Found: The Lost WPA Files….Book review

I am in the midst of reading a really interesting book, by Mark Kurlansky, titled,

The Food of a Younger Land

During the Great Depression, unemployment, and despair, were at all-time highs in our nation. Through the New Deal, programs sprang up to get people back to work. Opinions abound on the New Deal, but without it, I wouldn’t be reading this book (though I’m reading the book published in 2009, for the first time, is part of the interesting and quirky nature of this story). So, its got that goin’ for it.

Author Mark Kurlansky found a huge box of old files from the Works Progress Administration’s Federal Writer’s Project. This project produced, first, guidebooks to all regions of the United States,which were quite successful in their day, and are still admired to this day.Their longevity can be accounted for due to the fact that they weren’t just maps with facts, but aimed to get more to the cultural heart of the country.

The second major project was a book called, America Eats.  America Eats, again, aiming for that cultural heart, would surely feature recipes, but also how, why, and with whom Americans are eating. It would include diversity of culture in its selections, and each region’s entry would have a chance to show its unique “flavor”, with local ingredients and regionally obtained foods. This gets to the long secondary title: A portrait of America before the national highway system, before chain restaurants, and before frozen foods. Unfortunately, the original book “America Eats” was never completed. Pearl Harbor was bombed, and that pretty much ended the Federal Writer’s Project, as the nation dealt with a second War to End all Wars….

Now, Kurlansky’s book: I’m appreciating the biographical information about the contributors in each region’s section – there were writer’s of all kinds involved in the project – experienced authors with books to their credit, and some people that really had no history of writing, but needed a job and were allowed to give it a try — and the recipes are fun to read. Some take the form of essays interspersed with cooking directions, some tell a recipes story in more of a narrative form, like the one I read just the other night, about the maple sugaring process in Vermont (kind of like a Lake Wobegone description).

I do like recipe books that read like novels, and novels that contain recipes. Do you have any interesting ones you’d like to pass on? Please leave a comment, and I’ll update my library queue.

4 thoughts on “Found: The Lost WPA Files….Book review

  1. Suzanne says:

    Two books come immediately to mind. “Home Cooking” by Laurie Colwin and “Mediterranean Summer” by David Shalleck. Both are memoirs, the first by a woman who loves to cook and the second by a chef who gets a job working on a private yacht in the summer. I know you’ll love them both – I did!

  2. Ashley says:

    What I am dying to know is…when do you find time to read? 🙂

    • Laura says:

      Choose which you think is the actual answer:
      a) I’ve come across a Tardis (see, Doctor Who) and can lengthen then days by going back and forth in time
      b) I have hired a nanny and housekeeper
      c) I read when I could be doing many other things, such as washing or folding laundry.
      d) I have a lot of laundry that doesn’t get washed or folded.
      e) both c and d

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