In addition to being a lawyer, I am a longtime foodie. So my attention was definitely grabbed this morning when I was listening to NPR and there were segments on two food-related books that I defintely will be reading soon. The first is Watching What We Eat, by Kathleen Collins. It is a history of cooking shows, from its beginning on radio, to its current near-ubiquity on television, like on the Food Network. Here’s a link to the author’s fun blog. www.watchingwhatweeat.com/
The other book that merited a segment on NPR is The Food of a Younger Land: A Portrait of American Food–Before the National Highway System, Before Chain Restaurants, and Before Frozen Food, When the Nation’s Food Was Seasonal by Mark Kurlansky, who also brought us a fascinating history of a fish: Cod: A Biography of the Fish that Changed the World. Here is an except from the new book’s description on Amazon:
In the 1930s, with the country gripped by the Great Depression and millions of Americans struggling to get by, FDR created the Federal Writers’ Project under the New Deal as a make-work program for artists and authors. A number of writers, including Zora Neale Hurston, Eudora Welty, and Nelson Algren, were dispatched all across America to chronicle the eating habits, traditions, and struggles of local people. The project, called “America Eats,” was abandoned in the early 1940s because of the World War and never completed.
The Food of a Younger Land unearths this forgotten literary and historical treasure and brings it to exuberant life. Mark Kurlansky’s brilliant book captures these remarkable stories, and combined with authentic recipes, anecdotes, photos, and his own musings and analysis, evokes a bygone era when Americans had never heard of fast food and the grocery superstore was a thing of the future. Kurlansky serves as a guide to this hearty and poignant look at the country’s roots.
I have not read Kurlansky’s latest yet, but I have read a great book that covers the same territory, and does so really well. It’s called: America Eats!: On the Road with the WPA – the Fish Fries, Box Supper Socials, and Chitlin Feasts That Define Real American Food, and its author is Pat Willard. I highly recommend reading it. (Did I mention that I have over 100 cookbooks?)
For an excerpt from Kathleen Collin’s book, copied from the NPR website, please click on the Continued Reading link.
The 1960s had Julia Child as its emblematic television cook, and the early 1970s had Graham Kerr. "The Galloping Gourmet" was the first cooking show to aggressively capitalize on the entertainment potential of the medium and to come at the genre from this angle.
It would be easy to say that Kerr leapt on Childs’ coattails. After all, "The Galloping Gourmet" appeared on U.S. television in 1969, six years after "The French Chef." But it would be glib and plain wrong to say so. Not only had Graham Kerr been cooking since he was a wee one in the English hotel kitchens owned by his parents compared to Julia who began at a doddering 36, but his first televised cooking demo aired back in 1960 in New Zealand ("That doesn’t count," Child teased him). True enough, Child was a pioneer in the United States and unquestionably deserves her iconic status as queen of small screen cuisine, but Kerr set a few firsts himself.
Viewers in the U.S. had been well prepped, of course, by "The French Chef," but the style of "The Galloping Gourmet" was a world apart. The show opened with the snappily-dressed, British dandy of a ball of energy leaping over a tall kitchen chair while holding a full glass of wine, setting the tone for the rest of the episode and raising the bar for almost every cooking show that followed.
Where Child’s studio was quiet except for the splat of, say, a sole filet hitting a hot skillet, cracking of chicken bones or her pleasant chirruping, Kerr’s set was home to the first in-studio audience for a syndicated cooking program and the first to have a "hidden camera" trained on the audience. "We could go into the people’s faces as they were licking their lips and going ‘mmmm’," says Kerr’s producer-wife Treena. No minor convention that – consider where Emeril would be without his conditioned oohing-and-aahing audience.
As home cooks on the whole became more self-possessed in their kitchens and dining rooms, cooking shows were ostensibly relieved of some of the burden of actual teaching. Kerr heeded the how-to format to a good degree, demonstrating cooking techniques with recipes for dishes like Shoulder of Lamb Wellington, Veiled Country Lass (Danish applesauce cake), spaghetti con salsa di vognole and Hot Cracker Crab, but unlike his predecessors, teaching was not the primary rationale. Graham – or more accurately, Treena – thought of his major occupation as comedian.
For the full except, go here:www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php