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)
I haven't actually finished this book yet, but I've bogged down. I'm certain I'll return to it. I've enjoyed what I've read, though some of it is quit...moreI haven't actually finished this book yet, but I've bogged down. I'm certain I'll return to it. I've enjoyed what I've read, though some of it is quite difficult to follow if one has not already visited some of the sites discussed in the book. The book is obviously intended for British readers, in the manner of, for example, the owner of a Ford watching Ford commercials and being convinced that he or she has made the correct decision in buying the Ford. It does make those of us who have not visited these places eager to do so, but until then we are left with the need to google basic background information about many of the places or to check a map for location. Combined with close-at-hand google though, the book is very educational, but at the same time, not quite educational enough. (less)
I didn't read this book cover-to-cover. However, as a reference guide while in Nepal, it was fantastic. I think it's the best available guidebook for...moreI didn't read this book cover-to-cover. However, as a reference guide while in Nepal, it was fantastic. I think it's the best available guidebook for Nepal. (less)
This was our May book club book. It's a quick, entertaining read with surprising historical facts. I was, of course, gratified that the author spent h...moreThis was our May book club book. It's a quick, entertaining read with surprising historical facts. I was, of course, gratified that the author spent half of the book on the Lincoln assassination. The drawback to the book is that the author is a bit too jaded for me. She is consistently sardonic -- too much so. It just got depressing at times. The author also makes too much of "current" politics, which is to say, her political commentary is already outdated. Did the author want to write a political commentary on then-current politics (during the Bush administration) or focus on presidential assassinations? It's a weird, uncomfortable mix. There were other oddities about the book. I didn't appreciate her calling Mormons "quasi-Christians." They're Christians. On the whole, the author did a great job of pointing out twisted connections between historical events, such as noting that Timothy McVeigh was wearing a t-shirt the day he bombed the Murrah building that had a picture of Lincoln and the words, Sic semper tyrannis. Chilling.(less)