America Eats!: On the Road with the WPA - the Fish Fries, Box Supper Socials, and Chittlin' Feasts That Define Real American Food

America Eats!: On the Road with the WPA - the Fish Fries, Box Supper Socials, and Chittlin' Feasts That Define Real American Food

by Pat Willard

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Pat Willard takes readers on a journey into the regional nooks and crannies of American cuisine where WPA writers-including Eudora Welty, Saul Bellow, Ralph Ellison, and Nelson Algren, among countless others-were dispatched in 1935 to document the roots of our diverse culinary cuisine. America Eats!, as the project was entitled, was never published. With the unpublished WPA manuscript as her guide, Willard visits the sites of American foods past glory to explore whether American traditional cuisine is still as healthy and vibrant today as it was then.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781608196661
Publisher: Bloomsbury Publishing
Publication date: 01/15/2011
Sold by: Barnes & Noble
Format: NOOK Book
Pages: 320
Sales rank: 94,336
File size: 5 MB

About the Author

Pat Willard is the author of Pie Every Day, A Soothing Broth, and Secrets of Saffron, which was nominated for an IACP award for the Best Literary Cookbook. She's written for Bon Appetit, Ladies Home Journal, American Heritage, and the Los Angeles Times. She lives in Brooklyn.
Pat Willard is the author of Pie Every Day, A Soothing Broth, and Secrets of Saffron, which was nominated for an IACP award for the Best Literary Cookbook. She's written for Bon Appetit, Ladies Home Journal, American Heritage, and the Los Angeles Times. She lives in Brooklyn.

Table of Contents

A Note on the Manuscript     xi
The American Cauldron     1
Traditional Polyglot
The Big-Hearted Feast-Fund-Raising Dinners     17
Bad Advice Ruins Brunswick Stew
A Booya Picnic
A Fifteen Center Pig Foot Supper
Recipe for Kentucky Burgoo
Chittlin Strut
The Harvest Queen-Agricultural Fairs     47
Rocky Ford Melon Day
The Farmhouse Cellar
Threshers' Dinner
The Wild Shores-The Northwest     78
Annual Events
Wild Parties
Recipe for Barbecued Salmon
Crawfish Feeds Past and Present
The Groveling Season-Political Gatherings     98
Women Stop the Meat from Breathing
Barbecue Samples from the Georgia, Alabama, Kansas, Indiana, and Nebraska Offices
Bluebill's Sauce
Rodeo Barbecue Sauce
Candidates' Barbecue
A Gathering in the Woods-National Holidays     124
A Ton of Rice and Three Red Roosters
Homecoming, East Bend, North Carolina
Conch Eats Conch and Grunts
At the Lord's Table-Church Suppers     148
The Salzburger Gathering
The Big Quarterly
A Mormon Ward Reunion
A Passover Seder
A Revival Menu
May Breakfast
The Undertaker's Meal-Funeral Ceremonies     180
Funeral Cry Feast of the Choctaw Indians
A Pitch-In Dinner After a Funeral Service
Cemetery Cleanings
Velorios (Wakes)
Stomping at the Post-Social Club Celebrations     197
The Lodge Supper
Basques of the Boise Valley
A Fun Feed
'Possum Party
The Frontier-Mexicans,Indians, and Cowboys     222
Introduction to the Southwest
The Municipal Market in San Antonio
General Camp Life Among the Kiowa, Comanche, and Apache Tribes
The Chuck Wagon (Including Son-of-a-Gun Stew)
Camp Chuck
City Life-A Walk between Then and Now     251
McSorley's Tavern
"Dining Abroad" in New York
Soda-Luncheonette Slang and Jargon
Peddler Chants: The Sorrel Woman, The Ah-Got-Um Man, The Street Chef, De Sweet Pertater Man
Oyster Stew Supreme
Literary Tea
America Eats! Now-Home from the Road, Mulling Things Over     278
Outline Indicating Approach to Subject [excerpt]
Acknowledgments     291
Photo Credits     293
List of Recipes     295
Index     297

