|If you just "fly over" you're missing more than you can imagine!|
The Midwest of the U.S. is were I live. As much as I may joke about it being a bit bland for food, history and geography make this area of the country one of the most diverse culinary regions. Were else could you find wild rice, Cornish pasties and Swiss cheese all on the same plate?
First I suppose we should define the area. For my purposes the Midwest includes Ohio, Michigan, Indiana, Illinois, Wisconsin, Minnesota, Iowa, Missouri, North Dakota, South Dakota, Nebraska, Kansas and Oklahoma. Yes, that is a huge section of the country and you can't really define a cuisine for that large an area. The general theme of cooking here is practical and no-nonsense, a requirement of hard work on the farm that defined the early days of these states. It is robust cooking without the pretension and fuss of exotic seasonings and techniques. It is the kind of cooking that has made church suppers and American institution.
It is no wonder that the early pioneers stopped their westward travels when they saw this area. The forests and waters of the western Great Lakes and the endless plains beyond held a natural bounty that was impossible to pass. The Great Lake states have an abundance of herring, perch, trout and whitefish in the waters. This same area's forests are rich in ducks, geese, and turkey along with a large white tail deer population. Also found are a wide variety of mushrooms and berries that are amazing when in season.
Well, that's a little of the geography. Now a little bit on the immigrants that settled the area. Cornish miners arrived in the mid-nineteenth century to Michigan and Wisconsin and brought with them the pasty. Think Hot-Pocket, but with actual flavor and substance, not some microwaved abomination that contains God knows what. Also in this area were many Scandinavian settlers, particularly Finns. Before long Finnish bakeries were specializing in pasties, which they called there own.
Because of the Scandinavian influence in Minnesota and Wisconsin local cookbooks are full of Swedish meatballs, herring salads, rye bread, cardamom scented cakes and Danish pastries. But the largest group to settle the Midwest were the Germans, no place more obvious than Milwaukee. There you will find menus that include sauerbraten, rouladen, and schnitzel. No where else in the U.S. is sausage making brought to a fine art reflecting the combination of German, Polish and other eastern European immigrants. Southeast Wisconsin saw butcher shops open all over, each becoming known for their individual specialties. Bratwurst, bologna, cervelat, kielbasa, wiener, and bockwurst. Time for a break I'm hungry. Oh, and of course the thing that made Milwaukee famous........beer!
Since I'm going on about my home state of Wisconsin, I have to mention cheese. We are after all America's Dairyland. Started primarily by Swiss farmers, the Badger state has broadened it cheese making tradition far beyond Swiss, and now boasts award winning cheddar, limburger, mozzerella, Muenster and blue.
But when it comes to blue cheese, I must admit that there is stiff competition from our neighbor Iowa. Maytag blue cheese, unlike European blue, was created by design and not accident. The rich milk of the Holstein cow combined with know how of the Iowa State dairy scientists created a blue cheese that many say rivals the best Stiltons, Roqueforts and Gorgonzolas. The first batch was made in 1941 and now Iowa produces more than three hundred thousand pounds of Maytag annually.
Ok, this post is getting a bit long. So I think I am going to break the Midwest up into several parts. So for the first recipes lets go with Cornish beef Pasties from Michigan and Sausage with Kraut from Wisconsin. Don't worry Iowa and Minnesota I'll get to you.
The favorite of Cornish iron and copper miners, the pasty was carried into the mines, usually in a cotton pouch called a crib bag.
3 cups all purpose flour
1 cup shortening
7 to 8 tablespoons of cold water
1 1/2 cups chopped peeled potatoes
1 pound beef round steak cut into 1/4 inch cubes
3/4 cup peeled turnips cut into small cubes
1/2 cup diced onion
1/2 cup catsup (optional)
Combine flour and 1 1/2 teaspoons of salt. Cut in the shortening until the mixture resembles course crumbs. Gradually add the water ONE TEASPOON AT A TIME, tossing with a fork until all is moistened. Form into a ball, cover and chill for 1 hour.
Meanwhile, for filling. Combine potato, beef, turnip, onion, 1 1/2 teaspoons of pepper and set aside. Divide the dough into six equal pieces and roll each piece into a 9 inch circle. Place about 1 cup of the filling on half of each circle and fold the other half over the filling. Seal the edge and cut slits in the top to let the steam escape. Place on an ungreased baking pan, brush the top with milk. Bake in a 400 F oven for about 45 minutes or until golden. If desired mix catsup with 1/4 cup of water and heat through, serve on the side.
It's really fairly easy and a great taste of history.
Sauerkraut is so popular in the Midwest that I have a regional cookbook that has a recipe for a sauerkraut sandwich in it!
4 fully cooked smoked bratwurs, knockwurst, polish sausage or just about any other wurst you can think of.
6 cups shredded cabbage
1 cup of water
1/2 cup chopped onion
1/2 cup shredded carrot
1 teaspoon caraway seed
1/4 teaspoon pepper
1/4 teaspoon salt
4 slices torn Swiss cheese
Make slits in the sausage at about 1 inch intervals being sure not to cut all the way through. Set aside.
In a 12 inch skillet combine cabbage, water, onion, carrot, caraway seed, pepper and salt. Arrange sausage atop cabbage mixture. Bring to boiling; reduce heat and simmer for 10 to 15 minutes or until cabbage is tender and sausage is heated through.
Remove sausage from skillet; keep warm. Drain cabbage mixture. Add Swiss cheese to cabbage. Stir over low heat until cheese is melted. Serve it up with some dark rye bread and a good pilsner.
We will continue the trip to the Midwest soon, I'm looking forward to it. In the meantime, might I suggest that you cook with cast iron as much as possible? You will find it to be amazingly consistent with heat distribution. Things just seem to cook better and taste better coming from well seasoned cast iron cookware. And, cast is the original non-stick, properly cared for and seasoned you have to try to get things to stick on it. It is also the absolute best at going from stove top to in the oven. Here is a look at some of the cast I cook with. It's really not that expensive, especially when you consider that it will last forever!
Stay Hungry friends!!!