Mark Twain Makes a List of 60 American Comfort Foods He Missed While Traveling Abroad (1880)


Think­ing of tak­ing a trip abroad? Or maybe relo­cat­ing for good? Amer­i­cans would do well, even 150 years hence, to attend to Mark Twain’s satir­i­cal account of U.S. trav­el­ers jour­ney­ing through Europe and Pales­tine, The Inno­cents Abroad. The “Amer­i­cans who are paint­ed to pecu­liar advan­tage by Mr. Clements” (sic), as fel­low Amer­i­can satirist William Dean How­ells wrote at the time, still roam the Earth—-including trav­el­ers like one who “told the Eng­lish offi­cers that a cou­ple of our gun­boats could come and knock Gibral­tar into the Mediter­ranean Sea.” The tact­less­ness and bel­liger­ence Twain skew­ered do not feel his­tor­i­cal­ly so far from home.

Twain’s portraits—“somewhat car­i­ca­tured… or care­ful­ly and exact­ly done”—proved so pop­u­lar with read­ers that he fol­lowed up with an unof­fi­cial sequel, 1880’s A Tramp Abroad, a some­what more seri­ous fic­tion­al­ized trav­el­ogue of Amer­i­cans jour­ney­ing through Europe; this time but two, Twain and his friend “Har­ris.” In the pre­vi­ous book, com­plained How­ells, the read­er learns “next to noth­ing about the pop­u­la­tion of the cities and the char­ac­ter of the rocks in the dif­fer­ent local­i­ties.” Here, with­out his com­e­dy troupe of trav­el­ing com­pan­ions, Twain directs his focus out­ward with minute descrip­tions of his sur­round­ings. He is, as usu­al, supreme­ly curi­ous, often per­plexed, but most­ly delight­ed by his expe­ri­ences. Except when it comes to the food.

Grow­ing “increas­ing­ly tired of an abun­dance of what he described as ‘fair-to-mid­dling’ food,” writes Lists of Note, Twain com­ments: “The num­ber of dish­es is suf­fi­cient; but then it is such a monot­o­nous vari­ety of UNSTRIKING dish­es […] Three or four months of this weary same­ness will kill the robustest appetite.” Hav­ing nev­er spent so long a time away, I can­not speak to Twain’s gus­ta­to­ry ennui, but I can relate, as no doubt can you, read­er, to miss­ing one or two famil­iar com­fort foods (as well as “sin­cere and capa­ble” ice water). Twain, per­haps not as adven­tur­ous an eater as he was a traveler—and in that sense also very much a mod­ern American—made “an enor­mous list of the foods he’d missed the most, of which were to be con­sumed when he arrived home.”

The list, below, is itself a kind of trav­el­ogue, through the vari­eties of 19th cen­tu­ry Amer­i­can cui­sine, East, West, North, and South, includ­ing such del­i­ca­cies as “’Pos­sum” “Can­vas-back-duck from Bal­ti­more,” “Vir­ginia bacon, broiled,” “Prairie liens, from Illi­nois,” and “Brook trout, from Sier­ra Nevadas.” While we might pine for a region­al del­i­ca­cy or favorite processed food, Twain con­jured up in his mind’s gut a whole con­ti­nent of food to come home to. What kinds of food do you find your­self miss­ing when you trav­el? And how long a list might you find your­self mak­ing after sev­er­al months tramp­ing around in for­eign lands? Tell us in the com­ments sec­tion below. For now, here’s is Twain’s list:

