"What a gift this is! Inspired by the foods most loved by Mark Twain, Beahrs has given us a warm and nostalgic history of wild foods in the United States. His search for once abundant native foods reveals how much we have lost. This book should encourage food lovers to get busy and rescue the wild foods that remain."---Marion Nestle, author of What to Eat
"Twain's Feast is a celebration of the way America used to eat. Andrew Beahrs shares with the reader the delightful appetites of Samuel Clemens, a bevy of old-timey recipes, and his own journey to discover whatever happened to our culinary traditions. Beahrs's attention to detail had my mouth watering for a Tahoe trout cooked over a campfire, freshly shucked oysters on the half shell, and, I'm sad to admit, the now-endangered prairie chicken, roasted."---Novella Carpenter, author of Farm City
"Long before the Slow Food movement, Mark Twain championed regional American cooking. In this beautifully written ode to Twain and local delicacies like possum, oysters, and Philadelphia terrapin, Andrew Beahrs has given us an instant classic in the literature of the table."---Andrew Todhunter, author of A Meal Observed
"Twain's Feast takes us on an engaging, quixotic search for the lost regional specialties Mark Twain loved---and reminds us of how food always shapes our sense of where we come from and who we are. Whether gorging on barbecued raccoon, mourning the endangered terrapin, or whipping up a chess pie with his young son, Andrew Beahrs pays attention to the details that make meals memorable. Anyone who likes Twain or cooking or the bittersweet history of our changing landscape will savor this feast."---Jane Smith, author of The Garden of Invention
"I had no idea that a menu written down by Mark Twain over a century ago teach us so much about American food, but in the skillful hands of Andrew Beahrs, it does that and more. Twain's Feast is a brilliant book: elegant, insightful, and funny, part history and part hungry-making. It's not only an illuminating and relevant read but a fun one."---Molly Wizenberg, author of A Homemade Life
In the winter of 1879, Mark Twain paused during a European tour to compose a fantasy menu of the American dishes he missed the most. He was desperately sick of European hotel cooking, and his menu, made up of some eighty regional specialties, was a true love letter to American food: Lake trout, from Tahoe. Hot biscuits, Southern style. Canvas-back-duck, from Baltimore. Black bass from the Mississippi.
When food writer Andrew Beahrs first read Twain's menu in the classic work A Tramp Abroad, he saw that the dishes were regional in the truest sense of the word---all drawn fresh from grasslands, woods, and waters, at a time when the railroad was just beginning to dissolve the culinary lines between Hannibal, Missouri, and San Francisco. The dishes were all local, all wild, and all, Beahrs feared, had been lost in the shift to industrialized food.
In Twain's Feast, Beahrs chooses eight of these forgotten regional specialities, retracting Twain's foot-steps as he sets out to discover whether the great author's favorite foods can still be found on American tables. Twain's menu, he finds, was also a memoir and a map. The dishes that Twain yearned for were all intimately connected to cherished moments in his life---from the New Orlean croakers he loved as a young man on the Mississippi to the maple syrup he savored in Connecticut with his family, and during his final, lonely years.
Tracking Twain's foods leads Beahrs from the dwindling prairie of rural illinois to a six-hundred-pound coon supper in Arkansas to the biggest native oyster reef in San Francisco Bay. He finds pockets of the country where Twain's favorite foods still exist, or where intrepid farmers, fishermen, and conservationists are trying to bring them back. In Twain's Feast, he reminds us of what we've lost as these wild foods have disappeared from our tables, and of what we stand to gain from their return.
Weaving together passages from Twain's famous works and Beahrs's own adventures, Twain's Feast takes us on a journey into America's past, to a time when foods taken fresh from grasslands, woods, and waters were at the heart of American cooking.