Isle of Books Presents Last Best Books: "True West" and "Anaconda's Melting Pot Cookbook"

True West

True West 

By Betsy Gaines Quammen

In her provocative examination of the misconceptions of the West, author Betsy Gaines Quammen takes on a tour of what she calls "the museum of Western myths, " a series of "broad and bogus beliefs" that have informed our sense of place out here in the occident. 

 Some of these myths were foundational, such as the idea that the West was "terra nullius," or "land free and yours for the taking" when it was, in fact, continuously occupied for thousands of years before Lewis and Clark paddled through. Or that the cowboy was a "morally upright, range-riding hero" when many of them were "generally young drifters, often short on cash and thirsty for whiskey." 

But perhaps the most dangerous of the myths of the West interrogated by Quammen is that ours is a land of never-ending abundance, especially where water is concerned. A hundred years or more ago, unethical boosters claimed that Eastern Montana was a great place to farm, and that "rain follows the plow." Now, a century and a half later, as Quammen points out, rivers are "squandred to grow alfalfa for China and to keep golf courses green in the desert." 

Quammen's thoughtful book serves as a valuable and necessary corrective, highly recommended for readers who are interested in how our ideas of the West have changed over the centuries and decades, and how some of those ideas might just do more harm than good. 

Anaconda Cookbook

Anaconda's Melting Pot Cookbook: A Celebration of Anaconda Montana's Heritage & Cuisine

by the Anaconda Community Foundation

We fully intended to write a full, proper review of this wonderful cookbook, informed as it is by the incredible profusion of cultures and peoples that settled in Anaconda or worked in the Anaconda corporation's mines. All of those different peoples brought their own foods to their new home, resulting in what the authors of the book call Anaconda's "rich culinary heritage." 

Indeed, we intended to do so before attempting to make one of the cookbook's many recipes - in this case, colcannon. Colcannon is Irish mashed potatoes, blended with kale, green onions, scallions, or greens of your choice. But the best part is the "lakes" of melted butter in every bowl. 

Now colcannon has more or less taken over our household, and though we'd love to have the time to write a composed, thoughtful review of this remarkable book, instead we're spending all our hours (literally) whipping up batches of colcannon for our friends, our children, and let's just be honest, for ourselves. We can't get enough of the stuff. 

So instead of that review, we'll just skip to the good stuff and advise you to go pick up a copy of the cookbook. You'll be charmed by the lovely black and white photographs, fascinated by the tidbits of history, and positively mesmerized by the colcannon. 

Well, we'd better get going - we've got a batch of colcannon just starting, and the potatoes are almost fork tender. So we'll just close with a few lines from a 19th-century ballad quoted in the book: 

"God be with the happy times, when trouble we had not,
And our mothers made colcannon in the little skillet pot."

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