Radish­es. Baked apples, with cream
Fried oys­ters; stewed oys­ters. Frogs.
Amer­i­can cof­fee, with real cream.
Amer­i­can but­ter.
Fried chick­en, South­ern style.
Porter-house steak.
Sarato­ga pota­toes.
Broiled chick­en, Amer­i­can style.
Hot bis­cuits, South­ern style.
Hot wheat-bread, South­ern style.
Hot buck­wheat cakes.
Amer­i­can toast. Clear maple syrup.
Vir­ginia bacon, broiled.
Blue points, on the half shell.
Cher­ry-stone clams.
San Fran­cis­co mus­sels, steamed.
Oys­ter soup. Clam Soup.
Philadel­phia Ter­apin soup.
Oys­ters roast­ed in shell-North­ern style.
Soft-shell crabs. Con­necti­cut shad.
Bal­ti­more perch.
Brook trout, from Sier­ra Nevadas.
Lake trout, from Tahoe.
Sheep-head and croak­ers, from New Orleans.
Black bass from the Mis­sis­sip­pi.
Amer­i­can roast beef.
Roast turkey, Thanks­giv­ing style.
Cran­ber­ry sauce. Cel­ery.
Roast wild turkey. Wood­cock.
Can­vas-back-duck, from Bal­ti­more.
Prairie liens, from Illi­nois.
Mis­souri par­tridges, broiled.
‘Pos­sum. Coon.
Boston bacon and beans.
Bacon and greens, South­ern style.
Hominy. Boiled onions. Turnips.
Pump­kin. Squash. Aspara­gus.
But­ter beans. Sweet pota­toes.
Let­tuce. Suc­co­tash. String beans.
Mashed pota­toes. Cat­sup.
Boiled pota­toes, in their skins.
New pota­toes, minus the skins.
Ear­ly rose pota­toes, roast­ed in the ash­es, South­ern style, served hot.
Sliced toma­toes, with sug­ar or vine­gar. Stewed toma­toes.
Green corn, cut from the ear and served with but­ter and pep­per.
Green corn, on the ear.
Hot corn-pone, with chitlings, South­ern style.
Hot hoe-cake, South­ern style.
Hot egg-bread, South­ern style.
Hot light-bread, South­ern style.
But­ter­milk. Iced sweet milk.
Apple dumplings, with real cream.
Apple pie. Apple frit­ters.
Apple puffs, South­ern style.
Peach cob­bler, South­ern style
Peach pie. Amer­i­can mince pie.
Pump­kin pie. Squash pie.
All sorts of Amer­i­can pas­try.
Fresh Amer­i­can fruits of all sorts, includ­ing straw­ber­ries which are not to be doled out as if they were jew­el­ry, but in a more lib­er­al way. 
Ice-water—not pre­pared in the inef­fec­tu­al gob­let, but in the sin­cere and capa­ble refrig­er­a­tor.

via Lists of Note

Relat­ed Con­tent:

Mark Twain Drafts the Ulti­mate Let­ter of Com­plaint (1905)

Mark Twain Cre­ates a List of His Favorite Books For Adults & Kids (1887)

Food­ie Alert: New York Pub­lic Library Presents an Archive of 17,000 Restau­rant Menus (1851–2008)

Josh Jones is a writer and musi­cian based in Durham, NC. Fol­low him at @jdmagness

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Comments (4)
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  • E says:

    It depends on where you go, but while abroad this Amer­i­can miss­es the chance to sam­ple good eth­nic cui­sine _other_ than the tra­di­tion­al dish­es of the coun­try I hap­pen to be vis­it­ing (some­times you just real­ly crave sun­dubu in Nairo­bi, or lamb tagine in Mani­la*). I know we’re sup­posed to call our­selves back­wa­ter bump­kins who don’t speak for­eign lan­guages or know any­thing about the wider world, but it’s often strik­ing to me how homo­ge­neous oth­er coun­tries can be cui­sine-wise.

    That, and a lot of the world does­n’t have access to flamin’ hot chee­tos.

    *I am sure there is sun­dubu in Nairo­bi and lamb tagine in Mani­la, it’s just that all you need to do is close your eyes and start walk­ing in any ran­dom direc­tion to find it in New York City or L.A.

  • Sal Monella says:

    Cheese­burg­er Deluxe

  • Don ABRAMS says:

    In the fourth para­graph and again in the list itself, one finds “Prairie liens, from Illi­nois”.

    I sus­pect a typo took us from prairie hens (a tasty wild bird) to prairie liens (pre­sum­ably a real estate encum­brance in places in the Mid­west).

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