While this blog has grown to include anything about the Midwest, it still focuses primarily on history and food. Of course, the name of the blog does make it clear that corn/maize is where we started. As the author of the book Midwest Maize: How Corn Shaped the U.S. Heartland, I clearly have an interest in that iconic American grain. So I thought I’d share a video on making cornbread 200 years ago. Happily, this video also connects Midwest Maize with my newest work, Destination Heartland, because the historic cooking reenacted here takes place in St. Genevieve, MO, which is featured in the new book. If you, too, like food and history, you may find much to enjoy on this channel. Hope you enjoy this visit to the past.
Category Archives: Recipe
I live in Illinois, where the state dessert is pumpkin pie. Thanksgiving is almost upon us. So I have two good reasons to talk about that tasty orange dessert.
As I child, I assumed my mom’s pumpkin pie was the only form of pumpkin pie. The first time I had a “normal” pie, the classic custard version. I thought that it somehow hadn’t turned out right. I figured my hosts must be horrified, but I had been raised to believe if you couldn’t say anything nice, you just smiled and said nothing. It wasn’t terrible, it just wasn’t right—though in time I learned that this “failed” pie was what most people expected. All these years, I had been eating something quite different, something more ethereal, and, in my opinion, more wonderful. I had been eating pumpkin chiffon pie. And as glorious as the light, airy pumpkin chiffon filling was, the crust was also remarkable—a rich, crisp, buttery crust made with crushed vanilla wafers.
I have since learned to enjoy the type of pumpkin pie I once thought to be failed, but as an adult, the first time I hosted Thanksgiving, I of course had to create mom’s pie. (And it’s still my favorite.) Happily, mom was more than pleased to pass along the details. And now, as mom, age 95, approaches her last Thanksgiving, I am pleased to share the details with you, to carry on her legacy of this delightful pie.
This makes one 9-inch pie.
1-1/2 cups vanilla wafer crumbs (roughly 35 vanilla wafers)
1/4 cup sugar
6 tablespoons melted butter
Combine the crumbs, sugar, and melted butter until well blended. Press into your pie tin, spreading evenly, though a tiny bit thicker where the sides turn upward from the pan bottom. Bake in a 350˚ oven for 10 minutes. Cool completely before adding filling.
Note: To make crumbs, you can either spin the cookies in your food processor or you can just put them in a large, sealable plastic bag and roll over them with a rolling pin until fine crumbs are formed.
1 tablespoon gelatin
1/4 cup cold water
3 eggs, separated
1 cup sugar, divided in half
1-1/4 cups canned or cooked pumpkin (NOT pumpkin pie filling)
1/2 cup milk
1/2 tsp salt
1/4 tsp each cinnamon, nutmeg, and ginger
Whipped cream as garnish
Put gelatin in cold water to soak. Set aside. Beat the 3 egg yolks slightly, then stir in 1/2-cup sugar, pumpkin, milk, salt, and spices. Place this mixture, over boiling water in the top of a double boiler, cooking and stirring until thick. Then add in the soaked gelatin stirring until dissolved. Remove from heat. Put in fridge to chill. When mixture begins to set, beat egg whites until stiff but not dry. Gradually stir in 1/2-cup sugar, and then fold beaten eggs whites into the pumpkin mixture. Fill the prepared crumb crust, and chill pie for several hours to set. Serve with whipped cream.
Note: Because this filling is not cooked, you will want to get fresh, high-quality eggs, or, if you’re concerned about eating raw eggs, you can look for pasteurized eggs.
Why pre-order a book? Right now, prices on everything are going up, but if you order the book now, the price is guaranteed. It’s available on all the usual sites (including Amazon and the publisher’s, U of IL Press).
This is a fun book filled with surprising tales and delightful destinations. I take you along as I explore a much-overlooked region, the American Midwest. Everyone from Wyatt Earp to Henry Ford is there. Don’t just read about history, but learn where you can explore more about Native Americans, the Pony Express, shipwrecks, the Underground Railroad, early pioneers, the Civil War, railroads, and a lot of stuff that will make you wonder why it got left out of your textbooks!!!
