Best eaten "whilst leaning against a pickup"!

I am grateful to the Kitchen Reader for their choice of reading for May:

"Choose any book from the Penguin Books Great Food series"

great food writing from Penguin

I have had the this collection for some while but have been loathe to read any of the books because they are such pretty little things and it seems a shame to risk damage by opening them.  I've done it now though; I chose "Eating with the Pilgrims and other pieces" by Calvin Trillin and I selected it for purely selfish reasons which are that he once said:

"The most remarkable thing about my mother is that for thirty years she served the family nothing but leftovers. The original meal has never been found."

Leftovers and their numerous delicious uses are close to my heart (indeed, I have written a handbook of leftovers and how to use them ~ Creative Ways to Use Up Leftovers) and I've been looking for an excuse to quote that for ages!

To the book ...

Calvin Trilling's food writing

Calvin Trillin is a famous and amusing writer who has been contributing to the New York Times since 1963.  He has often been called a "food writer" but disagrees with this saying "I don't cook. I don't know anything about food. I've never reviewed a restaurant." He does, however, appear to know about American food - as do I, a bit!

My first job in the Caribbean was at the Tamarind Club on Tortola (as was my second and my fifth!) but after a few months I had to return to the UK and asked an American friend if she would be interested in taking over the kitchen. She was but told me she was bit dubious about cooking "creatively" because of the Brits. This surprised me as I had been holding back because of the Americans being so narrow in their tastes! I doubt either of us were right. Calvin Trillin makes a fair few digs at English cooks in this little book andI am now going to dig back!

The first essay is "An attempt to Compile a Short History of the Buffalo Wing". Well! For non-Americans who are not in the know this is a "classic" dish of spicy chicken wings which are served somewhat incongruously with celery sticks and a blue cheese sauce.  I have never thought that blue cheese and chicken were a good combo and indeed Mr. Trillin says "I later learned that nobody in Buffalo has figured out for sure what to do with the blue-cheese dressing."  I'm not at all surprised.

In the second and title essay, "Eating with the Pilgrims", he states that the Pilgrims were from East Anglia which was, he says, "glad to see the back of them" and "put on some Brussels sprouts to boil in case any of their descendents craved a veggie in 1981"!  In this essay he is primarily putting forward the case for celebrating Thanksgiving by eating Spaghetti Carbonara rather than turkey. His argument being that it is far more traditional than turkey having been introduced by Christopher Columbus who the Indians, he claimed, called "the big Italian fella". So, as you see, creative and unusual writing.

Next comes a chapter on Barbecued Mutton which is not as strange as it sounds and I do like the sign he mentions seeing outside a barbecued mutton purveyors;

"Mary had a little lamb, won't you have some too?"

In "Missing Links" he writes of boudin (Jim, but not as we know it) by which he means a spicy rice mixture a bit like dirty rice, often containing pork or beef but sometimes based on shrimp or gator, shoved into a sausage skin. The boudin I know is either a dark blood sausage, Boudin Noir which can be likened to black pudding, or bloodless Boudin Blanc which is like guess what?  White pudding! Serving suggestion - the Louisiana Boudin of which he writes is, apparently, best eaten "whilst leaning against a pickup".

Later in the book there is much talk of bagels.

I have always been amused by the American interpretation of dishes eg. apple pie (which we invented before we invented America) a la mode ie. with ice cream (see here for more on this strange terminology) and biscuits (by which they mean scones but even so this is a strange combination) with gravy. Really I think Mr. Trillin is of a like mind, in 2007 when being interviewed he said:

"The sort of eating I’ve always been interested in is what I guess you’d call vernacular eating. It has something to do with a place…. The fact that people in Cincinnati have something they call authentic Cincinnati chili, and seem unaware that people in the Southwest eat chili, let alone Mexicans, and think that chili is made by Macedonians and served on spaghetti, that’s interesting to me."

I like Mr. Trillin's style and hope to read more of his work and, as the little book has survived my womanhandling so well I might read another in the Penguin Great Food series.

Speaking of Books

In other news ...

Lovely day here in Cornwall, we went to Bedruthan Steps for a walk.

bedruthan steps and area in Cornwall

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1 comment:

Sarah said...

Haha! It sounds like you found much to giggle over in this little book. Great stuff. I find regional food very odd in general; everyone thinks theirs is the best and only way to eat. But I also have my feelings of superiority when lobster is mentioned, for example. I look forward to hearing what you read next from the series. I was pretty jealous when I heard that you got the whole set!