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Gillman
05-23-2007, 14:17
In a recent anthology of American food writing edited by Molly O'Neil (well-known food author and memoirist) there is an excellent article by Nelson Algren. He was from Chicago and chronicled, in the hard boiled style of the time, the lives of people from all walks in his native city in novels and non-fiction which were very popular in the 1940's and 50's. In the late 30's as a tyro writer, Algren participated in what is today a half-forgotten exercise, a New Deal program to employ writers and artists to document social and cultural features of the American regions. He travelled to Indiana to do this and his essay while short is one of the best in the book.

He mentions in detail box socials and observed that the content of the boxes was secondary to the social purpose; the cakewalk (now I know where the expression comes from); and the practice of families getting together (cousins and such) once in a while in town squares and having meals and playing music. It really sounds like a different but charming time, are some of these practices still done in the State or adjoining ones, I wonder? He mentions that at the family reunions, some of the men would retire to a quiet spot and out would come the corn moonshine. Some of the foods sound very good and already the Germanic influence on U.S. regional fare was well-established.

This is an excellent book with many interesting facets of the history of food in America. A good piece on New England dishes mentions the renowned Newbury-port rum, which would have stretched back directly or otherwise to America's earliest drinking customs, even predating whiskey.

I've never seen a dusty of New England rum though, there must have been a straight rum appreciation club in the 1950's and they must have snapped it all up...

Gary

cowdery
05-23-2007, 17:10
Large family reunions, sometimes with 100 or more attendees, all wearing commemorative t-shirts made for the occassion, are common among African-American families here and in other parts of the country. I'm sure a summer doesn't go by but that I see one in one of the parks here. I know that's not unique to Chicago but I don't know how widespread it is. I know it's not strictly limited to African-Americans either but it seems to be more common in that community. I often see people wearing the t-shirts subsequently.

I love Algren and recommend his Chicago, City on the Make.