Iowa Alumni Magazine | October 2008 | Reviews

Bon Appétit

By IAM Staff
A UI class project serves up a satisfying slice of American culinary history.

An unusual new book from the University of Iowa has a lot in common with green Jell-O salad.

Food in America Cookbook, a spin-off from a fall 2007 UI honors seminar called "Food in American Culture," may not look particularly appetizing on the outside, but it's crammed full of tasty surprises—much like the strange lime-colored concoction still found on many American dining tables at Thanksgiving and other special occasions.

In one of the fascinating and often humorous essays sandwiched between recipes, seminar participant Margaret Poe, 08BA, outlines the history of green Jell-O salad. Tracing its roots back to the creation of fruit-flavored gelatin in 1897, she reflects on its enduring popularity as an iconic dish at her own family's celebrations: "The brown glass serving bowl obscures its green hue and camouflages the carrot shavings, their waving tentacles trapped in the suspension. Red nubs of pimento peek out from the olives."

According to research provided by UI students for the Food in America Cookbook, the classic combo of grilled cheese sandwich and tomato soup dates back to World War II, when Navy cooks discovered it was the ideal way to serve sailors a meal that was both economical and nutritious.

Students in the seminar [featured in "Food for Thought," IAM, February 2008, p. 16] helped American Studies professor Lauren Rabinovitz compile the cookbook using family recipes, the UI's acclaimed Chef Louis Szathmary Culinary Arts Collection, and their own class projects.
The result is entertaining and addictive—for foodies and history buffs alike. Whether you sample the fun food facts (example: peanuts are evidently an ingredient of dynamite), dig into a meatier essay revealing the hard truth about Johnny Appleseed (hint: his famous apples were actually for imbibing, not munching), or whip up some Cuban Black Bean Patties with Pineapple Rice, this book will leave you feeling satisfied.