Archive for July, 2021

Review: Twain’s Feast

Friday, July 16th, 2021

Andrew Beahrs’s Twain’s Feast defies easy categorization, but I’m really happy that I read it. It’s historical, culinary, environmental, journalistic, literary, and includes recipes. If Beahrs were less steeped in any of these areas, I doubt that Feast would cohere into anything worthwhile.

The basis is a menu Mark Twain includes in The Innocents Abroad that is a tribute to the uniquely American foods he was missing in Europe when he was writing. Twain’s got elements of a blogger in him and it’s easy to imagine his menu chapter as a listicle in the current media world. I intend that as an endorsement. Twain’s such a keen ofserver of people and society that his menu is not so much a bill of fare as a collection of evocative dishes. Food is so connected to our cultural consciousness that his readers would not have been able to read it without their own memories and passions rising. Feast Beahrs’s response to that stimulation.

He brings an interesting array of talents and fascinations to play. He’s a good literary historian who knows Twain well. He puts the dishes into the sort of personal and societal context that wold make them so beloved of Twain. Then he connects the same dishes to contemporary times.

The connections take Beahrs out into the world to tell those stories. He does a good job connecting them to different aspects of the world. Prairie Chicken is on the menu, but you can’t eat one because there probably only a few hundred birds alive. But the story of the birds themselves and the people caring for them is compelling. Details of BBQ and Southern dishes connect to Twain’s relationships to the Confederacy and the Union. That reflects into society’s relationships as they evolve. Each chapter connects the food to something compelling about this world.

He writes well and has a passion for food as well.

Strongly Recommended.