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American Food Writing: an Anthology with Classic Recipes

3.99  ·  Rating details ·  276 ratings  ·  47 reviews
Now in paperback, this groundbreaking anthology from celebrated food writer Molly O’Neill is a history of America as told by our tastebuds. Here are classic accounts of iconic American foods: Thoreau on the delights of watermelon; Melville, with a mouth-watering chapter on clam chowder; Mencken on the hot dog; M.F.K. Fisher in praise of the oyster; Ellison on the irresisti ...more
Paperback, 753 pages
Published January 22nd 2009 by Library of America (first published April 19th 2007)
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Aug 09, 2011 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: non-fiction
An anthology of American food prose and recipes from 1753 to the present. Some amazing pieces from the country's early years demonstrate that not only does the US definitely have a rich food culture, it's been around long enough that we've actually lost and forgotten some dishes that used to be hugely popular. Who knew how much beaver tail, canvasback duck, and turtle soup we used to eat?

There are pieces here by everyone from Thomas Jefferson, to Alice B. Toklas, to Ray Kroc. That's an incredibl
Apr 06, 2008 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
The foodie and the avid reader in me did a little happy dance over this book.

This book is an anthology with classic recipes sprinkled throughout. It's not a cookbook. Rather, it's an anthology featuring accounts of "iconic American foods" by some well-known writers:

**Henry David Thoreau writes about the delights of bread and watermelon.

**Herman Melville writes about the glories clam chowder.

**H. L. Mencken immortalizes the hot dog.

**M.F.K. Fisher writes in praise of the oyster.

**Ralph Ellison wa
Apr 28, 2008 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
The tyranny of pie! Feasting on turtles! And on and on and on! Excellent! Then we get to about 1983, and suddenly we're deconstructing what it means to eat, so skip the last 200 pages. ...more
S Vanorse
Nov 16, 2016 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Library book sale find, totally enjoyed the history this encompasses, from a baked bean recipe by John Gould, from the town I was born in, to the adultery Judith Moore honestly shares and the history and original chocolate chip cookie recipe shared by John Thorne, food writer from my home state. I will reference back to this on several occasions I am sure.
Apr 06, 2012 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I never did make it through all of the essays and excerpts before finally running out of renewals at the library. But I loved each and every one that I read. They were all the perfect length -- long enough to get me interested and engaged but not so long that I got bored. Reading this collection felt like a guilty indulgence for some reason, though I have a tendency to feel that way about any book that isn't somehow improving my farming knowledge. I had a hard time putting this book down and wou ...more
Madara Mason
This is a really lovely collection of food writing. Molly O'Neill has picked out some great writers, and the short but interesting history of food in America is well represented from Thomas Jefferson to Anthony Bourdain. Well known writers like Ruth Reichl and M.F.K. Fisher get plenty of page time, but other lesser-known writers and cooks have their say too. If I ever get a chance to teach a class on Food Writing, this is most certainly one of the "textbooks" of food writing I will put on the re ...more
Jun 11, 2009 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This was a fascinating history of food writing. It took me ages to get through this book because it was so dense with information and different writing styles starting from pre-Revolutionary times to modern day. The recipes were mostly too complicated or involved foods I no longer eat for health reasons. It didn't matter because it was interesting to see how recipe writing changed over the years. I learned a lot and have new respect for some of the current food writers like Michael Pollan. I als ...more
Cindy Tomamichel
An interesting read, spanning as it does a couple of centuries of American food writing, or at least writing that mentions food. Not one you can read at a sitting, but good for dipping in and out of as the fancy takes you.

I found it a disjointed read, since all the sections are written with different levels of skill, focus and interest. There are some really good sections on things as diverse as turtle soup, adultery, restaurant visits, and some uninteresting ones. The recipes are sprinkled thro
Kristen Northrup
This took me two years to finish! Mostly because I kept it at my boyfriend's apartment to read when he was doing things like (appropriately) cooking dinner. Anthologies work very well for that. I think spacing out the reading actually kept the pieces more interesting because there wasn't the risk of them all mushing together after a while. I'd seen some of the pieces before, but that's inevitable for a collection of this sort. And I found quite a few new authors to look into further. Oddly, the ...more
Fascinating survey of writing about American food, with characteristic recipes. I learned that for many decades the most famous American foods were canvasback duck and terrapin. A surprising subtheme that emerged clearly was that the "gourmet" movement did as much to kill American home cooking as the much-reviled "processed foods" movement.

