Boston baked beans. California burgers. New York style pizza. Southern fried chicken. These regional foods have become cultural staples in our national cuisine, which leads a Minnesota girl to wonder: what about the Midwest? Short of casseroles and lutefisk, what dishes would a displaced Wisconsinite, Duluthian or Iron Ranger long for while living far from home?
Judith Fertig helps answer this question with her new cookbook "Heartland: The Cookbook." "Among those fortunate to have been born and raised in the Midwest," she writes in her introduction, "the Heartland holds us, comforts us, and makes us stand up straight." This sentiment is carried throughout the gorgeous coffee-table cookbook, starting with the front cover photo of a bright red barn set against a blue sky and a sweeping green span of farmland. Between its solid covers, "Heartland" overflows with vivid pictures of food, regional farmers' markets, and familiar
farmland scenes. The recipes celebrate local farm produced goodies, foraged
delicacies, and cultural traditions of locales throughout the Midwest. Just the names of the recipes are mouthwatering: "Grilled Pear Salad with Blue Cheese and Honey" or "Branding Iron Beef with Smoke Tomato Drizzle." Fertig's collection is a scrumptious and altogether necessary addition to any local cook's library.
Those who'd rather wander out of the kitchen to explore local dining traditions will want to snatch up a copy of "Tasty Foods Along Minnesota's Highways" by Patricia A. Overson. Using a quick-read format that plays out more like a local trivia book than a travel guide, Overson highlights establishments across the state. Fans of Betty's Pies and Gordy's Hi-Hat will be eager to read the quirky historical tidbits and see fun photos of their favorite spots. Even the pickiest eaters will discover tempting
tables they'd otherwise pass by at 55 miles an hour, like the Amboy Cottage Cafe on Highway 169 in Amboy, Minn., a charming cottage restaurant that is housed in a former gas station built in 1928. The names of some restaurants are a story in themselves. How could anyone drive past Ole and Lena's Pizzeria and Mosquito Landing Ice Cream and Antiques (yes, that's just one establishment despite the tongue-twisting name, located on I-94 in Rothsay, Minn.) without popping in to see what all the fuss is about?
Another great new "off the beaten path" food book is James Norton's Minnesota Lunch: From Pasties to Banh Mi," a hodgepodge of recipes, photos, restaurant information, historical stories and humor that "explores the least considered (and least understood) meal of the day." This book holds recipes contributed by local residents, such as one for cornish pasties that came from an Iron Range Cornish immigrant named Inez Andrews. My favorite part of the book was the discussion of a controversially named sandwich, a menu item at many St. Paul restaurants. This Italian American food tradition, which consists of a sausage patty on top of a slice of bread and topped with a tomato sauce, has been a celebrated staple in my family for years, though we've called it a "hot Italian sandwich." Norton's book dives into an in- depth examination of the various campaigns to make St. Paul restaurants change the name of the dish or remove it from menus altogether. "Minnesota Lunch" is packed full of stories like this one and reads like an intriguing travel essay book.
Readers will find it difficult to put down and will run for the kitchen to concoct their own versions of Minnesota's favorite dishes.
Our Midwestern food traditions may not be as obvious as New Orlean's gumbo
but, like their more well-known counterparts, they help define our region. Three cheers for books like these three, that are helping to preserve Midwestern customs for generations to come.
"TASTY FOODS ALONG MINNESOTA'S HIGHWAYS"
Publisher: North Star Press of St. Cloud
by Patricia A. Overson
HEARTLAND: THE COOKBOOK
Publisher: Andrews McMeel Publishing
by Judith Fertig
MINNESOTA LUNCH: FROM PASTIES TO BANH MI
Publisher: Minnesota Historical Society
Edited by James Norton