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In The American Plate, now out in paperback, O'Connell chronicles the history of America through the perspective of food and drink. She talks about not only native Western Hemisphere edible plants (squash, corn, beans) but also foods developed, produced, and relished by Americans over the centuries (rum, barbecue, hot dogs).
The text is divided into 103 "bites," or short sections, each focusing on a single food or drink item. O'Connell follows no set formula, so you never know what you'll learn as read about the food trends of America, from pre-contact times to the present. Fun facts, vintage photos, recipes, and/or drawings accompany the brief histories. O'Connell's style is informal, and she highlights interesting tidbits and fascinating details associated with each bite.
This isn't the kind of book you need to read cover to cover. Instead, you might want to flip through, stopping at whatever catches your attention: baked Alaska, beaver tail, Brunswick stew, Election Day cake, war rations, frozen foods, or microwave popcorn. The American Plate provides hours of entertainment and dozens of vintage and classic recipes.
Here are a few things I learned:
- John Rolfe (Pocahontas's husband) was the first colonist to plant tobacco as a cash crop.
- Sassafras was once the second-largest export because it was thought to cure syphilis.
- The word barbecue is likely derived from barbacoa, the terms for a Caribbean dish consisting of spicy meat, slow roasted over coals.
- Coffee consumption surpassed tea after the Civil War because Federal troops were issued coffee as part of their rations. After the war, few veterans went back to tea.
- The Hershey Kiss was first sold in 1907; the paper ribbon was added in 1912.
Published by Sourcebooks, 2015 (paperback edition)
Source: Review (see review policy)
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