About the food of the United States of America

Big Trees Trail - Sequoia National Park. Photo by Ed by Ned - 2 Trees.

Big Trees Trail – Sequoia National Park. Photo by Ed by Ned – 2 Trees.

Ah, the United States of America. After three and a half years of cooking the world, we finally reach my homeland. Our country is known as the land of opportunity, a melting pot, and a dream that stretches “from sea to shining sea.”

Sunset on w:Cape Cod Bay in w:Brewster, Massachusetts. Photo by PapaDunes.

Sunset on w:Cape Cod Bay in w:Brewster, Massachusetts. Photo by PapaDunes.

Whether or not you agree with these sentiments, one thing is for certain: it’s easy to eat in the USA. There’s food on virtually every corner. Ever since the first Thanksgiving, when native Americans shared their bounty, our people have celebrated abundance. Thus, when talking about American food, Thanksgiving is a fair place to start: that one holiday which is quintessentially American and that celebrates all the goodness we have and are grateful for.

New York City at night. Photo by Paulo Barcellos Jr.

New York City at night. Photo by Paulo Barcellos Jr.

A traditional spread offers a giant roasted turkey, stuffing, sweet potatoes, green beans, mashed potatoes, and other autumnal fare. A crimson scoop of cranberry sauce [recipe] is served on the side. Soft dinner rolls round out the meal.

Once everyone is as full as can be, dessert is pulled out: usually a pumpkin or pecan pie, though the most American pie of all is apple [Recipe].

That’s where the expression ‘As American as apple pie’ comes from.

Apple orchard near West Parker Heights, Washington. Photo by the Agricultural Research Service.

Apple orchard near West Parker Heights, Washington. Photo by the Agricultural Research Service.

Of course, not all meals can be Thanksgiving. In the heart of winter, roasts and soups reign supreme. Chili, corn chowder, and tomato soup are some favorites, especially when served with oyster crackers. In the spring, salads come into play, such as cobb salads (with egg, bacon, and avocado), caesar salads, and plain-Jane garden salads. In the summer, it’s barbecue time. Depending on what part of the USA you’re in, you’ll find vastly different preparations… but popular favorites include hamburgers, hotdogs, grilled steaks and salmon fillets. Then there’s the more elaborate dry-rubbed ribs which might cook all morning to result in super tender meat [Recipe].

Glacier in Alaska. Photo by Peter Mulligan.

Glacier in Alaska. Photo by Peter Mulligan.

Typical American breads include bagels (with cream cheese, please!) and regular sandwich bread. Then there’s breakfast, like French toast, pancakes, and english muffins.

Typical desserts were featured in last week’s poll, where you helped me choose what dessert to try. I’m curious, which dessert would you vote on as the most American?




  1. Rick Scott says

    Welcome back to America, Sasha. Many thanks for the gourmet world tour. It’s been great.

    • aunty eileen says

      love this Rick, “Welcome back to America”. Made me giggle and smile. Sorry folks, I think only the first linc I posted below works. If you go to the first linc, at the top of the page you will see lincs for 1920’s and 1950’s, etc. which will give an idea how a vast percentage of American’s (considered middle-class) lived during those eras. Of course there were/is also what is considered poor-class and upper-class and how they did/do live. ‘Class’ is referring to $$$ wealth and income.

      • Rick Scott says

        If I gave you a laugh, it made my day too. Thanks for the post.

        And on upper class vs. lower class dining: I’ve long held that many gourmet dishes were created by poor folks figuring out how to use ingredients discarded by the wealthy as “useless.” Examples: Italians and Osso bucco Jewish dishes incorporating sour cream Menudo, a Mexican weekend treat

        • Sasha Martin says

          There seems to be dishes like this in every culture… chicken feet, pig snout, etc. So interesting!

          • Rick Scott says

            We’d all be delighted with another Table Adventures series, Shasha. Poor Folks Cuisine? If anybody could do it, you could. (But take a rest first. You’ve earned your vacation.)

        • aunty eileen says

          You are very welcome Scott… and Thank You. Interesting to think about how poor people or people on very limited income contributed greatly to the ‘art of cooking’ and great recipes…. 🙂

  2. Hi Sasha! Love this blog and the peaks into all the different worlds out there. Just a thought about our culture though, what about Native american dishes…

    • Sasha Martin says

      You’re so right Mary – what are you favorites? Fry bread is an example that comes to mind for me – yum!

  3. Brian S. says

    Until recently, I, like most New Yorkers, thought that cuisine in states without a seacoast was basically a choice between chain restaurants and chain supermarkets. If you wanted a regional specialty, you’d have to settle for casseroles made with canned Campbell’s soup, Jello salads, or Frito pies. Even after much time spent in Tulsa, I wrote a post about typical Oklahoma restaurants, and all of them used ingredients that could have come from anywhere. http://www.chowhound.com/topics/140283 But recently I discovered a whole new dimension to middle American cooking, and I am posting this account of a meal I had in order to share that revelation with you.

    One of my mom’s nurses lives on a farm about fifty miles east of Tulsa. You drive along back roads and byways to get there. “The street is named after her!” I cried when we drove out there last year. And indeed a signpost by the road bore her name. “It’s not named after me, it’s my husband’s grandfather”, she said. Her family has been in the area a long time. Just beyond her farm, the road wound past the old brown Mennonite church that serves the region. Most of the people there are Mennonite or Amish.

