend this book highly.(less)
For educational value, I give this book high marks. The author gives the reader much to think about as he gives the reader a tour of four methods of w...moreFor educational value, I give this book high marks. The author gives the reader much to think about as he gives the reader a tour of four methods of what I'll call food preparation.
The corn! corn! corn! part of the book was a revelation to me. I had was already aware of the diabolical mega-food corporations and this book just added to my disgust for the military-industrial food complex. Getting a better understanding of the harms of the current government farm policy was infuriating.
I was surprised at the author's outlook on vegetarianism and am not satisfied that he gave it a fair shake. His arguments against vegetarianism were interesting, but failed to take into consideration basic health considerations associated with eating meat, aside from all of the animal treatment morality issues.
I thoroughly enjoyed the author's depiction of the Polyface Farm in Virginia. I found it very hopeful, while at the same time representing a mere blip in the nation-wide meat-eating world.
The hunter-gatherer portion of the book was interesting at times and at other times too detailed. There were times throughout this book where the author spent too much time on a given subject. The book could have been shorter. It read too much like a textbook in places. Despite this drawback, I recommend the book as a very educational book. I give the book four stars for its educational value.(less)