Friday, December 20, 2013

GoodReads Review: The Founding Foodies

The Founding Foodies: How Washington, Jefferson, and Franklin Revolutionized American CuisineThe Founding Foodies: How Washington, Jefferson, and Franklin Revolutionized American Cuisine by Dave DeWitt
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

An entertaining look at the early history of food in America and the Founding Fathers who were greatly influential in its development, this book was full of delightful information. The period recipes, presented verbatim, are fun to read - and definitely give you an appreciation for modern cookbooks, because I would hate to try to follow one. Be aware that book is perhaps mistitled; the first segment of it (a significant portion of the book) is not so much about founding foodies as it is about the early economy, necessity and evolution of food, from the explosion of the pepper trade in Salem to the duties of the baker-general of George Washington's army.

This is not a general history book - it is an in-depth analysis of American eating, and includes a lot of elements we often take for granted nowadays, such as the requirements imposed by geography and the creation of a national identity. The chapters that focus specifically on Washington and Jefferson are really well-balanced, providing a general sense of their lives and historical high-points, while keeping the focus on the real star on the story: the cuisine.

For me, where this book falls down is the translation of recipes at the end of the book. The author has attempted to modernize the recipes, but the result seems half-hearted at best, both in the product and the methodology used to arrive at these interpretations. To be honest, I would have been perfectly content - might have even enjoyed it better - to have another few chapters, looking at some of the other early culinarians, rather than the recipes. This kind of a project really requires an entire book to itself - perhaps even for each individual region (for instance, New England fare versus Jefferson's Virginia), never mind the whole Revolutionary landscape; it's not really suited to be squashed into 46 pages.

Still, as a reading book rather than a recipe book, highly recommended. If you love the story behind the food, this is for you.

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