Don’t be scared by the price of the cloth-bound library version. That is for libraries. The general population version is paperback and only costs $19.95 — and the e-book is cheaper still. But you owe it to yourself to pursue this adventure. The Midwest and its past really are remarkable—and the present is pretty cool, too.
Hope you’ll join me for the adventure.
Monroe, Wisconsin, attracted me for several reasons. There is a museum that celebrates cheesemaking (the delightful and informative National Historic Cheesemaking Center). It is home to the oldest cheese shop in a state that is practically defined by cheese (Baumgartner, which sits on the town square). And it is the location of what is likely the last Swiss Turner Hall in the U.S.
Turner Halls were/are community centers in German-speaking communities. The halls generally include meeting rooms, event spaces, and somewhere to eat and drink, but the real focus was gymnastics—because Turner means gymnast in German (or, more precisely, a member of a Turnverein, or gymnastics club).
Monroe is at the heart of Green County, which was settled by Swiss immigrants and still has a largely Swiss population. There are cheese makers scattered about the countryside and an annual event at the Cheesemaking Center where cheesemakers hand-craft cheese using the antique equipment. So cheese is common, and of course styles from Switzerland dominate.
Monroe is sometimes called “the Swiss Cheese Capital of the United States.” It was because of this claim to fame that, in the Ratskeller Restaurant at the Turner Hall, while all the Swiss specialties on the menu looked good to me, I was particularly attracted to the Swiss Cheese Pie. (That said, as good as the pie was, I now want to go back and try two or three other specialties on the menu.)
Not too surprisingly, I eventually found myself in possession of a nice chunk of Wisconsin Swiss Cheese. Lovely stuff. When I had consumed all but the last quarter pound, I came up with an idea that I thought was worth trying: Swiss Cheese Salad. I chopped the cheese into fairly fine dice, chopped a couple of tablespoons of sweet onion (or just a little less diced onion than you have diced cheese), combined the two, and added enough mayo to hold it together. It was great.
As I enjoyed it, it occurred to me that it was unlikely I was the only person who had ever had such a flash of inspiration. I did a search for Swiss Cheese Salad and learned that, indeed, I was not the first person to come up with the idea. However, my version was much simpler than the other versions I found, which means it is more likely that I’ll make it again. But definitely try it. Very tasty. However, as a food historian, it also reminded me how hard it can be to identify the origins of some dishes—because some food ideas occurred to multiple people in multiple locations.
In March, I was invited to speak at the Newberry Library about Midwestern food. I was happy to oblige, because this is a topic that is dear to my heart but also something about which there are many misconceptions.
The ethnic makeup of the Midwest is stunningly varied. In the 1800s in particular, people flooded in from dozens of countries, bringing interesting foods and traditions. From pasties in Michigan to bratwurst in Wisconsin, Italian beef in Chicago to barbecue in Missouri. Then there are the indigenous foods, such as wild rice, pecans, common beans, and, of course, maize/corn.
In addition to these are the foods created by imaginative chefs, who were already multiplying in the 1800s. One fabulous dish that few realize is actually a local classic is Shrimp de Jonghe. The restaurant at Chicago’s De Jonghe’s Hotel was fabulously popular from the 1890s to the 1920s. The De Jonghe family had emigrated from Belgium in 1891, and it was Henri de Jonghe who was credited with the shrimp dish that continues to appear on menus both in and far from the city of its birth. (Though it is likely that the hotel’s chef, Emile Zehr, had a hand in developing the dish.) It surprises many when they learn that this lovely, garlicky dish arose in the Heartland.
Also worth noting is that it gives some idea how remarkably transportation had improved by the late 1800s. Because shrimp are extremely perishable. They die when taken out of the water and decay quickly once dead. It wasn’t until the invention of refrigerated train cars that it was possible to speed this delicate creature to distant markets. Today, U.S. is both the largest producer of shrimp and the largest consumer. Americans love shrimp, downing hundreds of millions of pounds a year. Of aquatic comestibles, only canned tuna outranks shrimp in quantities consumed in the U.S. The recipe below offers you the opportunity to be among those who are elevating those statistics.
