Mark Kurlansky

Master of the single-ingredient history (Salt, Cod), Mark Kurlansky stumbled a decade ago on a stack of unpublished Federal Writers Project manuscripts. In the late 1930s, Katherine Kellock, head of the Works Progress Administration, assigned thousands of unemployed writers to chronicle regional foods and dining traditions around the United States, but the project was abandoned at the start of World War II. For his new anthology The Food of a Younger Land (Riverhead, $27.95), Kurlansky culled from the stack, annotating his favorite anecdotes, oral histories, and essays and supplementing them with recipes and other ephemera. For the faintly gastronomic-minded, the book will make for pleasant bathroom reading; for chefs and full-time food geeks, it’s a trove of American dishes to reverse-engineer, such as pit-barbecued buffalo and three-decker sandwiches. Given his Seattle audience, perhaps Kurlansky will read a report of the Longview smelt fry, in which two girls danced around a sizzling 10-foot skillet on bacon-rind skates, or an essay about Portland’s surfeit of “wine-Os” and moonshine makers (or, in modern parlance, “craft distillers”). Some pieces of America’s culinary legacy, after all, endure. JONATHAN KAUFFMAN

Mon., May 18, 7:30 p.m., 2009

 
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