The Food of a Younger Land- a book review


A while ago I received a really interesting and I would even venture to say, unique book for review, it was The Food of a Younger Land by Mark Kurlansky. It is a selection of essays from America Eats project started by the WPA (Works Progress Administration) agency created as part of President Roosevelt’s New Deal in the 1930’s. America Eats was part of the bigger Federal Writers’ project but it was abandoned in th early 1940’s because of the war and almost all the material ended up in five boxes in the U.S. Library of Congress where Kurlansky found an incredible rich material consisting of essays and articles of various length, covering all sort of aspects of American pre-war food history and traditions. Now I really enjoy reading old cookbooks before I go to sleep; not every night obviously but quite often I grab one from the bookshelf next to my bed and get transported back to times when our modern kitchen comforts weren’t even imagined. So Kurlansky’s collection of recipes, anecdotes and essays make me very happy indeed, it is a treasure trove of fine food writing, simple recipes and descriptions of, in many cases, lost cultural traditions. And even though this book obviously is of greater interest to Americans, I think we all can find inspiration and learn from it, it is about an attitude to food that is far healthier than the one we have nowadays, reading some of the pieces you see the appreciation people had for home cooking and for good ingredients, maybe it was because there were less food around which taught you to appreciate what you had and I think we should learn from that.
Kurlansky has written an excellent introduction to the collection and there are also short introductions to the different sections and to individual essays. It must have been really hard to select what to include in the volume but he has managed to cover a vast territory of food writing that not only informs us of what has been lost and/or what is still here but also give a voice to the past, a living link to something that could have been lost but isn’t. Read it!


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