Full disclosure, I have never read a Mark Twain book. My knowledge of the famous writer begins with the fact that he wrote Tom Sawyer and ends with, ‘I’m pretty sure he was American.’ However, I love getting to know someone based off of their eating habits and based on the evidence put forth by ‘Twain’s Feast‘ (an Audible, audiobook original) I can say pretty confidently Mark Twain was probably a foodie and a pretty pretentious one at that.
‘Twain’s Feast‘ is basically a dinner party, constructed around a list Mark Twain made of food he missed from home while he was traveling. They couldn’t do the whole list for a number of reasons. The first being that it is a massive list. The second being that, some of it just isn’t available anymore. They address these issues in the audiobook, deep diving into the difference between the world we live in and the world Twain lived in. Their explanations for the differences shows the type of man he was. Mark Twain was an adventurous man with an appetite for life. He took advantage of what was great and available, then enjoyed it to the best of his ability. Not everyone would be willing to try possum or terrapin (turtle). Mark Twain however, relished it so much he listed it for when he got home.
Good food is often regionally subjective. ‘Wine is great but the best wine is made in France’ is the sentiment here. Most of the things on Mark’s list weren’t just specific to the United State of America or a region in the good ole US of A, but to a specific location.
‘Brook trout, from Sierra Nevadas.
Lake trout, from Tahoe.
Sheep-head and croakers, from New Orleans.’
Mark Twain’s love for The United States of America is shown in his request for food from all over his country. It is obvious that there is a love for Southern cooking, but it isn’t limited to one area. For the most part there aren’t even that many specific dishes, simply good ingredients which he missed; ‘American butter. Pumpkin. Squash. Asparagus.’ It wasn’t just cooking from home that he missed but produce of the land he came from. On the other hand, he may have carried a joke too far, ending the list with, ‘Ice-water—not prepared in the ineffectual goblet, but in the sincere and capable refrigerator.’ I get that water drinkers know that not all water tastes the same but, cold water is cold water. Why does the refrigerator need to be sincere or capable?
After reading the list I’m sure I would have enjoyed Mark’s welcome back dinner. It’s pretty basic but, oysters, porter-house steak, ‘early rose potatoes, roasted in the ashes, Southern style, served hot’, fried chicken, apple pie alone and I would be in a food coma. Plus, the man appreciated a good corn dish. ‘Green corn, cut from the ear and served with butter and pepper. Green corn, on the ear.’ Now it’s a party. From what I’ve heard, Twain seemed like a funny guy to hang around, like an old (possibly racist) uncle that it’s fun to go fishing with every once in a while. It would have been a riot to try and get him drunk over an obnoxiously long dinner then make him tell us a story.
Feel free to read Mark Twain’s full list at ListsOfNote.com taken from, ‘A Tramp Abroad‘. ‘Twain’s Feast‘ is also a great listen if you love Mark or if you are looking for good dinner party ideas or stories.