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The essays included in The Mad Feast are mostly light and fun, although Frank's free-ranging thoughts sometimes veer off into lists and random observations about people, the past, horticulture, and even linguistics. He talks about food and history and how these have mixed to produce our regional culinary quirks.
For example, in the chapter on Ohio, we learn that heirloom tomatoes got their start there in the late 1800s, when people still thought the fruit was poisonous. So perhaps that botanical event has twisted and rambled through the state and through time to Cincinnati and was instrumental in the birth of that city's famous style of chili. In the chapter on Hawaii, we learn how shave ice has links to Asian immigrants who worked the cane and pineapple fields a hundred years ago.
You won't want to read The Mad Feast from front to back all in one go. This is the kind of book to pick up and read piecemeal. I looked first at the five states I've lived in. Then I checked out states I'm pretty familiar with. I'll get to the rest, bit by bit.
Although each chapter contains at least one recipe, The Mad Feast isn't quite a cookbook. Many of the recipes are historic and some quite frankly are not that appealing (an apple gelatin/fudge from the 1940s?). Others, however, like Arizona's green chile pinto beans, look pretty tasty. The book is also not a travel guide, but it'd be fun to check out a state's portrait if you're planing a trip. Note too that Matthew Gavin Frank's observations are a bit irreverent, sometimes off the wall, but always entertaining.
To be honest, I'm not sure if The Mad Feast is shelf-worthy, but I'd definitely encourage you to check it out of the library. It'd also make a great gift for anyone interested in regional American foods and for trivia fans.
Liveright Publishing, 2015
Source: Review (see review policy)
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