In a globalized world that allows us access to foods from any country, it is sometimes easy to forget the treasures of our own edible landscape. America has long been home to heritage plants, fruits, and animals that are both historically significant and delicious. It is this sense of place and taste that Rowan Jacobsen sets out to capture in his newest book, American Terroir: Savoring the Flavors of Our Woods, Waters, and Fields.
The book is broken down by foodstuff, each chapter exploring a tasty treat and the region that produces it. While the foods are located in North America, Jacobsen extends his exploration to the potatoes of Price Edward Island, and as far south as avocado farms in Mexico. Concluding each chapter is a recipe or two to best utilize the regional specialty, as well as resources for collecting the best specimens.
One of my favorite chapters explores hard cider production in Vermont, Jacobsen's home state. He charmingly describes collecting crab apples, which flood the fields and roads during the fall, with his son and bringing them to a friend who expertly distills the beverage. This home-made drink is a different creature entirely from the clouded, jugged stuff I buy at the supermarket. Rather, this clear liquid is processed from blends of up to twenty different heirloom apple varieties. Its tannin-y, aromatic flavor seems well worthy of Jacobsen's rhapsodizing.
In Quebec, Jacobsen explores "forest gastronomy" with a chef duo who specialize in collecting treats from their local woods. In foraging, they sample dozens of easy-to-miss but delicious weeds and flowers, such as spearmint, purslane, wood sorrel, and chickweed. Not to mention many mushrooms—the trained eye of Jacobsen's guide, Francois, distinguished the non-poisonous fungi. This was perhaps the most enchanting and tempting chapter to me, a city dweller. There is no better representation of terroir than pulling dinner's ingredients directly from the forest undergrowth.
Jacobsen is a seasoned food writer. He balances the history and regional significance of each of these ingredients with his own experiences in consuming them. One gets a real sense of rediscovering one's home turf, and seeing North America's edible offerings through new eyes. It's easy to forget that we live in an expansive country full of different climates and food histories. Books like American Terroir can redirect our attention back home, and underline the importance of place in food production.
About the Author: A student in Providence, Rhode Island, Leah Douglas loves consuming and learning about as much food as possible. She blogs at Feasting on Providence.
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