Tuesday, April 24, 2007

American Food Writing by Molly O'Neill

Molly O'Neill--food writer, cookbook author, memoirist and (I'm sure this description would annoy her, but here goes anyway) the sister of Paul O'Neill, former outfielder for the New York Yankees--has put together an anthology of American food writing called (no surprise) American Food Writing.

The food essays are organized chronologically, beginning with early 19th-century foodie Thomas Jefferson and moving up through the decades past Herman Melville (who writes about chowder in Moby-Dick), Emily Dickinson (who sends her friend a recipe for a brandied fruit cake), Gertrude Stein (who delivers a long, unpunctuated ramble on the nature of American food), Langston Hughes (on soul food) and Rex Stout (with a porterhouse steak recipe from his gourmand character Nero Wolfe).

The last half of the book includes a long string of more contemporary food writers, including Calvin Trillin, Laurie Colwin, John Thorne, Alice Waters, Ruth Reichl, Julee Rosso & Sheila Lukins (who by the way have just published a 25th anniversary edition of their now-classic Silver Palate Cookbook) and tons more. All in all there are 162 entries, including lots of recipes. And O'Neill has written nice little notes to put the food essays into historical context. It will take you a while to read (that's a good thing), and by the end you will have seen the interesting arc that American food has taken in the 250 years that writers have to bothered to record their thoughts on the subject.

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