Check out this New York Times feature on Renewing America's Food Traditions, a new book published by one of the best garden publishers we know of, Chelsea Green. The book is an encyclopedic but highly focused work on food that is in need of saving, and how it can be used to make traditional American foods. The New York Times says:
To make the list, an animal or plant - whether American eels, pre-Civil War peanuts or Seneca hominy flint corn - has to be more than simply edible. It must meet a set of criteria that define it as a part of American culture, too. Mr. Nabhan's book is part of a larger effort to bring foods back from the brink by engaging nursery owners, farmers, breeders and chefs to grow and use them.Not just a great idea, but a great resource for home gardeners, as well. The Times also has a great interactive map of some foods from the book and their relevant U.S. regions.
"This is not just about the genetics of the seeds and breeds," said Mr. Nabhan, an ethnobotanist and an expert on Native American foods who raises Navajo churro sheep and heritage crops in Arizona. "If we save a vegetable but we don't save the recipes and the farmers don’t benefit because no one eats it, then we haven’t done our work."
He organized his list into 13 culinary regions that he calls nations, borrowing from Native American and other groups. The Pacific Coast from California to northern Mexico is acorn nation. Its counterpart on the mid-Atlantic coast is crab cake nation. Moose nation covers most of Canada. New Yorkers, for the record, live in clambake nation.
His work is based on extensive trips around the country, where he listened to old-timers and cataloged hundreds of hard-to-find plants and animals, like the finicky Datil chili pepper (originally from Cuba), the Bronx grape and the long-stemmed Harrison cider apple from New Jersey.
"The daunting thing is that so much about American traditional foods comes out of people's heads and isn't in any book," he said. He had little trouble getting people to share their knowledge. "This to them is like a baseball fan talking about the Yankees. They just know all the details." [Link]