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Book Review: The Taste of America

Book Review: The Taste of America
Image: Joel Penkman
All the time we’ve been borrowing from American food culture we’ve missed out on star spangled manna such as this.  Helen Hokin reviews The Taste of America by Coleman Andrews.
 
The Taste of America
By Coleman Andrews
£24.95
Phaidon
978071486582 9
 
Let’s not beat about the bush; our perception of North American food, from this side of the pond, is well, pretty grim. Super brands heaving with of the wrong kinds of fat, loaded with sugar and enough E numbers to play anagrams with have arrived here over the last few decades to skew our view of what the average American eats.
 
For those open to persuasion though, Coleman Andrew’s new book ‘The Taste of America’ provides an insight into his home country’s real and regional foods. Unveiling 250 lesser known branded food products and single ingredients, Andrews instantly explodes the myth that everything edible in North America comes packaged in red to be consumed on the move.
 
In buoyant prose, each entry reveals the history, provenance, sumptuous tasting notes, and a few quirky facts for good measure.Andrews is no food snob though and this collection of his favourite American foods focuses on heritage and tradition, rather than organic or sustainable methods of production.
 
Fun facts, for example, tell how cranberries are one of only three fruits native to the U.S. On poultry, it was the native wild turkey that featured on the pilgrim’s first Thanksgiving dinner. And I now know that the native black walnut hails from the Eastern Seaboard and grows wild from Southern Ontario to northern Florida. But more to the point, “It’s pretty much the nut you want in fudge, chocolate cake, ice cream and other confections”, the author says. And I believe
Book Review: The Taste of America
Image: Joel Penkman
him.
 
American seafood, according to the author, is aplenty, from sea to shining sea, with Maine lobster and quahogs from New England, Dungeness crab from Washington and abalone from California.
 
Descriptions of branded products I’d never heard of reveal how the U.S. artisan food scene is as long-established as any in Europe. In Cincinnati, the Greater family’s Peppermint Stick Ice Cream, made from pure peppermint oil and shards of peppermint candy, is sold in limited quantities over Christmas only and has come to symbolise the holiday season since its creation in the 1880s. The story behind Dr. Brown’s Celery Tonic or ‘Jewish Champagne’ illustrates how, like many soft drinks made in the States in the mid 1800s, it was a sort of halfway house between a medicine and a fizzy drink. The brand has survived to this day, and though it is now owned by Canada Dry it retains, according to Andrews, its original celery flavour, peppery heat and citrusy finish.
 
And in case you have ever wondered where to begin with homity, why jellybeans were thus named, what the heck a fiddlehead fern is, or the origin of ketchup, you’ll find the answers here.
 
It’s a shame that all the time we’ve been borrowing from American food culture we’ve missed out on delights such as these.
 
I found The Taste of America a hugely entertaining read: thoroughly researched, accessible, informative and fun. The one-entry-per-page format makes it easy to dip in and out of at random, while the hand-drawn illustrations by artist Joel Penkman add a real sense of Americana.
 
A great gift for a homesick ex-pat this Thanksgiving, or indeed anyone interested in deepening their knowledge of authentic American food.
 
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