Monday, November 29, 2010

Happy Birthday Mark Twain! November 30, 1835

Mark Twain's birthplace in Florida, Missouri

We are celebrating the birth of Mark Twain on November 30th.  Twain was born in a log cabin in Florida, Missouri in 1835.  This cabin is now a historic shrine and a museum that also houses some of Twain's first editions.  And there is Mark Twain lake that runs through the bluff near Florida, Missouri.  I couldn't find Florida, Missouri on a current map, but it appears to be located near Hannibal, Missouri.  The small map below indicates the spot where Florida, Missouri is located.
One would probably think Mark Twain is my favorite author because I mention him often and refer to his quotes in my own writings.  Well, I can't say he is my favorite author, but I will admit, he is the most interesting of authors to me.  So much has been written about Mr. Twain that I find him to be one of the most self-taught and street-wise (or river wise) personalities of all time.  He was a man who had nothing, yet had everything, and was satisfied in his own skin.  And he loved the Mississippi-he said, "The Mississippi River will always have its own way; no engineering skill can persuade it to do otherwise." 

Mark Twain's love of food has become particularly interesting to a wide range of authors and cooks.  There have been some recent writings describing Twain's tastes and how he preferred his foods to be prepared.    Andrew Beahrs is one such author who has written a very descriptive book called "Twain's Feast".  Mr. Beahrs writes that when Twain was abroad he missed American food terribly.  He learned that Twain found European food to be "monotonous" and "tasteless".  Mark Twain's desired breakfast consisted of  "a mighty porterhouse steak an inch and a half thick, hot and sputtering from the griddle; dusted with fragrant pepper, and enriched with melting bits of butter."  Along with the steak, Twain desired a great cup of American home-made coffee with frothy cream on top, smoking hot biscuits, and hot buckwheat cakes with transparent syrup.  A heart attack on a plate (or two), no doubt!

And as I read on, I learn what some of Mark Twain's other favorite meals were. 

The Greater Prairie Chicken

Twain's uncle John Quarle's prairie farm was just about 4 miles from Florida, Missouri on 500 acres.  He would spend several months a year on this farm and always remembered, and, in later years, longed for the foods that he claimed could never be properly cooked outside the South.  And one of these foods was the "prairie chicken" that lived within the prairie tallgrass on his uncle's farm.  He wrote:

"I can call back the prairie, and its loneliness and peace,
 and a vast hawk hanging motionless in the sky,
 with his wings spread wide and the blue of the vault
showing through the fringe of their end feathers..."

I did a bit more digging and came up with a recipe for Prairie Chicken from Estelle Woods Wilcox "Buckeye Cookery and Practical Housekeeping, 1877".  It went like this:
You can find more of these scrumptuous recipes in the cookbook itself by seeing it on line-just type in Feeding America.  I have placed a picture of this book on my sidebar.

"I know the look of an apple that is roasting and sizzling on a hearth on a winter's evening, and I know the comfort that comes of eating it hot, along with some sugar and a drench of cream.
~Twain

In Andrew Beahrs' book, he posts 80 American foods that Mark Twain lists as his favorites.  Here are just a few:

Radishes.  Baked apples, with cream.
 Cherry-stone clams.
Early rose potatoes, roasted in the ashes, Southern style, served hot.
'Possum. Coon.
Hot corn-pone, with chitlings,  Southern style.
Lake Trout, from Tahoe.
Apple puffs, Southern style.  All sorts of American pastry.
Fresh American fruits of all kinds.
And "ice water"-NOT prepared in the ineffectual goblet, but in the sincere and capable refrigerator."

Well, now we have an idea of what Mark Twain might enjoy for his Birthday dinner.  I do imagine that if he's reading this right now, he is chomping at the bits and salivating at the very thought of Prairie Chicken with sweet Irish potatoes, peaches and apples, biscuits, "corn on the ear", coffee and sugar and whiskey.
"It makes me cry to think of them", he wrote.  

Once again, I was inspired by my mother to write this story.  No-she didn't push me into it...she just put a bee in my bonnet.  In September she sent me an article from the Kansas City Star newspaper written by Julia Keller of the Chicago Tribune.  The article is entitled "In Search of the Founding Flavors" and it focuses on the book written by Andrew Beahrs, "Twain's Feast".  Sooo, I bought the book, and it has been very good reading.  I didn't say that right, did I?  It's really very good.  I learned how to raise oysters, AND, how to skin a possum!  You can purchase this book at Amazon.com.

***
I hope you all had a very good Thanksgiving-we over-ate and now it's time to suffer.  This time, though, I only tried two of the desserts instead of all six.  My sister-in-law made a grape salad with white and red grapes, cream cheese and walnuts.  I told myself that it wasn't a dessert, which did allow me to have two others, and I loved it!  Everything was good and we were sent home with some good leftovers!  And our Grandson Shawn spent a couple of days with us, and called me Ammaw and he called Karo Awpaw!  Works for us! 

***
And now I will bid you, my readers, adieu.  Don't forget to vote on my survey about Columbus' ship, The Nina.  The survey closes December 11, 2010.  

 Food for thought, eh?

"Part of the secret of success in life is to eat what you like and let the food fight it out inside."

my friend~Mark Twain
November 30, 1835 ~ April 21, 1910

See you next month!




4 comments:

  1. yeah!! and a Happy Birthday to Mark Twain!!
    he has some of the best quotes!!

    that prairie chicken...is the weirdest looking chicken i've ever seen...looks like he has bunny ears...and those yellow sacks on the side of his face??!! hmmmm...

    your sister's grape salad sounds YUMMY!!
    i'm kinda glad turkey day is behind us...so much preparation...and in 30 minutes it's over! ha! everyone laid back...holding tummy..."oooh, man! i'm stuffed!!"

    i've never tried possum...or coon...and although i HAVE had squirrel...snake...eel...(for real!)...i don't think i'd want either of those...

    take care & glad you had a happy T-day susan!

    laura :]

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  2. I had no idea what a Prairie chicken looked like...I pictured it as looking like a quail or something small. You're right, it's one strange looking creature. I use to live about 40 miles west of Fort Worth, out in the country-rented from some pecan farmers. And they would hunt possum and coon-sell the pelts and then give the animals to friends to eat. Never ate any of it myself either, but had squirrel some-even made squirrel dumplings one time. It was good, but I just can't do that anymore (old softie!). I'm with you, glad T day is over with...all that's left is the grazing. Thanks for visiting Laura. Talk to you soon.

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  3. Who doesn't love Mark Twain?! Fascinating post, Susan. I think I'll pass on the possum and coon, though.

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  4. You're right-no possum. I hear it's real greasy. They don't even look good alive! I was surprised to learn that so many people have written about Mark Twain. I've enjoyed him since I was a kid. Thank you for visiting and leaving a great comment. I love your work!

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