A weird sherbet for Food Americana and Cook the Books

The June/July selection for Cook the Books is Food Americana by David Page.   I thoroughly enjoyed this book and it is a quick read.  It’s a great book for summer because you can pick it up, read a chapter or two and then come back to it.  Simona from briciole is hosting.  You can read the announcement post here .

About the book:

“Terrific food journalism. Page uncovers the untold backstories of American food. A great read.” —George Stephanopoulos, Good Morning America, This Week and ABC News’ Chief Anchor

2021 International Book Awards finalist in History: United States
Living Now Book Award, Silver – Cookbooks, Ethnic Holiday
#1 New Release in History Humor, Food & Cooking, and Media Tie-In Cooking

David Page changed the world of food television by creating, developing, and executive-producing the groundbreaking show Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives. Now from this two-time Emmy winner comes Food Americana, an entertaining mix of food culture, pop culture, nostalgia, and everything new on the American plate in a remarkable history of American food. What is American cuisine, what national menu do we share, what dishes have we chosen, how did they become “American,” and how are they likely to evolve from here? Page answers all these questions and more.

Engaging, insightful, and often humorous. The inside story of how Americans have formed a national cuisine from a world of flavors. Sushi, pizza, tacos, bagels, barbecue, dim sum―even fried chicken, burgers, ice cream, and many more―were born elsewhere and transformed into a unique American cuisine.

Food Americana is a riveting ride into everything we eat and why. From a lobster boat off the coast of Maine to the Memphis in May barbecue competition. From the century-old Russ & Daughters lox and bagels shop in lower Manhattan to the Buffalo Chicken Wing Festival. From a thousand-dollar Chinese meal in San Francisco to birria tacos from a food truck in South Philly.

About the author:

Before Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives, Page worked as a network news producer based in London, Frankfurt, and Budapest.  He travelled Europe, Africa, and the Middle East doing two things―covering some of the biggest stories in the world, and developing a passion for some of the world’s most incredible food.

Once back in the states, Page pursued his passion both personally and professionally. Show-producing Good Morning America, his substantial food coverage included cooking segments by Emeril Lagasse. Creating Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives and hands-on producing its first eleven seasons took him deep into the world of American food―its vast variations, its history, its evolution, and especially the dedicated cooks and chefs keeping it vibrant. His next series, the syndicated Beer Geeks, dove deep into the intersection of great beer and great food. It is those experiences—that education, the discovery of little-known stories and facts—that led Page to dig even deeper and tie the strands together in Food Americana.

What I thought and The Food:

I usually do a review and then list and discuss the food mentioned or featured in a book.   I can’t separate the two for Food Americana.   Let’s dive right in.

From the introduction, Page establishes the weirdness that is American cuisine by reminescing about something his grandmother made called Jewish Pasta—“It was pasta, boiled, then fried in a pan with onions and ketchup” (7).  This dish is a true example of American food.  It’s a mishmash.  It’s a “make due with what you have” cuisine.  It’s experimental.  It’s (mostly) delicious.    We’ve certainly created a melting pot of food in this nation:  “The history of American food is the story of embracing another country’s cuisine, then changing it” (7).  

As the author goes through our “Americanized” foods like pizza, BBQ, fried chicken, sushi, bagels, wings, burgers, seafood (lobster roll, caviar, po’ boys, etc.),  ice cream plus how we have totally changed our versions of Chinese and Mexican foods, he points out how each category of food differs greatly from the original version.  We’ve tried to create truly American dishes from other’s inspirations. 

I did find it interesting that Ruth Reichl is quoted in the next to the last chapter proclaiming lobster rolls as the most iconic of American foods:

‘Hamburgers, hot dogs, and pizza all came from somewhere else,’ she says. ‘The lobster roll didn’t come from anywhere else. It is America on a bun.’ (173)

I started reading this book by highlighting all the restaurants, the names of the big players, all the food and I ended up with twenty pages of notes.   I highly recommend this book if you’re a foodie, if you’re interested in history, or if you just eat.   

Since there’s so much inventive cuisine in this book, I did decide to highlight some of the most inventive and delicious sounding (or just weird combos, too) of the food featured.   Plus, I’ve thrown in my “aha” moments and what I learned.  


