A Double Dip of America's Culinary Riches

By , Staff writer of The Christian Science Monitor

IN honor of Presidents Day, you could raise the flag and bake an all-American apple pie.

Or, perhaps you'd like to consider taking a culinary tour of America - without even leaving the house.

Two recently published coffee-table cookbooks capture America's regional cuisine through lush photographs, recipes, maps, and text: ``Better Homes and Gardens Heritage of America Cookbook'' and ``American Food: A Celebration.''

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Since American cuisine is evolving day by day - influenced by a global marketplace, eclectic chefs, and a growing interest in ethnic flavors - these beautiful books serve to document what can safely be called ``traditional'' American cuisine, defined by history and region.

Imagine gumbo from the bayou, salmon from Washington State, chili from Cincinnati, trout from Idaho, crab cakes from Maryland, parsnip puffs from New England, porterhouse steak from Texas, quesadillas from California; the list goes on.

Both books are organized by region, accompanied by color-rich photos, and offer relatively simple recipes that are traditional but not trite. Turning each page is an experience in state hopping and menu planning.

Better Homes and Gardens Heritage of America Cookbook gives readers a past and present view of American food - from native American fare, such as Blue Cornmeal Pancakes, to more contemporary cuisine, such as Mahi-Mahi with Honey-Ginger Glaze.

The 300-plus recipes, compiled and developed by the editors of Better Homes and Gardens, include short introductions and nutritional information; each of the finished dishes is featured in a nicely styled photo.

Historical background is a main focus of this book. Readers learn about America's first restaurants and first ``housewife's'' cookbook.

One page is devoted to Thomas Jefferson, ``America's First Gourmet,'' who had an extensive garden (30 varieties of peas). After spending five years in France, he became passionate about specialty foods of the time, such as vanilla beans, Parmesan cheese, vinegar, anchovies, and macaroni.

American Food: A Celebration is just what its title suggests. Allan Rosenberg's vibrant photos of food and regional lifestyle place the recipes in stunning context for the armchair traveler and culinary dreamer. Hand-painted maps highlight the specific regions of each chapter.

Although the text includes historical background, many of the recipes are contemporary interpretations of traditional fare. Contributors include food editors, writers, cooking teachers, and chefs from all over the country.

Separate explainers add depth to recipes, such as how native Americans popularized the pinon (pine nut) in the Southwest and the evolution of Cajun poboys, which are similar to submarine sandwiches and are a New Orleans specialty.

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