The Food of a Younger Land: Introduction
Kellock called the project America Eats.
If I search my childhood memories, having been born in the late 1940s, I can recall some of the lingering vestiges of the America that is described in America Eats. It was an America without fast food. Even in restaurants and at roadside stands, the prevailing style was what might be called "home cooking." Home cooking was a mixed blessing, as it is in many homes, better than the industrialized fare along today's expressways but not as good as many of today's restaurants. The interstate highway system had not yet been built, and Americans traveled through farm country and down the main streets of towns on two-lane roads in dark-colored cars with standard transmissions, split windshields, and simple dashboards with radios that worked on occasion and clocks that never kept time.
Most people had refrigerators that older people referred to as Frigidaires, after the brand, the way some of us today still call photocopies Xeroxes. Some people still had iceboxes, but ice deliveries were becoming scarce. Frozen food was sold, but the tiny little freezers in the new modern refrigerators frosted up, did not maintain low temperatures, and, in any event, had little space. A freezer cold enough to keep food safely for long periods or to keep ice cream hard was rare. It was still best to go to the soda fountain for ice cream, and you always got a seltzer on the side.
America had few suburbs and a lot of farms and farming families, and most of the coastal towns had commercial fishing boats. Food was seasonal, and an early melon from Texas or a winter carrot from California was a noted event. I can still remember when my great-uncle Max shipped us a crate of individually wrapped grapefruits from Florida.
Food was far more regional than it is today. Being raised in New England and New York, I was struck by the differences in how people ate in other parts of the country—how breakfasts got bigger as you traveled west and hamburgers became increasingly adorned until by California they were virtually a salad sandwich. In New England you ate corn relish or cottage cheese, each served in little metal cups before the meal in the better restaurants, where popovers were often dispensed from a deep tin box, big enough to be an oven and strapped to the server's shoulders. You had to find a Jewish bakery to get a respectable rye bread. Crusty bread came from Italian bakeries. Italian food was served in tomato sauce, and though macaroni and spaghetti came in many shapes and sizes, no one called it "pasta" even though the dish before it was frequently called "antipasto." My parents liked Italian neighborhoods because there and nowhere else you could get an espresso, known as a demitasse.
As you left the Northeast you said good-bye to almost all traces of Jewish food, including bagels, until you reached California. I remember being struck by the fried food and the powdered sugar in the South. In Seattle we ate aplets and cotlets, the little apricot or apple sugar-dusted fruit bars of Washington state. In Albuquerque I thrilled to my ﬁrst taste of Mexican food and in Pismo Beach, California, I got to eat for the ﬁrst time wonderful crunchy sandwiches called tacos.