Shrimp de Jonghe
1-1/4 lb. uncooked shrimp, peeled and deveined
10 Tbs. butter
2 cloves garlic, finely chopped
2 Tbs. shallots, finely chopped
1/2 tsp. salt
2 Tbs. dry sherry
1 or 2 dashes hot pepper sauce or cayenne pepper
1/2 cup fine bread crumbs
1/4 cup finely chopped flat-leaf parsley
Preheat oven to 400 degrees F, checking first to make sure one of the shelves is in the center.
Butter a shallow, 1-quart baking dish—or, if you have them, several individual-sized baking dishes.
Blanch the shrimp in boiling water for 30 seconds, then drain them in a colander. Run them under cold water until cool (to stop cooking).
Soften the butter with a fork. Beat in the garlic, shallots, and salt. When thoroughly blended, add the remaining ingredients (except the shrimp) and blend well. (If you make a large amount of this–say double or triple the recipe–you could do all this in a food processor.)
If the shrimp have not dried sufficiently in the colander, pat dry. Then, arrange the shrimp in a single layer in the baking dish or dishes. Dot/spread the butter-and-crumb mixture over the shrimp, making sure that all shrimp have at least some of the mixture on it.
Bake until shrimp are fully cooked and the topping has become lightly brown, about 15 minutes. Serves 4 as a main course or 6 to 8 as an appetizer.
There are times that it is difficult to decide where a post goes. This blog focuses on the Midwest–the people, the history, the places–and The World’s Fare focuses on my adventures, primarily culinary, around the world. But I just posted a recipe on The World’s Fare that includes both corn and pork, mainstays of Midwestern agriculture and cuisine–but the recipe is one I found in Mexico. It is Pozole Rojo, a delightful, hearty soup that brings together these two cornerstones of both Midwestern and Mexican life. So definitely the fare of another land, but still related to the Midwest. Therefore, I posted it there and am just linking to it here. (Though Brazilian cornstarch cookies are on this site–so clearly not always easy to draw those lines.)
Anyway, for the recipe, click this link–Pozole Rojo--and enjoy a delightful soup that brings together a couple of world culinary icons.
Staying busy these days, so it might be a while before I post further about my travels around the Midwest. But it’s summer, and good sweet corn is beginning to appear in farmers’ markets, so I figured I can at least help you use some of summer’s bounty. Thought this corn salsa from Byron Talbott looked mighty tasty.
Corn Oysters were sufficiently iconic in the Midwest of the mid-1800s that I include a recipe in my book Midwest Maize. But the fritter recipe sounds like a fun treat. Think I’ll try those out. And who knew there was a Corn Fritter Day? Remarkable.
Everything has a day…..even
1 can corn 2 teaspoons salt 1 cup flour 1/4 teaspoon paprika 1 teaspoon baking powder 2 eggs
Chop corn, drain, and add dry ingredients mixed and sifted, then add yolks of eggs, beaten until thick, and fold in whites of eggs beaten stiff. Cook in a frying-pan in fresh hot lard. Drain on paper.
Farmer, Fannie Merritt. The Boston Cooking-School Cook Book. Boston: Little, Brown, 1918; Bartleby.com, 2000. www.bartleby.com/87/.
And Corn Fritters have
Why??? Why, are they ashamed of being corn? Or is the fritter part too frivolous? Do they just want to be taken more seriously? Or is it role-playing, cos-play for fritters??
They are also known as….
Mix well together one quart grated sweet corn, two tea-cups sweet milk, one tea-cup flour, one tea-spoon butter, two eggs well…
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The Eric Hoffer Awards for 2017 were announced yesterday. This is an award designed to recognize exceptional writing from small, academic, or independent publishers that don’t usually get the attention that the big publishing houses get. While Midwest Maize didn’t get the top prize, I was awarded an Honorable Mention, which, given the thousands of books submitted, is still gratifying.