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America Eats!: On the Road with the WPA: The Fish Fries, Box Supper Socials, and Chitlin Feasts That Define Real American Food 3.5 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 8 reviews.
ValerieAndBooks on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
The Works Progress Administration, or WPA, funded many employment projects during the Great Depression in America. Most people, including myself, probably think of these projects as structural-related: building bridges, dams, and the like. One lesser-known program funded by the WPA was the ¿America Eats!¿ project. This project aimed to document the culinary heritage of America at that time.Pat Willard happened across a mention of the ¿America Eats!¿ project while she was doing some routine research. Intrigued, she then went over to the Library of Congress, where she found several manuscripts related to this project. The ¿America Eats!¿ manuscripts, written by various writers hired by the WPA, were meant to become a cohesive published work. A lack of funding towards the end, and also a lack of organization, prevented this from happening. In addition, many manuscripts had been lost, such as when a hurricane in Rhode Island damaged manuscripts in storage. Many more may be still languishing, unknown, around across the country.Pat Willard decided to travel cross-country, with some of the papers by her side, to find out how much has changed in regional food traditions since the project ended. This book combines original writing by WPA writers (through the Federal Writer¿s Program), and Willard¿s own experiences. There are a few recipes here and there.Willard admits that there is a wide range of quality of writing by the WPA employees, and this is obvious throughout the book. There were times when I wished that Willard would just relate her experiences, rather than also quoting passages of occasionally mediocre WPA writing. When the contributing WPA writer is known, he or she is credited, but oftentimes who wrote some of the accounts are no longer known.Willard tends to organize chapters by various type of events; rather than strictly by regional areas, such as the South or the Northeast. Some events include: Fund-raising dinners, Agricultural fairs, church suppers, and funeral ceremonies. There is also a chapter on ¿City Life¿, where FWP writers recorded their visits to Irish pubs in New York and similar places.I found some chapters more interesting than others. I liked ¿The Frontier: Mexicans, Indians, and Cowboys¿. The WPA writers working from the state offices in the Southwest tended to romanticize the wild west ¿ relating stories about cowboys and pioneers, rather than what the editors in Washington wanted: stories about what Native Americans ate and the lives of Mexican-Americans. However, Willard provides good insight on what she found in the Southwest today, based on the scant evidence that the WPA writers provided from that region. During the WPA era, one writer related what the Kiowa, Comanche, and Apache tribes ate: puppy dogs, land terrapins (turtles), and various berries and fruits. These tribes also ate various wild game such as buffalo and deer; the game depended on the tribal geographic area. When Willard visited the area, she found that the quality of these tribes¿s diet have since declined, along with their health. The reason is partly because our government issue poor-quality, highly processed and refined foods to many tribal members. This problem was already beginning to be evident when the WPA writers were out in the field. Willard mentions a current cookbook, published by the USDA, ¿A River of Recipes: Native American Recipes Using Commodity Food¿. The federal government passes out this cookbook to reservations to teach the Native Americans how to use food given out through government food programs. One recipe from that cookbook is for ¿Orange Geronimo¿, a drink that includes orange juice, instant nonfat dry milk, and corn syrup. Only five of the recipes in this cookbook include vegetables, mostly the canned type. This probably does not help with the numerous health problems that many Native Americans have, such as diabetes!There are some uneven qualities to this book, mostly b
almigwin on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
This is an interesting compendium of essays, by different writers, about social events including food during the depression. It shows the importance of getting together and sharing, with many hands doing the cooking, serving and planning. I was disappointed in the lack of recipes and descriptions of the food itself. It is more a sociology book than a cookbook. The food described was for the most part quite anglo and bland. Missing were ethnic festivals like Chinese New Year, Passover Seders, San Gennaro (or other Italian festivals). Also missing were Italian and Jewish deli and bakery foods like challah, cannoli, salami and pickled herring, chopped liver and knishes which were staple foods of my childhood during the thirties. It seems the writers concentrated on the food of the poor white working class and skipped the wealthy and upper middle classes (which did exist even during the depression).
lilinah on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
I'm enjoying reading America Eats! I think Willard's efforts are to be lauded, both in making parts of the original text available and in following the traces of those WPA writers. The excerpts show us an America lost. Shadows remain, but nothing like those tight communities - religious, ethnic, economic - who pulled together to help in times of need and to celebrate in times of bounty.Willard's own writing seems a bit dull by comparison with the earlier writers, who spiced up their texts with attempts to reflect vernacular speech and to turn simple straightforward events into dramatic stories.Interspersed with the memories of the 30s and 40s and with Willard's observations are photos by WPA photographers - back when there was only black-and-white. Not only do these illustrate the times, but they illuminate the changes wrought by Civil Rights and by corporatisation of the American farm. These photos show the segregation that permeated America - in one case very literally, as the white people and the black people at the same event are separated by a wall. They also show hard working people of all ethnic groups, often in rustic settings, when only 10 percent of rural Americans, white as well as black, had electricity.There are also the occasional recipes, for 50, for 500, which show what a prodigious effort was put into preparing these feeds by the participants, often people with limited resources themselves, while keeping secret the seasonings that differentiated one cook from another.America Eats! is a fascinating book, showing how much America has changed in 70 years, for the better in terms of civil rights and technological conveniences, but perhaps for the worse, in terms of community interaction and mutual support. And all this is shown through the documentation of group meals across the US.A worthy read for anyone interested in the sociology, culture, economy, or cuisine of these United States.
