My mother was considered a great cook by us kids and my dad but her offerings leaned toward the simple and hearty food common in the Land of Oz. Dairy products, such as milk, cheese, and eggs, are common ingredients in Midwest cooking. As a child, we bought our milk directly from the dairy farmer. Her macaroni and cheese was sublime. Eggs are king too. Fried, scrabbled, over easy, hard-boiled, poached and sunny side up but never served in an egg cup (not practical). Kansan main dishes may include roasts, stews, and casseroles. Casseroles are king…perhaps trumping eggs. Meat, carbohydrates and some sort of veggie combined with a dairy product and dinner was “complet”. Tuna casserole with peas anyone? I still find it comforting today to have myself a serving or two. Wheat bread and cornbread typically accompany meals. My mom seasoned with spices that were generally mild, and fresh herbs such as dill, parsley, and sage.
The Midwest is famous for its long stretches of grasslands. Corn, wheat, soy beans and potatoes are some examples of staple crops. I wished as a child that farmers would put a sign on their fences to tell me what they were growing. This patch is alfalfa, this section beans, etc. but then I had my Dad to ask and he always had an answer to my curious, demanding questions. Beef, pork, and poultry are produced in many Midwestern states. Occasionally you find a producer of lamb and more common now is bison. When you are hit with a strong fecal odor from a nearby feedlot, you say, “smells like money.”
Many Midwestern foods are based on the season. In summer months (around May to August), picnic foods such as deviled eggs, potato and pasta salads, and fresh fruits are enjoyed. Winters once forced cooks to find methods such as smoking, pickling, and canning, to preserve food. I am really into pickling now with small jars of jalapeno, cabbage and okra stewing in the frig in their own juices. Meatloaf (made with ground beef, eggs and breadcrumbs – the trifecta), chicken and noodles, and sloppy joes (a thick beef and veggie combo that feeds C3’s addiction) are hearty foods to keep people warm and full during the harsh winter weather.
Every Sunday growing up, we went to church and then came back home to Sunday dinner (served between noon and 1 p.m.).The menu routinely was fried chicken (in a skillet), mashed potatoes and green beans. We often had a bachelor male friend of dad’s to join us or some fellow church member of a family visiting to complete the long table of fellowship and food. I would, as the youngest, play with my food. I would create a large pool of mashed potatoes, fill it with chicken gravy, line the peaks with green beans for a stockade and sprinkle the entire creation with salt and paper and then…dig in. Which is why I am now shaped more like an apple than a banana. The WW 1 initiative of the Clean Plate Club didn’t help any of us raised by Mother’s and Grandmother’s back then especially in light of the huge portion sizes served to us now in restaurants across the USA. It is truly impossible, and unhealthy, to finish a plate today in nearly every American restaurant especially the chain restaurants that we all know for huge portions, low prices, and high fat, salt and sugar content. So like many of us in January, I am again trying to combat the overindulgence of the past holiday season and renew again portion control, exercise, fresh fruits and veggies, and a more healthy lifestyle. Tofu anyone? Yes, please.