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Memories and Nueske’s

Growing up in Illinois, it seemed as though our neighbor to the north, Wisconsin, was almost as big a part of my life as my own state. I spent summers for nine years camping in the North Woods. Cousins of my mother’s had a cabin in Wisconsin, and we visited them. Vacations when my brother and I were very young (even before my camping days) often involved Wisconsin, both at “attractions,” including the Wisconsin Dells, and relaxing escapes to small lakeside cottages, where swimming and fishing were the big delights. Much later, my parents lived in Wisconsin for a few years, when my dad was sent there to help build up a small candy company (it was during this time that I discovered the joys of Friday Fish Fry in Wisconsin). And I have always found something to draw me northward, from the Wisconsin State Fair to the House on the Rock to the places mentioned previously in this blog.

Food was also always part of the fun. Many folks may think first of cheese when they think of Wisconsin—after all, it is the dairy state, and it does create some absolutely sensational cheeses. A stop at the Mars Cheese Castle is a requirement. But many of us think just as frequently, and definitely as fondly, of the German influence so evident everywhere, including in the making of sausages and smoked meats. My dad loved dining out, and the famous German restaurants in Milwaukee were a big draw. I can still remember my first dinner at Mader’s—and I still have the cookbook dad got me on that visit. (We won’t talk about how long ago that was.)

On a recent drive across Wisconsin, as I neared Wittenberg, I turned my wheels toward one of the many German-influenced culinary delights the state offers: Nueske’s Applewood Smoked Meats. While Nueske’s is probably best known for their bacon, they make a wide range of smoked delights, some of which are only available at their handsome headquarters. Here, the original smokehouse, used by the first generations of Nueske’s nearly a century ago, has been kept as a memento of their history, because they smoke far too much meat these days for it to handle the demand. Still, it is a fairly small company, family owned and true to its heritage.

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In addition to an impressive array of meats inside, during the summer, there is a “mobile home” out front, a log cabin on a truck bed, that serves up great sandwiches and smoky baked beans for those who stop by.

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So while it’s not a “destination” in the sense that anyone would plan a trip there, it is definitely a great place to stop if you’re in the area.

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Tips for Grilling Sweet Corn

My book, Midwest Maize, has recipes for some historic dishes, but if you’re not looking for history and just want to enjoy some sweet corn on the grill this summer, here is a video with some suggestions that might help make your efforts on the grill more successful.

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Ray Bradbury and Carnegie Library

In July of last year, I posted about the remarkable rags-to-riches story of Andrew Carnegie and the thousands of libraries he built with the money he made, as a demonstration of his belief that education was vital to success. Iconic, award-winning American fantasy and sci-fi author Ray Bradbury was among the millions who benefited from having a local Carnegie Library.

Born in Waukegan, IL, in 1920, Bradbury had started writing by the time he was eleven. He was an avid reader, and he spent much of his childhood at the Carnegie Library in Waukegan. “Libraries raised me,” Bradbury once said. “I believe in libraries because most students don’t have any money. When I graduated from high school, it was during the Depression, and we had no money. I couldn’t go to college, so I went to the library three days a week for 10 years.”

Bradbury’s family eventually moved to Los Angeles, and Bradbury became incredibly famous, with awards ranging from the Pulitzer to an Oscar. His fans are legion.

Today, the Waukegan Carnegie Library is in disrepair, but efforts have begun to restore and renovate it, not just as a library, but as a memorial to Ray Bradbury. The Ray Bradbury Waukegan Carnegie Library, Inc., has as its goal the creation of a “Theater of the mind,” where one can admire the restored library but also have a memorable “Ray Bradbury experience.”

At this stage, the library is not yet available for visitors, but the organization that is doing the renovation is hoping that they can interest both scholars and donors in contributing to their efforts to bring “Bradbury’s library” to life. To donate or to sign up for their email newsletter, visit http://www.bradburycarnegie.org/ (not just for project updates, but also for information on opportunities, such as tours of Bradbury’s Waukegan or presentations on Bradbury’s work). Of course, if you live nearby, if you’re a fan of Bradbury or Carnegie, they’d be glad to have you join the team.

 

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Filed under Culture, History, Literature, Midwest, Thoughts, Travel, Uncategorized

Printers Row Lit Fest

This weekend—June 11 and 12, 2016—is the annual Printers Row Lit Fest, sponsored by the Chicago Tribune. Millions of books will be on display and for sale, both old and new, plus there will be authors and celebrities on hand, giving talks, signing books, and enjoying what looks to be a beautiful weekend (sunny and 90 degrees).