amy1705 on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
This was a good book that gave some of the history of social eating in America during the early part of the 20th century. The author went on several road trips to discover if this type of gathering still existed in the US with some interesting results. The prose was a bit dry and it took me quite a while to read it. It includes recipes but I haven't tried any of them yet.
ShawnMarie on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
I managed to get a copy of this book through Library Thing and I have to say it wasn't anything like I expected it would be. I thought it would be a cohesive history of American Food, but what it turned out to be is a Foxfire-like collection of food events from across America.The book is based on the "America Eats" WPA project from the 1940s and many of the excerpts in the book are from this time period. These are my favorite parts of the book - particularly the ones featuring images of Rural America.Also in the book are modern day adventures by the author who set out to find some of the events mentioned in the WPA reports. Honestly, these pieces were pretty boring to me.One of my favorite parts of the book is the pig diagram on 132 - shows how to BBQ it.But my number one story in the book begins on page 66. Called "Threshers Dinner" it details the large gathering of neighbors that came together to thresh wheat and oats and what it took for the women of the family to pull it off. The story has a surprise, and sad, ending that shows just how hard life was for these people.This is a good read for anyone interested in the food and social history of America. There are some amazing black and white pictures, several recipes from each section and just a lot of interesting material to read.My disappointment in the book was in the actual reading. It was choppy and disconnected which meant it was great to pick up for a few minutes to read one piece, but awful to attempt to read for more than ten minutes.
EMYeak on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
I collect cookbooks and also enjoy reading history books so ¿America Eats¿ is a perfect combination to grab my interest. The original idea for America Eats was a part of the endeavors of the Works Progress Administration during the Great Depression. Out-of-work writers were sent all across the country and were to submit reports on group eating and its role in the various communities. Some reports were sent to Washington, but funding was discontinued before any final document report was assembled and printed. Some reports were retained in local offices and some reports have been totally lost. Pat Willard went to the Library of Congress and read some of the reports housed there. Brimming with enthusiasm, she set off across the United States to visit the areas that had been documented. She was hoping to find some of the festivals and group dinners still being held. This book is a combination of many of the original reports submitted in the late 1930s and Willard¿s reports on festivals, picnics, and other celebrations she found. This book is not a cookbook in the usual sense but does have about 25 recipes as originally reported or with Willard¿s modern interpretation based on her travels.I found the book to be an enjoyable read. It is easy to pick up and read a few pages when having only a few minutes or a pleasure for a longer read. There are about 50 black and white photos from the original project included. Some of the chapters cover various ethnic group influences on the eating habits of our country¿s people. Church suppers, funeral dinners, fairs, fund raisers, holiday celebrations, political gatherings: they all received their due recognition. The city life chapter focused on New York City and included a listing of soda fountain-luncheonette slang and jargon. I recognized some of the things listed; others I had never heard. I would definitely recommend this book as an enjoyable read for anyone interested in the history of food in the U.S.
NellieMc on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
This really is an excellent book, as long as you aren't looking for recipes or elaborate descriptions of dishes. It's really a social history, written in a few instances by some excellent writers. There are two chapters in particular that would easily make any "Best of" collection - Thresher's Dinner and "A PItch in Dinner After a Funeral Service". However, it is not just a collection of writings from an unpublished book that the WPA had authorized, but rather the writings followed by the author's attempt, successful or not, to revisit the location and see how it has survived. This makes for a very confusing read -- while she separates the two by little stars, it took me quite awhile to figure it out. In the end, this is a social commentary and travel book more than a book about food or cooking. But still very interesting; I just wish it had been organized better.
mrfletcher on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
This book is full of wonderful stories of the role that communal eating has in our history. Not the usual family gatherings but pot lucks, socials, fundraisers and the like. It's an over view of the way food and eating draws us together as a culture no matter where the gathering happenes. I would have loved more recipes but this is not so much a cook book but a social recording.I enjoyed reading this book and would like to read a vol. 2.