- The Lexicon of Real American Food by Jane and Michael Stern
- Paperback: 312 pages
- Publisher: Lyons Press; First edition (September 1, 2011)
- ISBN-13: 978-0762760947
Back-of-the-book blurb: In The Lexicon of Real American Food, renowned foodies Jane and Michael Stern record the lingo of American food as it is spoken — and enjoyed — across the nation. With their signature wit and exuberance, they define how America really eats. Fun to read and easy to browse, with spot illustrations and select recipes, this book will also become a valuable reference to document regional specialties and signature American fare.
She Is Too Fond of Books’ review: Fun! I met Jane and Michael Stern at the Author Cocktail Reception at the NEIBA Fall Conference. This was a time to mix and mingle with booksellers and publisher’s reps, catching up with people I’d met previously, and meeting a whole lot of new people. Some of these new people were authors who took a bit of time to introduce themselves and their books, then sign and share the books.
My eye was drawn to the cover of The Lexicon of Real American Food – it looked like a typical diner set up. I liked that it hadn’t been styled to have full bottles of ketchup and syrup, with bottles all neatly aligned and labels facing outward. I half expected a smear of something sticky on the Formica checkerboard tabletop, to heighten the authentic look.
In talking to Jane and Michael I learned that this is not their first foodie book. Yes, in addition to The Lexicon of Real American Food, they’ve written over a dozen books about food (including the Roadfood books), maintain a Roadfood website, appear weekly on NPR’s The Splendid Table, and have won a number of awards from the James Beard Foundation. Sometimes my naiveté and the long list of things I don’t know surprises even me!
But, here’s the cool part – Jane and Michael Stern are so down to earth and approachable that they didn’t care that I didn’t know who they were. They were happy to talk about this book and other myriad subjects – it was pleasant cocktail party conversation, not “I want you to like my book” hard sell. What did we talk about? Well, in the foodie corner, we had Fluffernutters (the sandwich made of peanut butter and marshmallow Fluff, at one time a contender for the official state sandwich of Massachusetts), and under miscellany, you can file our conversation about college mascots (Yale has the bulldog, Princeton has the tiger, Harvard has the …?? The Harvard Crimson, there is no mascot! Why not? Discuss …). I want to invite Jane and Michael to my next party!
What is The Lexicon of Real American Food? It’s a dictionary of regional specialities and local favorites, an illustrated encyclopedia of all things related to the uniquely American eating experience – from a history of supermarkets and grocery carts to the evolution of the potato chip. Of kettle chips, the Sterns say, they:
… cost more than ordinary ones … made by hand rather than by the ton on conveyor belts. The best of them … are made in small batches, and the best of the best – the unbearably addictive ones – are still fried in lard and are still salty as hell.
The Lexicon also offers a “Who’s Who” of American food icons, and includes dozens of recipes. If you’re craving barbecue spaghetti, Grape-Nuts ice cream, or sauerkraut balls, you’ll find the recipes here. Did you know there are at least a dozen distinct styles of pizza served in the US? Thick crust vs. thin crust is only the tip of the iceberg in this debate which rages from West Virginia to California.
The tone is light and fun, but full of facts and explanations; words and phrases used elsewhere in the book appear in a bolded font. You can see where this is going … when reading the entry for Hushpuppies, I followed the bolded word Barbecue, which led me to the page-length bio of Arthur Brant. Yes, you can dip into The Lexicon of Real American Food for a quick peek, but it’s more fun to sit down (with a salty snack, perhaps), and wander the pages at leisure.
Truly a delight of a book for reading, browsing, and reference.
To see what’s happening in other kitchens of the blogosphere, check out the great links at Beth Fish Reads’ Weekend Cooking. She rounds up posts related to all things foodie: cookbook reviews, recipes, food-themed novels or movies, etc.