Also on hand are a wide range of writers groups and literary associations. Among the many organizations represented at the event will be the Greater Midwest Foodways Alliance (booth 217, not far from the food and dining tent). This organization celebrates and promotes the culinary traditions of the Heartland. I’ll be at their booth on Saturday, from noon to 2pm, signing copies of my book—but possibly more important is that Catherine Lambrecht, founder of the organization (as well as being a founding member of Chicago’s top foodie chat site, LTHforum.com), will be on hand all weekend, sharing about the organization’s goals and some of its projects (including giving awards at state fairs in the Midwest for heirloom recipes). So definitely come and learn more about the Greater Midwest Foodways Alliance—and if you’re there while I’m there, stop by and say “hello.”

If you’re interested in knowing more about the Greater Midwest Foodways Alliance but might not have the chance to come to the Lit Fest, you can learn more at their website. http://www.greatermidwestfoodways.com/ But do hope to see some of you at the fair.

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Reporting: Iowa

In my corn book, I talk to both conventional and organic farmers. The organic farmers spoke of inspectors coming regularly to the farms–so when I saw this post on the type of training the inspectors get, I thought it would be something people would find interesting. I know I did.

Farming The Dream

Over the years I have met several Organic Inspectors, a few of whom have suggested I pursue a similar career.

organic Source – organic.org

To do this, I had to go to Des Miones, Iowa. There I took IOIA’s (International Organic Inspectors Association) training for Crop inspection. From what I gathered in advance, the class would be educational bootcamp, which was fine by me.

Day 1.

The first day was spent in covering the relevant standards in the NOP (National Organic Program) – a task that involved a lot of page flipping and highlighting. The NOP standards are the rules of the game. It’s what tells farmers what they need to do and Inspectors what to look for.

studying It was easier than this image may lead you to believe. Source – http://heartbreakhypnotist.com/

It covers topics ranging from the kind of seeds you can use and under what conditions, to biodiversity on…

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Back to Bloomington, Illinois

As I noted in a much earlier post, the McLean County History Museum in Bloomington, IL, is where I started the serious research for my book. Happily, the folks at the museum were pleased with how the book turned out, and they invited me to come down and give the presentation I’d worked up to share with audiences just how amazing the story of corn is, its impact on history, and how many aspects of our lives it touches every day.

Among those reached by the museum’s promotional efforts were Herb and Pamala Eaton, owners of the Eaton Studio and Gallery in Bloomington. Herb and Pamala forwarded a note to me through the museum, inviting me to visit their gallery, to talk about corn. Herb is an artist and poet, and while his artwork covers a range of subjects, one of his favorite things to paint and sculpt is corn. So the Eatons figured we’d have a few things to talk about.

We enjoyed iced tea flavored with mint from their garden and sat amid art projects while talking about the golden grain—a customer who came in joining in the discussion. While Herb’s interest in corn is primarily visual—how it dances in the wind, the soft gold of the silks, the green of the fields—he was remarkably knowledgeable about corn’s impact in the Midwest, so we did have a lovely chat.

I must say that, while the photos included on the Eaton Studio and Gallery website give a good overview of Herb Eaton’s work, it doesn’t include my favorite pieces of corn art. So you may just have to visit Bloomington, if you want to see everything—and want to meet Herb and Pamala, which is definitely worthwhile.

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Filed under Corn, Midwest, Midwest Maize, Thoughts, Travel, Uncategorized

Corny Town

While there are interesting things to do and see in Mitchell other than visiting the Corn Palace (things I shall post on shortly), there is a definite focus on corn in town. After all, there are other places with good museums and interesting archaeological sites, but there is only one Corn Palace.

The first thing I noticed, as I rounded the corner on my first visit to the Corn Palace, was that the decoration cast into the base of all streetlights is an ear of corn.

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Across the street from the Corn Palace, there is a gift store that has displays about how the murals are created. In the open courtyard area adjacent to that gift store, there is a large, cheerful ear of corn named Cornelius. I was told that almost everyone who comes to Mitchell gets their photo taken with Cornelius, and even as I waited for a chance to take an unobstructed view of this corny mascot, I was repeatedly asked to take photos of visitors posing with Cornelius (which I was, of course, happy to do).

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So the Corn Palace may be the corniest thing in town, but clearly the whole town appreciates what this iconic and historic building has meant, not just in terms of tourism, but in its representation of the agriculture that built and sustains the region.

And if you have any interest in visiting the Corn Palace (it’s right off the highway, so easy to access even if you’re just passing through), you can get more info on their website: http://cornpalace.com/

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Filed under Agriculture, Corn, Culture, Farming, Midwest, Travel, Uncategorized