    Once a year, in early July, Liz, the nurse, drives about seventy miles to the small farm community of Porter, where she picks a bushel of a variety of peaches, called Red Haven, which grow only there. A delicious peach, redolent of the robust perfume of life. She makes those peaches into pies, with a light ethereal cream sauce and a crust as subtle as an epiphany. Lots of heavy existential metaphors there, but it’s easy to write like that when you taste her pie. We wait for those pies all year long.

    Yesterday she cooked dinner. Sort of a Fourth of July meal, a day early, and starring the pie. She got up at sunrise, put on rubber boots — that endless rain which has hit eastern Oklahoma has turned the land into marsh and mud — and trudged out to the farm. She dug up a lot of potatoes, picked some cucumbers. She got corn from a neighbor. A nearby farmer had just killed a cow, so she bought a few steaks. At our house, she peeled and boiled the potatoes and then seared the edges in a pan. She boiled the corn. The cucumber got sliced and served with a creamy yogurt-like dressing that a German grandmother had taught her to make. The steaks went on the grill. We ate and ate until we bust and then we ate the pie. It was a lovely meal, a family meal, a meal not unlike what a family would have had on a good day a hundred years ago and more. Everything on the table came from her farm, and the neighbors’ To a city boy, those rich explosive flavors were a revelation. “You could never get a meal like that in New York,” I told her. Yes, we have some of the finest cooking schools, and chefs, and restaurants in New York. But that food didn’t come from a fine cooking school or chef. It came from generations and generations of family meals, carefully cultivated and lovingly prepared. It came from an American farm.
    (I wrote this in 2004, but I think it is very appropriate here.)

    • Brian S. says

      And this, written around the same time, is appropriate too:

      Go to any rural area in the USA and you’ll find local recipes of surprising depth and sophistication. This is probably more true in the great arc of the South that sweeps down from Baltimore through the Carolinas, Miss, Louisiana and on into Texas. But it’s pretty true anywhare. I know a lady who lives in Inola, Oklahoma. Every year, come July, she drives to another town a hundred miles away just to buy a special variety of peaches from an orchard there. She bakes them into pies, covered with an ethereal cream sauce. Later in the year, she harvests tomatoes from her garden, spends all day simmering them into a delightful and piquant spaghetti sauce, and then puts the result into vacuum-sealed jars to last her through the winter. But all this is changing. I suspect her kids don’t know the recipes. Why spend all day baking a pie when you can grab a pizza at Domino’s?

      My interest in regional american cuisine was first piqued on the day long ago when I read a passage from the Rex Stout novel “Too many cooks” It was written in 1938!! Wolfe, perhaps the first fictional chowhound I ever had contact with, is proposing to give a lecture to a group of eminent French gastronomes on the glory of American cuisine:

      Wolfe begins: Mr. Servan has invited me to speak on—as he stated the subject: Contributions Americaines a la Haute Cuisine.

      “Bah!” Berin [a French food snob] snorted. “There are none.”

      Wolfe raised his brows. “None, sir?”

      “None. I am told there is good family cooking in America; I haven’t sampled it. I have heard of the New England boiled dinner and corn pone and clam chowder and milk gravy. This is for the multitude and certainly not to be scorned if good. But it is not for masters.” He snorted again. “Those things are to la haute cuisine what sentimental love songs are to Beethoven and Wagner.”

      “Indeed.” Wolfe wiggled a finger at him. “Have you eaten terrapin stewed with butter and chicken broth and sherry?”


      “Have you eaten a planked porterhouse steak, two inches thick, surrendering hot red juice under the knife, garnished with American parsley and slices of fresh limes, encompassed with mashed potatoes which melt on the tongue, and escorted by thick slices of fresh mushrooms faintly underdone?”


      ” Or the Creole Tripe of New Orleans? Or Missouri Boone County ham, baked with vinegar, molasses, Worcestershire, sweet cider and herbs? Or Chicken Marengo? Or chicken in curdled egg sauce, with raisins, onions, almonds, sherry and Mexican sausage? Or Tennessee Opossum? Or Lobster Newburgh? Or Philadelphia Snapper Soup?

      “I have eaten bouillabaisse at Marseilles — its cradle and its temple, in my youth, when I was easier to move, and it is mere belly-fodder, ballast for a stevedore, compared with its namesake at New Orleans!”

      • Sasha Martin says

        Thanks for these! So interesting. When I asked Amanda Hesser what she thought the biggest change was in American cooking over the last century+, she said the addition of chili peppers (and spices in general). Food for thought 😉

  4. aunty eileen says

    Sorry, to say I am old enough to remember lots of spices were not used (as Amanda stated to you). I am also old enough to remember that meat and vegetables and fruit tasted a lot better than they usually do today. I am still not a big spice lover. … except for salt and pepper when needed and when cooking some recipes I may use onion or bit of lemon and garnish with parsley and the only time I use garlic is a bit in my stuffed artichokes. Be careful (moderation) with ‘hots’ like chili peppers… esophagus.

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