I don’t know how many of you out there are familiar with a lovely little piece of American history called the Federal Writers’ Project. For those of you who know what I’m talking about, feel free to jump ahead and for those of you who don’t know, let me enlighten you. The Federal Writers’ Project was an arm of the Works Progress Administration (WPA), which was created in 1935 at the height of the Great Depression. The purpose of the WPA was to provide employment for the millions of unemployed throughout the United States, including writers, journalists, editors, and novelists.
The Federal Writers’ Project (FWP) is best known for creating a series of regional and state travel guides. Within five years, the state travel guides were wrapping up and by 1939, the administrators of the FWP were looking for another large, culturally pertinent project to take on. This is when America Eats was born. The intention of America Eats was to create a guide to American regional foods! This was a time before mass marketing of prepared foods and before the American highway system enabled quick and easy travel. Work on America Eats began, but soon the energy and finances of the nation were drawn to the beginning of war.
With the advent of World War II, the hard copy for America Eats was dumped into the National Archive with very little organization or cataloging. Nearly 70 years later, Mark Kurlansky, an author that can only be described as brave and insatiably curious, poked his nose into the five boxes full of carbon copied and blurry typed manuscript pages that constituted America Eats. Kurlansky has edited this mass of primary source material detailing a way of living and eating that no longer exists in America and assembled into the book The Food of a Younger Land .
This is a lovely little gem of a book. It can be picked up and put down whenever the mood strikes you. It is far far more than a list of pre-war recipes. Recipes are included, as are essays on regional eating and little anecdotes written by Kurlansky himself. There is an excellent introduction, written by Kurlansky that provides insight into the inner workings of the FWP. The book is arranged by region and includes a table of contents and an index, making it easy to find specific state, regional, or author references.
Some of the articles include an author byline and many do not; often, Kurlansky has provided us with background information on an author letting us know what they did after America Eats. Eudora Welty is probably the most notable FWP contributor in this collection. She provided an article on Mississippi food, including recipes for Stuffed Eggs, Lye Hominy, and Vicksburg’s hot potato salad. There are some recipes from Kentucky included as well as the Brown Hotel’s 1940 Christmas Dinner. I would encourage any armchair historian or really anyone who enjoys eating or cooking, to check out The Food of a Younger Land.
Interested in more works produced by the WPA’s Federal Writer’s
Federal Writer's Project
Kentucky Federal Writer's Project