  • cured anchovy and tomato sauce pizza with hot pepper
  • goat cheese, mozzarella, herbs, and prosciutto
  • wild mushrooms and green garlic
  • salmon pizza with crème fraiche
  • barbecued chicken pizza
  • “There are only two kinds of ‘authentic’ Neapolitan pizza— marinara, topped simply with tomatoes and mozzarella made from cow’s milk, and Margherita, with tomatoes, mozzarella, and fresh basil” (16).
  • From Pizzeria Bianco–”There’s the Margherita, with tomato sauce, fresh mozzarella and basil; Marinara, with tomato sauce, oregano, and garlic, but no cheese; the Sonny Boy, with tomato sauce, mozzarella, salami, and olives; the Rosa, with red onion, Parmigiano- Reggiano, rosemary, and pistachios; the Biancoverde, with mozzarella, Parmigiano- Reggiano, ricotta, and arugula; and the Wiseguy, with wood- roasted onion, smoked mozzarella, and fennel sausage”(17).
  • Old Forge pizza:  It’s a pan pizza baked with a combination of cheeses that often includes processed American. The crust, which looks imposing, is surprisingly light. There are two choices— red, with tomato sauce on top of the cheese; and white, which sandwiches the cheese between two layers of dough” (19).
  • “St. Louis pizza, thin and crisp and topped with provel cheese, a processed combination of Swiss, provolone, cheddar and liquid smoke; New Haven style, baked in a coal oven, crunchy, chewy, and often topped with clams; Ohio Valley style, with all toppings added after baking; A trio from Chicago— deep dish, stuffed, and thin crust; Quad Cities style, with a sweet crust topped with fennel sausage and a spicy sauce. And there’s grilled pizza in Rhode Island, grandma pizza, Philadelphia tomato pie, not to be confused with Trenton tomato pie, New York style, Brooklyn style, Midwest style, New England Greek style, and Buffalo style, with cup- and- char pepperoni that crisps and curls up around a puddle of grease as it cooks. And one that in the last few years has rocketed to national popularity after six decades of anonymity: Detroit- style. It’s a rectangular pan pizza, perhaps most notable for a rim of caramelized cheese all around the edges” (20).

Mexican Food: 

The history of Taco Bell was truly new to me.  I also had never heard of a California burrito but I want to find one soon.  (A California Burrito is filled with carne asada and French fries, btw.)


I think there’s been enough mentioned about the history and origins and differences in American BBQ recently but suffice it to say that the different regional types of barbeque are covered along with the classic restaurants.

Fried Chicken: 

I had no idea about the Popeye’s/Chick-fil-A wars.   Where was I?  (This might have been during the time period I had quit watching the news.)


I originally was drawn to this book (even before it was a CTB pick) because one of the sushi places mentioned in the book is in a gas station in Oklahoma City where everything is deep-fried.   !!!!!   How can that go wrong?


Loved the history lesson and what makes a bagel truly authentic.


This section covers most all bar food:  the aforementioned wings, plus mozzarella sticks, jalapeno poppers, onion rings, “Bloomin’ onions,” tater tots, potato skins, taquitos, battered mushrooms, fried pickles, nachos and even calamari.  


Included is White Castle’s history and the claim that this company was responsible for this meal becoming an American icon (133).

Chinese food:

“There are more Chinese restaurants in America than all the McDonald’s, Burger Kings, Wendy’s, and KFCs combined, at last count, more than fifty thousand” (153).  This food may be the most evolved from chop suey to Panda Express to Eight Tables.    It’s a far cry from a greasy bowl of General Tso’s chicken from the local drive thru to the $1000 a place Eight Tables.  


The author starts at the source, talking with farmers and fishermen.  Then, he describes the great lobster roll debate with the New England or Maine style vs. the Connecticut-style roll.   (I’m on the side with the mayo.)  I found it ironic that the best lobster roll restaurant is claimed by Freshie’s Lobster Co. of Park City, Utah (175).  

Ice Cream:

Maybe it was because the ice cream chapter was the last, but I really enjoyed learning about the history.   Apparently the ice cream cone “became a sensation at the World’s Fair of 1904 and kicked off a boom in ice cream consumption nationwide” (196).  Prohibition helped the great frozen treat cause with ice cream parlors replacing many bars and breweries pivoting to ice cream production (196) .

Maybe the most surprising history and testimony to ice cream’s restorative powers, came during WWII:  “It was considered so important for America’s troops to get ice cream during World War Two that an ice cream manufacturing plant was set up on a barge in the South Pacific. Military doctors prescribed ice cream to help soldiers recover from combat fatigue” (196).

