Succotash,…Venison, Roast Duck, Roast Goose

The USA gets a bad rap in the rest of the world.  But I unashamedly love America. I lived there for two years with my wife and three young children. Although their politics and health care might be problematic, and their ultimate freedom can be described in a Clint Eastwood way as ‘The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly’, there is much to love about Americans. They are friendly, funny and tough. That’s how I would summarize them. There’s a lot to like. Including the food.

Now, those who just don’t get it tend to knock American food. Outsiders criticize the fast-foods joints and the soda (which pretty-well everyone else in the English-speaking world calls soft drink). But I was quickly educated in the American palate. In September 1980, just two months into my life in the States, the staff at work said we were going to the best place in DC to get a crab sandwich. It was about five minutes drive from the Walter Reed, a smoky, slightly grubby place, full of loud people sitting on bar stools. I had the most mouthwatering sandwich, a crab sandwich, with some sort of sauce. It was superb. 

After that we had lots of real American food. Corn, beans, pork, seafood, pies, other foods all cooked in various styles, French, German, Spanish, Native American, Italian. We bought lots of cookbooks, the best we found was ‘American Food: The Gastronomic Story’ by Evan Jones. The first part tries to answer the question ‘What is American Food?’ and the author starts at Plymouth ‘when Myles Standish and friends shot and roasted over coals an eagle “which was excellent meat hardly to be discerned from mutton”’. He continues through dried sturgeon,, beach plums, eels, stifle, hominy, clambakes, julep (in 1774 it was noted that ‘a julep before breakfast was believed to give protection against malaria’), crab loafs, slapjacks, the list goes on. And then the influence of the later great migrations.

He reminds us of the first Thanksgiving dinner in 1621: dried beans and whole corn called ‘succotash,…venison, roast duck, roast goose (no turkey), clams, eels, wheat and corn bread, leeks, watercress, wild plums, homemade wine’. Yum. I encourage you to experiment next time you visit the USA. Don’t be seduced by by volume and efficiency. Go for the real stuff.

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