Ever heard of schnecken? How about pawpaws? Me either. If the new book Taste of America (Phaidon, $29.95) does one thing, it will make you realize that you know a lot less about American food than you thought. (Answers: a raisin-studded cinnamon roll found in Cincinnati, and mango-like fruit native to the East Coast’s temperate forests.)
Written by Colman Andrews, the co-founder of Saveur and a former editor at Gourmet, this illustrated anthology includes 250 write-ups of foods that define eating in the U.S., broken down by category (baked goods, poultry, and condiments, to name a few). It’s a mix of specific products from specific brands (e.g. Butter Mints from Katharine Beecher) and more general entries, such as cherries and rainbow trout.
America is a country built from immigrants, so many of the items originate elsewhere and are spun to incorporate the U.S. Take corn tortillas: after describing their history, Andrews recommends a Dallas-based, family-owned company called Luna’s Tortillas, founded back in 1924. A few items are a bit of a stretch, however, like dulce de leche ice cream from Häagen-Dazs. Sure, the ice cream brand was founded in the Bronx, but it just didn’t feel as special. And the U.S. can take no credit for the sauce of caramelized sugar and condensed milk (that goes to South/Central America).
Throughout, the encyclopedic tome successfuly injects something unexpected into each concise description. Sure, Tabasco is ubiquitous, but I now know that the chile sauce was created by a banker-turned-Confederate Army clerk from Maryland. It’s these fun facts that make it entertaining and a welcome addition to any food lover’s coffee table.
Brooke Porter is an associate editor at Travel + Leisure. Follow her on Twitter at @brookeporter1.