December 29, 2010 8:26 AM Subscribe
19th-century newspaper ads for patented stomach cures and digestive aids [...] foregrounded mince pie as the K2 of digestive summits. But for every published warning on the dangers of mince, the newspapers published a poem, essay, or editorial praising it as a great symbol of American cultural heritage or a nostalgic reminder of mother love and better times bygone—or even, as the State of Columbia, South Carolina, asserted in 1901, a beneficial Darwinian instrument that had "thinned out the weak ones" among the pioneering generations.So wrote Cliff Doerksen in his wonderful, James Beard award-winning article Mince Pie: The Real American Pie. Doerksen not only gives the history of this once most American of foods, he also makes two mince pies from 19th Century recipes to see if they are indeed all that. This is but one of many great articles Doerksen wrote for The Chicago Reader in recent years (links to a selection below the cut). Sadly, Cliff Doerksen passed at the age of 47 just before Christmas.
But let's not be maudlin and rather celebrate all the wonderfulness Doerksen produced through the years, starting with a story from the wild and wooly days of radio When Zion Ruled the Waves, examining how a Christian commune in Illinois became one of the most popular radio broadcasters in America. Then there's the long, sordid history of payola, Same Old Song and Dance. It should come as no surprise that Doerksen was a historian of radio, publishing a book called American Babel: Rogue Radio Broadcasters of the Jazz Age. You can read a sample chapter here. He was also a critic of music, literature and film. He wrote a series of three articles about being a father in today's media landscape, making sure your offspring like music and films worth liking (1, 2, 3). His main profession was being a critic, and for a sample of his many reviews check out his piece on the 1947 film noir Nightmare Alley and his harsh evalutation of Lou Reed as a lyricist. His final piece was this lovely interview with a Franciscan friar. And last but not least, check out Doerksen's blog Bad News from the Past, where Doerksen posted old newspaper clippings with his comments.
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