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Twain's Feast: America's Vanished Foods

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Whether because of overfishing, housing developments sprawling through farmland, or simply the closing of a beloved local restaurant, we've all had the experience of seeing a favorite food disappear. We've all felt the pang of realizing that what was lost wasn't just of a flavor, but also of something unique in a land too often filled with interchangeable franchises and "extreme" food like the KFC Double Down. When a food disappears, we don't just lose a flavor; we lose a rounded experience, one that helps to make a place unique, worth protecting and worth caring about.

Mark Twain understood both food and loss. While traveling across Europe in 1879, he wrote a fantasy menu of all his favorite American dishes--some eighty in all--many of which have now vanished from the country's tables. In Twain's Feast: Searching for America's Lost Foods in the Footsteps of Samuel Clemens, I tracked down a number of these American classics, discovering what Twain's experience of them was, what's become of them today, and what's being done to bring them back.

Along the way, I came to understand that celebrating and protecting America's wonderful culinary heritage begins with remembering the things that people like Twain once took for granted, and are now gone. It continues with appreciating and preserving the things we still have, and working to restore some of those that might seem to have been lost forever.

In today's post, I'll list foods that Twain loved that have since vanished--either though extinction, then at least from our tables due to habitat loss, over-hunting, or simply cultural change. Tomorrow, I'll list more that we still have. And on the third day, we'll look at foods worth restoring, whether in America's wild lands and waters or in the comfort of our own kitchens.

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