Mark Twain: America's 'First Foodie' Celebrated In 'Twain's Feast'

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Mark Twain loved food — and writing about it, too.

And not just any food, but American food, plain and simple, food that reflected the lands, waters and air from which it came, food that reminded him of his well-traveled, picaresque life as a young 19th-century man in a new and expansive country.

Throughout his works, the writer and wit rhapsodized about Mississippi black bass, Baltimore canvas-back duck and Philadelphia terrapin. But nowhere does he champion the foods of his — and America’s — past more than in “A Tramp Abroad,” where, depressed by the meals served to him at European hotels in the late 1870s, he listed dozens of dishes he wanted for his fantasy feast upon his return to Hartford. The list of more than 80 selections with a specific sense of place included fried chicken, Southern style; Boston bacon and beans; Missouri partridges, broiled; roast turkey, Thanksgiving style; Virginia bacon, broiled; American toast with clear maple syrup; Saratoga potatoes; hot buckwheat cakes.

Tyler Anderson

Tyler Anderson

If Twain wasn’t America’s first “foodie,” he was at least an early farm-to-table enthusiast, says Andrew Beahrs, author of “Twain’s Feast: Searching for America’s Lost Foods,” a book that takes eight regional dishes that Twain lovingly wrote about in his travels and then re-traces those footsteps to see if those items — and tastes — and are still with us today.

That was also the inspiration for Twain’s Feast, a fundraising gala for Hartford’s Mark Twain House & Museum at the Goodwin Hotel on Nov. 3. Restaurateur and James Beard Foundation-nominated chef Tyler Anderson (Simsbury’s Millwright; West Hartford’s The Cook and the Bear; Hartford’s Porrón & Piña) is creating a special menu for the event starring some of the foods that Twain loved best — including some in Beahrs’ book.