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Twain's Feast: Searching for America's Lost Foods in the Footsteps of Samuel Clemens

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One young food writer's search for America's lost wild foods, from New Orleans croakers to Illinois prairie hens, with Mark Twain as his guide.

In 1879, Mark Twain paused during a European tour to compose a fantasy menu of the American dishes he missed the most. A true love letter to American food, the menu included some eighty specialties, from Mississippi black bass to Philadelphia terrapin. Andrew Beahrs chooses eight of these regionally distinctive foods, retracing Twain's ...

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Twain's Feast: Searching for America's Lost Foods in the Footsteps of Samuel Clemens

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Overview

One young food writer's search for America's lost wild foods, from New Orleans croakers to Illinois prairie hens, with Mark Twain as his guide.

In 1879, Mark Twain paused during a European tour to compose a fantasy menu of the American dishes he missed the most. A true love letter to American food, the menu included some eighty specialties, from Mississippi black bass to Philadelphia terrapin. Andrew Beahrs chooses eight of these regionally distinctive foods, retracing Twain's footsteps as he sets out to discover whether they can still be found on American tables. Weaving together passages from Twain's famous works and Beahrs's own adventures, this travelogue-cum-culinary-history takes us back to a bygone era when wild foods were at the heart of American cooking.

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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
In his first book, Beahrs uses the palate of America's great humorist and satirist to celebrate and explore native foodstuffs and even make the case for him as a passionate locavore. Though the author follows Twain's life and literary works along loosely chronological lines, he ranges deep into a personal and journalistic agenda. The book intersperses Beahrs's firsthand experiences, such as observing Illinois prairie chickens in mating season and attending an Arkansas raccoon supper, with Twain's gastronomical record. The sheer breadth of Twain's travels and jobs permit discussion of such 21st-century topics as the far west's Great Basin water reclamation and cranberry bog expansion with historical developments like the invention of “modern” farm machinery and its impact. The author's upbeat tone doesn't dodge the darker side of his hero, entertainingly entwining more commonly known biographical facts with the surprising (who knew the author of Tom Sawyer once sought cocaine?). Beahrs frequently interrupts the narrative with historical culinary asides about dishes like oyster ice cream, but his passion and scope of detail are bracing. (June)
Library Journal
It is not easy to determine who would be the best audience for novelist and food writer Beahrs's (The Sin Eaters) new book. Twain enthusiasts, for example, might prefer one of his novels as a starting point over a complaining letter from a European sojourn. Foodies, meanwhile, will find the digressive recounting of and speculation on Twain's life distracting. Some of Beahrs's modern-day expeditions are engrossing, especially his trip to Arkansas for an annual raccoon feast. However, the narrative focus shifts too much within chapters, and the seemingly random scattering of old recipes throughout further hampers the flow. Beahrs is at his best when he writes about how the food tastes. VERDICT Readers with a passing interest in food, Mark Twain, or American cultural history may most appreciate this hodgepodge, but the balance among the three themes is precarious, making for a sometimes confusing read.—Peter Hepburn, Univ. of Illinois at Chicago Lib.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9781594202599
  • Publisher: Penguin Group (USA) Incorporated
  • Publication date: 6/24/2010
  • Pages: 336
  • Product dimensions: 9.46 (w) x 6.62 (h) x 1.12 (d)

Meet the Author

Andrew Beahrs is the author of two novels, and his work has appeared in The New York Times, Gastronomica, The Virginia Quarterly Review, and The Writer's Chronicle, among other publications. He lives in California with his family.

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Read an Excerpt

Diamondback terrapin hatchling, Neavitt, Maryland

"Yesterday I had many things to do, but Bixby and I got with the pilots of two other boats and went off dissipating on a ten dollar dinner at a French restaurant—breathe it not unto Ma!—where we ate Sheep-head-fish with mushrooms, shrimps and oysters—birds—coffee with burnt brandy in it, &c &c, ate, drank & smoked from 1 PM until 5 o'clock, and then—then—the day was too far gone to do anything."
Mark Twain, New Orleans, 1860.

Creole mixed grill of sheepshead, shrimp, and lump crab: winning entry, 2009 Great American Seafood Cook-Off, New Orleans.

To Make Cranberry Tarts

To one pound of flour three quarters of a pound of butter, then stew your cranberry's to a jelly, putting good brown sugar in to sweeten them, strain the cranberry's and then put them in your patty pans for baking in a moderate oven for half an hour.
Hannah Glass, The Art of Cookery Made Plain and Easy, 1805.

Cranberry harvest, Cranberry Hill Farms, Plymouth, Massachusetts

Saucing raccoon, Arkansas

"I know the taste of maple sap, and when to gather it, and how to arrange the troughs and the delivery tubes, and how to boil down the juice, and how to hook the sugar after it is made, also how much better hooked sugar tastes than and that is honestly come by, let bigots say what they will."
Mark Twain, Autobiography.

Burning the tallgrass, Missouri

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