The Food of a Younger Land

Mark Kurlansky

The Food of a Younger Land

“Throughout Kentucky, and particularly in the mountainous area, wilted lettuce is certain to appear on the table of most every household that has a garden. Fresh leaf lettuce is washed, cut crosswise in one-half inch strips and placed in the bowl from which it is to be served. Fresh green onions are cut over the top with sufficient salt and pepper. Hot bacon grease, containing small crisp pieces of bacon, is poured over the lettuce. After it had produced its wilting effect vinegar, diluted with water to the desired strength, is added.”

The recipe quoted above, for Kentucky Wilted Lettuce, comes from a new and intriguing book, The Food of a Younger Land. Written by Mark Kurlansky, it's a portrait of American food from the time before chain restaurants, frozen food, before the national interstate highway system – in short, from a time when the country's food was regional, seasonal, and traditional. The recipes included in it, and, indeed, the inspiration for the book itself, were born in the midst of the Great Depression, as part of the Federal Writers' Project under the New Deal's WPA. Writers were dispatched across the country to chronicle the eating habits, food traditions, and struggles of local people at a moment in time right before they began to disappear. Unfortunately, the project (called “America Eats”) was abandoned in the early 1940s because of the war, and was never resumed.

Consider the following tidbit, titled Montana Dulce:

“Dulce, dried seaweed, is good for what ails you.

That's the opinion of both the Irish and the New Englanders who have been transplanted to the mining districts of the west. And they conquer their ailments by eating the leathery, reddish-brown weed like candy, relishing its salty taste and confident that it will prevent such things as goiter.

The Irish receive their dulce from the coastal counties of Ireland in letters or parcels; it is also shipped in from Maine and sold in the stores. In both Maine and Ireland, where it is fresh, it is sometimes cooked like spinach. But in the Rocky Mountains, it is served as a 'nibbler' to be put in the pocket and munched whenever the desire arises.”

For those readers who can recall the Great Depression, some of the recipes and essays in this book may bring back memories that could be shared with younger ones. Whatever your age or dietary preference, The Food of a Younger Land is a poignant and fascinating look at nation's culinary roots. Be sure to read all about it.

Copyright 2009, S. Halversen.
All Rights Reserved.