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Eric Eliason

This is the Plate


This is the Plate

The University of Utah Press, 2020

The first book-length treatment of Utah’s distinctive food heritage, this volume contains work by more than sixty subject-matter experts, including scholars, community members, event organizers, journalists, bloggers, photographers, and food producers. It features recipes and photographs of food and beverages. Utah’s food history is traced from precontact Native American times through the arrival of multinational Mormon pioneers, miners, farmers, and other immigrants to today’s moment of “foodie” creativity, craft beers, and “fast-casual” restaurant-chain development. Contributors also explore the historical and cultural background for scores of food-related tools, techniques, dishes, traditions, festivals, and distinctive ingredients from the state’s religious, regional, and ethnic communities as well as Utah-based companies. In a state much influenced by Latter-day Saint history and culture, iconic items like Jell-O salads, funeral potatoes, fry sauce, and the distinctive “Utah scone” have emerged as self-conscious signals of an ecumenical Utah identity. Scholarly but lively and accessible, this book will appeal to both the general reader and the academic folklorist.

Review by Christopher Blythe at Faculty Book Lunch

This Is the Plate is insightful and fun foodways scholarship supplemented with personal narrative, recipes, and photography. Contributors include a wide variety of folklorists and cultural studies scholars with ties to the state. There are 74 essays of varying lengths but most between 5 and 10 pages. They cover all the obligatory cuisine of Utah and the American West—pastrami burgers, fry sauce, Navajo tacos, green jello—along with imported foodways that have become increasingly popular in the region. There are essays on casseroles, hunting, the first KFC franchise, and postum. Extensive coverage of Latter-day Saint foodways still leaves room for essays on wineries and Pie and Beer Day.

It is exciting to see how many scholars associated with the department came together for this volume. In addition to six faculty members who authored essays, the volume includes recipe and photograph contributions from past and present faculty. Jacqueline S. Thursby takes on both the ebb and flow in popularity of Jell-O, as well as funeral potatoes and its place in Utah’s Relief Society culture. Eric Eliason offers various possibilities for how the unique Utah “scone” that is more sopapilla than traditional British scone got its name. Dennis Cutchins’ documents the mid-century creation of thick shakes that have spread across diners throughout the state. Jill Rudy examines Utahn’s love for Mexican-inspired salads and burritos and probes perennial questions on the relationship between Café Rio and Costa Vida. Frank Christianson’s essay explains the importation of Apple Beer from Germany via an enterprising returned missionary. Kristi Bell, the retired curator of the William A. Wilson Archives, also contributed a piece on Utah beekeeping.

University of Utah Press is an ideal press for Utah Studies but it’s also made a name for itself as one of few presses to specialize in folklore titles. The book is wonderfully put together with full-color photography and glossy pages. It’s a steal for less than $25 on Amazon. Foodies among us will be able to suggest missing essays. No Bombay House? Where is Cupbop and the burgeoning Korean food industry of Utah County? Is it typical for one county to have 5 Polynesian joints? Of course, these absences only hint at the possibility of a sequel.