I recently re-readÂ Adventures of Huckleberry FinnÂ by Mark Twain.1Â I had read it once as a kid and didnâ€™t appreciate it then.Â Reading it now, I found it extremely entertaining and culturally revealing, however, my original purpose inÂ re-reading this piece of literature was to learn of some of the foods that common people ate at the timeâ€“theÂ mid 1800â€²s.
Of course, to gather such information from a work of fiction,Â one must assume that the authorÂ depicted the types of foods eaten with reasonable accuracy.Â I think that such an assumption is warranted here.Â Â The book is not primarily about food and was written prior to the existence of the big-food andÂ big-agriculture corporations thatÂ laterÂ asserted greatÂ influenceÂ onÂ popular understanding of food and nutrition.
The story, first published in 1885,Â is primarily about a young boy named Huckleberry Finn (Huck), who narrates the story,Â and a runaway slave named Jim.Â The pairÂ take a trip down the Mississippi River on a raft, fleeing civilization.Â The story unfolds as they form a bond and have adventures along the way.Â Such adventures later in the story alsoÂ involve Huckâ€™s old friend Tom Sawyer.Â Throughout the story, the author details numerous aspects of the charactersâ€™Â lives through the words of Huck, including about their food.
The foods that Huck describesÂ sound truly delicious and nourishing.Â Thoughout the book, Huck makes references toÂ catching fish, especially catfish, and eatingÂ them at all meals, including for breakfast.
He tells of an occasion on which he was exploring in some wilderness and â€œfound plentyÂ strawberries, ripe and prime; and green summer-grapes, and green razberries2; and the green blackberries was just beginning to show.Â They would all come handy by-and-by, I judged.â€ (p. 38)
On another occasion, Huck explains that he â€œfetched meal and bacon and coffee, and coffee-pot and frying-pan, and sugar and tin cups. â€¦ I catched a good big cat-fish, too, and Jim cleaned him out with his knife, and fried him.â€Â (p. 41)
On another occasion, Huck and Jim had taken shelter for the night in a cavern that they found in the wilderness.Â They had caught some fish and had made a fire to cook dinner.Â Â It had started to rain, but in the shelter they were dry.Â As the two sat enjoying each otherâ€™s company around the fire, Huck said, â€œJim, this is nice. â€¦ I wouldnâ€™t want to be nowhere else but here.Â Pass me along another hunk of fish and some hot corn-bread.â€Â (p.47)Â I wish I had been there too.
At one point, Huck found himself the guest in the home of some generous strangers.Â Impressed with the food, he explained that â€œ[c]old corn-pone3, cold corn-beef, butter and butter-milkâ€“that is what they had for me down there, and there ainâ€™t nothing better that ever Iâ€™ve come across yet.â€Â (p.92)
On a final occasion, while on the raft and hungry, Huck explained that â€œI hadnâ€™t had a bite to eat since yesterday; so Jim he got out some corn-dodgers4Â and buttermilk, and pork and cabbage, and greensâ€“there ainâ€™t nothing in the world so good, when itâ€™s cooked rightâ€“and whilst I eat my supper we talked and had a good time.â€Â (p. 107)
Of course, the story was not about food in any way, and the author didnâ€™t intend to provide an example ofÂ proper nutrition.Â Perhaps Mr. Twain was ignorant on the subject.Â Nevertheless, the story does provide such an example, or at least a partial one, by giving a glimpse into a world where nutritious foods abounded as part of a tradition that still lived.Â Huck and the other characters no doubt lacked appreciation for the traditions that they followed.Â But they followed them nonetheless because they knew nothing else, and because such is the nature of tradition.
In our modern world where tradition has disappeared andÂ corporateÂ food productsÂ have largely replaced nutritous traditional foods, it is pleasing to be reminded of, and to learn from,Â those prior times.
1Â Â Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, by Mark Twain, Barnes & Noble Books, 2003.
2Â Â As bad as my speling is, these misspellings are original in the work and fully intended by its author.
3Â Â According to theÂ footnote on page 37, corn-pone is â€œa meager home recipe of cornmeal, salt, and water, baked in an oven or cooked in a frying pan.â€
4Â Â According to theÂ footnote on page 107, corn-dodgers are â€œcornbread biscuits.â€
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