America Eats

Nelson Algren, Author, David E. Schoonover, Editor, Louis I. Szathmary, Foreword by
Nelson Algren, Author, David E. Schoonover, Editor, Louis I. Szathmary, Foreword by University of Iowa Press $25.95 (123p) ISBN 978-0-87745-361-1
Reviewed on: 07/31/2000
Release date: 08/01/2000
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This early attempt to combine the disciplines of gastronomy and social history in ``an account of midwesternsic foodways, customs,sic and lore'' was in fulfillment of an assignment for which author Algren ( The Man with the Golden Arm ) himself had little esteem (``I did it because I needed the money''): a 1930s Illinois Writers Project enterprise called ``America Eats.'' A half century on the shelf, Algren's manuscript has been eclipsed by the work of many others in the service of cuisine, and his informal anthropology seems, today, somewhat dowdy and imprecise. It is also apparent that his 33 recipes, mere sketches, are obviously not the work of a practiced cook (chef Louis Szathmary, who purchased the manuscript from Algren in 1975), provides tested, corrected and clarified versions of each recipe, in an added section). Nevertheless, the main text is attractive. Algren's sense that pioneer traditions were fragile and that knowledge of them would be important to posterity was prescient, and his presentation has considerable ease and polish. Beginning with a look at native peoples, he moves on to the settlers' groping for means of sustenance, finally considering, separately, culinary rites from each of several immigrant groups: ``lutefisk,'' the strange dried cod cult of Lakes States Norwegians; and Serbian barbecued lamb, ``waging a losing fight,'' even then, with the American hot dog at Serbian festivals. (May)
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