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Review: Twain's Feast by Andrew Beahrs

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

During his travels in Europe, chronicled in books like The Innocents Abroad and Following the Equator,Mark Twain became increasingly homesick for the foods he'd grown up eating back in the United States. In A Tramp Abroad he composed a list of the dishes he most wished to taste once again. Over a century reader, another writer looked over this list and realized that the quintessentially American dishes have largely disappeared from the nation's palate. Andrew Beahrs attempted to recreate several of the items from Twain's list, traveling around the United States on a quest for prairie chicken, terrapin and raccoon.

I've never read Twain's travelogues, but I've always meant to. He's pretty much the American writer, after all, and with his biting wit I'm sure he said some pretty entertaining things about the Old Country. His name was certainly what drew me into this curious little book. Each chapter is an essay that focuses on a different food item; of the eight foods Beahrs researched, only one or two of them is readily available. I liked learning about all these obscure things that people used to eat every day – even if some of them sound pretty unappetizing to my modern tongue. (Possum? Terrapin turtle??)

Beahrs' essays definitely ramble from one thought to the next, but each chapter covers a few essential things: Twain's life around the time he would have most likely encountered each dish for the first time, recipes, a story of the plant or animal, extensive quotations from Twain's writing, and the author's attempts to find and replicate Twain's fondest memories. It's interesting if you like American history or old-fashioned travelogues, but the disorganization of the essays can be off-putting, too.

3.5 out of 5 stars

To read more about Twain's Feast, buy it or add it to your wishlist click here.

Peeking into the archives...today in:
2011: n/a
2010: Dracula in Love by Karen Essex
2009: n/a
2008: Neil Gaiman Giveaway Winners


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