I love the inventiveness of some of my local ice cream shops with flavors such as blackberry-sage and goat cheese and honey.   But these local places have nothing on Tyler Malek, the head ice cream maker at Salt & Straw ice cream, in Portland, OR.    Most of these combos are attributed to him:

  • Pear and Blue Cheese ice cream 
  • Black Olive Brittle and Goat Cheese ice cream
  • Buttermilk Pancakes, Bacon, and Eggs ice cream
  • Goat Cheese Marionberry Habanero ice cream
  • Carrot Cake Batter with Praline Hazelnut ice cream
  • Duck Crackling with Cherry Preserves ice cream
  • Roasted Peach and Cornbread Stuffing ice cream

Most surprising is that “The average American eats more than twenty pounds of ice cream a year” (198).   That is amazing and I really don’t think I eat that much.  Regardless, I decided to try a weird recipe that my sister found in a retro cookbook mom had when we were growing up:  Avocado Sherbet.

Yes, I know it’s not ice cream but I wanted to try this delicious and inventive recipe.

I’ve updated the instructions a bit here:

Avocado Sherbet

From an ancient gas cookbook from the 1960s.

This is surprisingly good! Don’t knock it until you try it.


  • 1/2 c. pineapple juice
  • 1/2 c. orange juice
  • 1/2 c. lemon juice
  • 1 1/4 c. sugar*
  • 1/4 t. salt
  • 1 c. whole milk
  • 1 c. mashed avocado (about 1 1/2 large avocados)
  • 1/2 t. pure vanilla extract


  1. Combine fruit juices, sugar, and salt in a medium bowl. Whisk until sugar is dissolved. Refrigerate overnight.
  2. The next day, place the milk, avocado, and vanilla in a blender. Process until smooth. Add juice mixture and process until blended.
  3. Pour into an ice cream maker and freeze according to manufacturer’s directions.  Or, pour into a shallow pan and freeze. (The original directions say to remove from freezer and “beat” and then return to freezer if using the pan-freezing method.)

*I do think I will use less sugar the next time I make this.  It’s definitely sweet.

Yield: 8

Prep Time: Overnight

With this heat, the sherbet almost became a smoothie!

This is a delicious mixture and a lovely color.  I would highly recommend revamping this recipe (with a lot less sugar and using honey as a replacement) for a smoothie concoction.


American cuisine is perhaps undefinable because it is totally dynamic and primed for innovation.   To recap, I’ll leave you with a couple of thoughts from the chefs that Page interviewed and featured in  this book.

Thoughts from the chefs:

“I hope, if I’ve raised the bar, that you dance on that bar one day. And you raise that bar.”— From Chris Bianco (18)

“This is not the food anyone grew up with in China, the dishes some would call authentic. Chen says he is channeling the essence of a great cuisine, not trying to replicate specific dishes. ‘Authentic is a terrible word for me,’ he says. —George Chen (166)


The next four selections for Cook the Books have been announced.     Please join us in the upcoming rounds.

  • August/September 2023: Love & Saffron by Kim Fay (hosted by Deb at Kahakai Kitchen)
  • October/November 2023: The City Baker’s Guide to Country Living by Louise Miller (hosted by Claudia at Honey from Rock)
  • December 2023/January 2024: Undercooked by Dan Ahdoot (hosted by Debra at Eliot’s Eats)
  • February/March 2024 Relish by Lucy Knisley (hosted by Simona at briciole)

I’m linking up with Foodies Read for July.

7 comments to A weird sherbet for Food Americana and Cook the Books

  • mae

    Very interesting review. I’ve read so many histories of American food, including specific histories of things like ice cream, tacos, American Chinese restaurants, and pizza, that I haven’t been inspired to get this one.

    Avocado ice cream sounds neat. I have seen many recipes that use the avocado in unexpected ways, as it has a lot of creamy fat that is good for texture, and actually a pretty neutral fruit flavor.

    best, mae at maefood.blogspot.com

  • Gotta say that I am still confused between Sherbet, Sorbet, and other ice cream varietals. I need to read more! I would totally eat this…we made garlic ice cream once that was not beloved in my household. Thankfully, it was not MY experiment, but one of my sons. So, the critics were more kind.

  • Your post reminded me that a long time ago I made avocado ice cream. I don’t remember the taste but the color was dull, while your sherbet had a vibrant one: good choice! Interesting that you found the recipe in a retro cookbook. Thank you for your contribution to this edition of Cook the Books 🙂

  • What an interesting and fun recipe Debra. I can’t wait to try it!!

  • I love that you found a retro recipe with out of the box ingredients! Perfect for the ice cream chapter!

  • cathy branciaroli

    i never would have thought about making this combination but it makes sense — will have to try

  • Good review Debra, and avocado has been successfully used in mousse, pies and etc., so why not ice cream? I’d try it for sure.