'The Food of a Younger Land' book excerpt May 29 2009
Author Mark Kurlansky's latest book, The Food of a Younger Land, explores the food and eating habits of America during the Great Depression. As part of the WPA Federal Writers’ Project, authors such as Zora Neale Hurston, Eudora Welty and Nelson Algren were sent across the nation to document regional eating habits and traditions.
The project, known as "America Eats," was shelved with the start of WWII, but Kurlansky's work has unearthed the stories, recipes and anecdotes from that early effort. You can read a book excerpt on The Wall Street Journal. I've included a couple of paragraphs below:
If I search my childhood memories, having been born in the late 1940s, I can recall some of the lingering vestiges of the America that is described in America Eats. It was an America without fast food. Even in restaurants and at roadside stands, the prevailing style was what might be called “home cooking.” Home cooking was a mixed blessing, as it is in many homes, better than the industrialized fare along today’s expressways but not as good as many of today’s restaurants. The interstate highway system had not yet been built, and Americans traveled through farm country and down the main streets of towns on two-lane roads in dark-colored cars with standard transmissions, split windshields, and simple dashboards with radios that worked on occasion and clocks that never kept time.
Most people had refrigerators that older people referred to as Frigidaires, after the brand, the way some of us today still call photocopies Xeroxes. Some people still had iceboxes, but ice deliveries were becoming scarce. Frozen food was sold, but the tiny little freezers in the new modern refrigerators frosted up, did not maintain low temperatures, and, in any event, had little space. A freezer cold enough to keep food safely for long periods or to keep ice cream hard was rare. It was still best to go to the soda fountain for ice cream, and you always got a seltzer on the side.