November 23, 2009

Book Review: Renewing America’s Food Traditions: Saving and Savoring the Continent’s Most Endangered Foods (Gary Paul Nabhan, ed.)

Thanksgiving is a uniquely American holiday, a celebration of native foods eaten by our ancestors (or as close as we can get today), and what better way to observe it than a discussion of the indigenous (or nearly so) foods of the North American continent.  This book is by far one of the most unique food related books I’ve come across.

Under no circumstance does Nabhan encourage anyone to eat any species, plant or animal, that is at risk or endangered, and several recipes are included more for historical purposes than under an expectation that the reader would attempt to make them.  In fact, it is not unfair to say that this book is more a cultural and historical book of endemic North American foods than an actual cookbook.

Some recipes and their ingredients are more conventional (for example: turkey, pumpkin, beans), while others are more eclectic (the recipes for squirrel and antelope spring to mind).  Each of the recipes are very traditional in nature and many of them actually offer some sort of conventional counterpart for substitution.  Accompanying each recipe is a description of the principal ingredient and its history as well as its status as a species on the continent.

Organized into food “nations” (e.g., the Salmon Nation of the Pacific Northwest and the Maple Syrup and Clambake nations of the Northeast), Renewing America’s Food Traditions offers a glimpse into our culinary past organized by gastronomic region.  This is a great book to put on the coffee table or on a shelf next to a favorite cookbook for guests to peruse as they wait for that second slice of pumpkin pie.  From Chelsea Green and available from your local, independent bookstore.  (Shop local! Shop independent!  Tell ’em you saw it on Elephant Journal!)

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