Two quibbles: first off, for a city girl the editor has almost nothing to say about immigrant foods (except Chinese); and many of these pieces are very clearl
Aug 02, 2007 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This was a perfect companion book if you like to juggle books like I do - I wouldn't sit down and read it from cover to cover in one sitting, but I kept it at hand when I needed a break from my other books to dip into, to snack on if you will. With concise, well-chosen selections from powerhouses like MFK Fisher, Laurie Colwin et al. I dog-eared a number of selections for further investigation too. A giant book of food writing - could it get much better? ...more
Jan 16, 2008 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
I enjoy this genre of book (ie - Heat, Garlic and Sapphires, etc.) This is a nice anthology and is particularly interesting because it includes food writing dating back to the earliest days of our country. With the local/seasonal food movement in so popular, it was interesting to read not only how people ate what was available to them, but also how early on people tried to "import" exotic and non-local foods and spices. ...more
Mar 04, 2017 rated it liked it
A decent cross section of food writing for someone like me who is fairly new to the genre. For my taste, I found it more than a little uneven, but that may just be me. I had a strong preference for the 19th and early 20th century stuff, really began to drift away past WWII, but then came back to a fairly strong liking for the book by the time I got to some of the more contemporary magazine pieces.

Overall, I'd recommend it.
Apr 02, 2018 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
O'Neill has selected a good cross-section of American writing about food across the past few centuries. You'll find articles about growing and producing food, how to cook, what food means in our society, and, for the late-20th century selections, how our culture has changed food in some not-so-helpful ways. The recipes, while not the focus of the book, definitely help ground the selections in their historical periods, and I'd consider trying to cook several of them. ...more
Dec 09, 2007 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I really enjoyed this book. It's an anthology of American food writing (as if you couldn't tell from the title) from the 1700s to the present day - perfect to pick up and read a selection or two whenever you are in the mood. It also introduced me to some new food writers that I am looking forward to reading more of. ...more
Derek Stiles
Jul 25, 2009 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Just the foreword was worth checking out this book. It's a series of short essays on food from the colonies forward, with a few recipes of the time thrown in. I'm only at 1842, but it's so cool. I think there are a lot of lost truly American recipes (especially those that incorporate squirrel and raccoon). ...more
Nov 26, 2007 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
It seems a bit silly to review an anthology and I can't say this one was particularly special. It did introduce me to some new food writers (I got Clementine in the Kitchen after reading an excerpt) but how many clever essays about fried chicken do you really want to read? ...more
Mar 16, 2008 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: foodies history buffs
Shelves: reshelved
A compendium of random food writing from notable and rare heroes and nobodies. This book gives me a sense of American history and has taken me to the kitchen a few times already with its recipies. Would be easier to read if it were a more continuous book, but then it would be a different book.
Jun 17, 2008 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
"People ask me: Why do you write about food, and eating, and drinking? Why don't you write about the struggle for power and security, and about love, the way others do? The easiest answer is to say that, like most other humans, I am hungry." -MFK Fisher ...more
Bookmarks Magazine

A cookbook author, memoirist, and longtime New York Times food columnist, Molly O'Neill has been a hardcore foodie for more years than most of us have been using utensils. In American Food Writing, O'Neill pleases just about everyone

Dec 15, 2009 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Loved this anthology. The essays were well chosen and interesting. The best part was the assemblage. Not only was it chronological, but it read like a novel. Each essay transitioned perfectly into the next, with a true beginning, middle and end to the story. I'll read this again. ...more
mindy Marranca
saw her speak at Chautauqua a few years ago - and was interested in both how she put the book together and the historical perspective on food writing.

I didn't read entire thing - more skimming - but interesting - and with recipes. worth a perusal!
Virginia Scharff
Jul 29, 2010 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Some absolutely fantastic selections (so far, my favorite is Edna Lewis on hog-slaughtering time). And some not so interesting stuff (Evan Hunter on pancakes, from the era when hard-boiled prose meant you could repeat yourself a lot). On balance, a super resource to sample selectively.
Julie Davis
Dec 06, 2013 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
A wonderful and broad selection of pieces ranging from Thomas Jefferson to Michael Pollen. Hear a few samples at Forgotten Classics. ...more
May 31, 2014 rated it liked it
This so an excellent anthology but was a hard read - I just never found a groove with it in terms of reading straight through or browsing. Lots of teases in some ways and excellent writing about food that spans US history - lots of interesting and delicious reflections.
Jun 30, 2007 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
had to return the book- great to dip into for food related essays from unusual sources. Tales of a Lillian Hellman's cocktail party, etc. ...more
Bryan Rucker
Aug 18, 2007 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: people taking a food writing class
This is on my syllabus. It's really good so far.

MFK Fisher is awesome!!!
Dec 10, 2007 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Didn't read cover to cover but skipped around. Lot's of cooking essays from which to choose! ...more
Jan 07, 2008 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Some interesting and delicious accounts
Jan 26, 2008 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This is a great book to skip around and find a chapter that interests you. Some great recipes! Anyone interested in food writing should enjoy this.
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