I’ve always been intrigued by the melting pot of American culture, language, and food. John and I have both lived overseas and in several states, which is reflected in our blog and the dishes we cook. And, we’ve learned a lot about regional American cuisine from each other. John’s family is from the South, and my family is from Southern California. I really enjoy learning about Southern cuisine and hearing the stories of John’s family recipes, and he enjoys hearing about mine. “The American Plate” by Libby O’Connell, published by Sourcebooks in association with the History Channel, provides an informative insight into the evolution of American cuisine. Dr. O’Connell starts her book with “American Indian Foods before Columbus,” and takes us through the inclusion of imported flavors from around the globe right up to “Microwave Popcorn, Mesculun Greens, and Salsa.”
Tracing the history of the United States through a series of 100 iconic dishes and delicacies (or bites), O’Connell offers a unique multilayered overview of the American people and the transformation of their palates. Delicious recipes, menus, photos, and fun historical tidbits are sprinkled throughout: from why politicians incorporate barbecue feats into their campaign tactics to the real reason Americans call a dollar a “buck” and why takeout is not the modern convenience you thought it was! ~ Sourcebooks Press Release
We often bring spices back from our trips. Last year when we visited Budapest, we purchased Sweet Paprika at the Central Market Hall, so we decided to try the Hungarian Chicken Paprikash. For purposes of this review, we followed the recipe, but we think this recipe can easily be adapted to skinless, boneless chicken breasts as well – the main advantage being that the flavors can permeate the chicken better without the skin. We served this flavorful, creamy entree over buttered egg noodles – and it was perfect comfort food for a chilly winter evening. It’s easy to imagine people gathered around the table at the end of a hard day at work warming their hands over the steam as the paprika warms their bellies.
Unlike the northern European workers who ate a bland diet, Hungarians enjoyed lots of spices in their food, especially paprika. Even without special seasonings, food was expensive in the factory towns, eating up about 40 percent of an unskilled workman’s weekly wage of five dollars. So the amount of meat in the pot might be scant indeed. ~ page 159
If you are so inclined, Dr. O’Connell includes a recipe for Roast Beaver Tail – which is interesting to read about – but I’d much rather try Southern Buttermilk Fried Chicken. She also provides background information on the introduction of American classics like Coca-Cola and peanut butter. Looking at the evolution of American culture through food is just fascinating. With a doctorate in American History and 13 pages of end notes, you know Dr. O’Connell conducted extensive research to bring this topic to life. All in all, this book is a fascinating look at the evolution of the American palate and how different foods became incorporated into our repertoire. It would be a great gift for the chef in your life as well.