We strive to define our American cuisine. Chefs discuss what regional cuisine means, they argue over foreign influence, and they reach back to comfort foods to ensure that they are at root American.
Martha’s American Food (Clarkson Potter 2012) from Martha Stewart is part of that process of defining what is American. Rather than organizing recipes around seasons, celebrations, or countless other principles, this book is completely dedicate to geography. There are five sections – All-American, Northeast, South, Midwest, and so on (Hawaii and Alaska, no doubt, are all American) and then a few chapters on basic recipes, sources, etc.
The challenge in putting it together was to edit the vast numbers of recipe beloved by so many into a manageable compilation of what we consider the best example of a genre: chowders, pies, chilis, burgers, cobblers, casseroles, salads, and such. (page 8 )
One might wonder why our great diversity needs to be whittled down – but think of this cookbook as something to give a foreign friend who wants a token of American recipes – ones that update but still traditional, which come with beautiful photographs. It is a souvenir – as much as recipe book for a home cook.
The Northeast chapter is full of gems of American culture. The chapter starts with a sweeping overview of the region – from the Native American blueberries and cranberries, squash, corn, and potatoes, to the seafood of coastal New England, the Pennsylvania Dutch, and finally the immigrants who brought Italian food to the teaming port cities. The recipes start with cocktails- the Cape Codder, the Manhattan, and the Bloody Mary (p. 83). Pair the drinks with Grilled Proscuitto-Wrapped Scallops (p. 84) replacing more ordinary bacon with sophisticated proscuitto. Since clams are so important in New England cuisine, she includes both Stuffed Quahogs (p. 89) with chorizo and chopped clams, and New England Clam Chowder (p. 90), a very traditional version with salt pork and thyme. The cookbook celebrates sandwiches with Philadelphia Cheesesteak (p. 103) with white provelone (not cheese wiz or American cheese!), the Meatball Sub (p. 104) and the Roast Pork Italian (p. 104) that is topped in the photo with wilted greens and garlic. Boston Baked Beans (p. 106-7) gets a two-page spread, with added recipes for Boston Brown Bread, that moist, whole grain steamed bread, and Piccalilli or chow-chow (p. 107).
Desserts include Blueberry Crisp (p. 133) and New York Cheesecake (p. 234) – including instructions on baking it in a water bath and letting it cool in the oven so it doesn’t crack. There is also a gooey Shoofly Pie (p. 142) made from molasses – that cornerstone of Colonial trade.
Martha’s American Food is a trip through America – one taken by many writers including James Beard to Jamie Oliver, Charlie Palmer, Bobby Flay, Marcus Samuelsson, and Joan Nathan. Martha’s captures the top hits of each region. The recipes are easy to follow, even if you haven’t tried the dish.