We’re all looking for the next good read and last week I got a review copy of Twain’s Feast, absolutely a good read. Andrew Beahrs, an anthropologist and writer, takes a look at foods loved by Mark Twain and rediscovers and eats them in their natural locales. It’s travel, history, food and locavor-osity all mixed into one book that keeps you mesmerized with its effortless yarn spinning.
Beahrs doesn’t write with a big ego or with annoying fake bravado, and he doesn’t smile at everything he eats and repeat ‘good stuff’ or ‘delicious’ – when it’s bad he says so and in a way that’ll make you laugh.
Feeling romantic about stewing raccoons? Beahrs tells of Coon Suppers in Gillett, Arkansas where the smell of the animal’s fat made him nauseous as it bubbled in the outdoor cooking pots. Dogs won’t even eat raccoon fat. At the supper Beahrs attended, a local nodded at the kettles of coon stew and said, “Yeah, we’re gonna eat real well but it won’t be coming out of there.”
Slow cooking with onions and vegetables eventually tamed the beastly flavor and yesterday in Seattle (one leg of his book tour) Beahrs said the flavor was hard to discern and compared the texture of slow-cooked raccoon to pot roast, which for some may be as close as they get to trying raccoon stew.
What did he like? When he tried Olympia oysters grown by Washington’s Taylor Shellfish it put him in Twain’s shoes. “Those Oly’s were a Twain moment for me.” Sheepshead fish in New Orleans and maple syrup made his like list too, though he guessed he’ll never know what prairie chicken tastes like (a Twain favorite) because they are almost extinct now.
“Twain appreciated the best of what was there,” says Beahrs, “and when something was good he knew it.” Beahrs shares that with Twain and between the two of them this book is food writing at its very best.