I have discovered that there isn't a lot of things written about the cuisine of Nebraska and the Dakotas. Which is not to say that there is no information, or that the food there is not worth writing about. Indeed, on these plains where the buffalo roamed, the earliest settlers encountered Indians living on wild game, fruits, and vegetables plus whatever they cultivated in the way of corn, beans, and squash. Like the Indians on the East Coast, the Plains Indians preserved their meat in the form of pemmican and the first pioneers followed suit.
Until the housewife had established her kitchen garden and the family had acquired some cows, meals might consist of a simple and hearty cornmeal mush three times a day, plus whatever wild game when it was available. Perhaps an even bigger challenge was the fact that the barren plains offered little wood for fuel, and the pioneer had to make do with cow chips and corn cobs in her stove. (yum, mush cooked over cow poo!!)
In 1863, the first land claim was made in Nebraska under the auspices of the Homestead Act. The offer of free land attracted thousands of settlers, many of them coming from Germany, Scandinavia and Bohemia (Czechoslovakia). Bringing with them the foods of home, these European pioneers slowly refined the rugged fare of those who came before them.
What I found while researching this area, is that the cuisine is heavily influenced by central Europe and Scandinavia. I'm not sure why this surprised me, perhaps my impression of the people that settled the Great Plains was that they where all displaced Easterners, not immigrants direct from Europe. So, much like other areas of the Midwest the food here is another twist on some old favorites. I did notice that a vast majority of deserts in cookbooks I found, include rhubarb. While not finding a direct comment or explanation, my assumption is that rhubarb flourishes on the Plains. The early Pioneers would have been starved for fruits and the rhubarb was available and since it appears in early spring it was a wonderful break from the dried meat and preserved foods from all winter.
So what to cook? Well, pork was the meat most available to the plains homesteaders. It appeared on the table with unfailing regularity, as well as in the household's soap and shortening ( in the form of lard). One Nebraska cook even made her fruitcake with chopped pork! Probably in attempt to create something new with the same tiresome ingredients. Not to worry, no pork fruit cake recipe today. Instead we'll go with a Pork Roast with Apples and Mushrooms, reflecting the central European influence and the ingredients available.
2 tablespoons fresh thyme or 2 teaspoons dried
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon pepper
1 3 to 4 pound boneless pork loin roast
1/3 cup apple cider
2 cups whipping cream
1 cup chicken broth
1/4 cup dry sherry
2 tablespoons butter
3 small cooking apples, peeled, cored, and cut into wedges
2 cups sliced fresh mushrooms (get a little creative here, use white button if you have to but try some of the other more exotic varieties. You will be amazed at the different level of flavors you can get.)
Combine thyme, salt, and pepper; rub pork roast with thyme mixture. Place roast on a rack in a shollow roasting pan. Insert meat thermometer. Roast in a 325° F oven for 1 1/2 to 2 1/2 hours or till meat thermometer registers 160°. Transfer meat to a platter; keep warm.
For sauce, skim fat from pan juices. Place roasting pan over medium heat; add apple cider, stirring, to scrape up any tasty browned bits. Pour into a large saucepan. Stir in whipping cream, chicken broth, and dry sherry. Bring to boiling. cook over medium-high heat about 20 minutes or till reduced to 1 1/2 cups, stirring occasionally.
Meanwhile, in a large skillet melt the butter; add apple wedges and cook and stir till golden. Remove apple wedges from skillet with slotted spoon, reserving drippings; keep warm.
In the same skillet, add mushrooms to reserved drippings and cook till tender. Stir into thickened cream mixture.
To serve, place slices of pork roast and apples wedges on individual plate. Spoon sauce over meat.
Try this with some sauerkraut and a nice dark bread. A glass of good lager wouldn't hurt either.
I wasn't going to do a Rhubarb recipe, but then decided that given all of recipes I found with it, I should use one. Something a little different this time.
PINK RHUBARB PUNCH
This is a non-alcohol recipe but apparently the Swedes make a rhubarb liqueur, sounds interesting you can find it here.
6 cups fresh rhubarb, cut in 1/2 inch pieces ( you can use 6 cups of frozen unsweetened rhubarb)
3 cups water
1 cup sugar
1 6 ounce can frozen pink lemonade concentrate
1/4 cup lemon juice
1 1-liter bottle of lemon lime soda, chilled
fresh mint leaves and/or lemon slices (optional)
In a large saucepan, combine the rhubarb and water. Bring to boiling; reduce heat. Cover and simmer for 5 minutes. Remove from heat; cool slightly. Strain rhubarb mixture, pressing to remove all juices. Discared pulp. Add suar, lemonade concentrate, and lemon juice to rhubarb juice, stirring to dissolve sugar. Cover and chill
To serve, combine rhubarb mixture with chilled lemon-lime bevarage in a punch bowl or large pitcher. Seve with crushed ice. If desired, garnish with fresh mint and lemon slices.
I hope you have enjoyed this little trip through the Midwest of the United States. Next series we will head a little south and west. I haven't forgotten you Oklahoma, I've decided to include in a post about cowboy cooking in the next series.
Stay hungry friends!!!!