Who’d have imagined? Well, probably folks in Wisconsin, but it was certainly a surprise to most of us at this weekend’s Greater Midwest Foodways Alliance (GMFA) conference on Wisconsin Supper Clubs.
And how much brandy are we talking about? Wisconsin consumes one third of all the brandy produced in the United States. According to one source, that’s roughly 650,000 cases of domestic brandy per year.
Top drink, sometimes half-jokingly suggested as a candidate for official state cocktail, is a brandy old fashioned. (They mentioned that if you simply order an old fashioned, without specifying preferred liquor, you’ll automatically get the brandy version.) In the number two spot is the brandy Alexander. But a toddy or a simple snifter with good brandy are not ruled out.
These drinks are all staples of Wisconsin’s multitudes of supper clubs, where locals and tourists gather for good food and a friendly evening of conversation—and brandy.
Another interesting fact that was shared is that supper clubs (usually places out in the country) did well because Wisconsin had more paved rural roads than any other state, so supper clubs and American car culture grew together.
Supper clubs are family owned and food, which is generally locally sourced and seasonal, is made from scratch. Menus can be ambitious, but certain elements are immutable: Friday-night fish fry and Saturday prime rib topping that list.
We also learned that broasted chicken was invented in Beloit, Wisconsin. There is a machine called a broaster, and broasting is a proprietary technology that cooks chicken very quickly, while minimizing the amount of oil to which the chicken is exposed.
While supper clubs are not clubs now, they did require membership during Prohibition.
So much more to share, but perhaps I should leave that to those who were presenters:
Mary Bergin, journalist, syndicated columnist, and author of The Wisconsin Supper Club Cookbook.
Teresa Allen, culinary historian and author of The Flavor of Wisconsin.
Dave Hoekstra, award-winning Chicago journalist and radio personality, and author of The Supper Club Book (which strays outside of Wisconsin).
Holly De Ruyter, documentary filmmaker and creator of the charming film, Old Fashioned: The Story of the Wisconsin Supper Club.
As for the Greater Midwest Foodways Alliance, it is an organization that has as its goal the study and preservation of foodways found across a far-too-often ignored region—the American Heartland. GMFA supports research, hosts heirloom recipe contests at state fairs, and puts on conferences.