Being from the Midwest, I got snippets of these dishes at Thanksgiving and Christmas, the two food holidays we still celebrate in Indiana. The majority of the time my parents got takeout or threw together who knows what to feed my sister and I, but Thanksgiving and Christmas, these were the days of mashed potatoes, turkey, ham, pies, green beans, breads, jams, and gravies. These were the days that the food of the Midwest, what I like to think of as country cuisine, were truly enjoyed by my family.
Where did it go?
Food is an indicator of culture. In the past sixty years or so, we have watched America slip into industrialization. While it has been a magnificent boost for our economy in much of that time, we find ourselves becoming disconnected with the way things were done in the past. As industrialization has progressed, so has our reliance on its products. Many of my non-culinary friends regularly feast on Healthy Choice and Lean Cuisine brands of take home meals. These meals are so devoid of anything resembling nutrients and flavor that I began to wonder what people in the Midwest used to eat, and if there was anything we could do for a return to that.
Bringing it Back
Doing some more research, I found a book entitled “The Country Kitchen” by Jocasta Innes. This tome contains much of the knowledge and practices lost by the Midwestern cook over the past century. Ranging from cheesemaking to charcuterie, brewing and breadmaking, along with preserving and dairy practices, make this a little more than a cookbook for me. It is an instruction guide for a return to the way the people of my culture used to prepare food. My goal with this book is to use many of its resources, recommendations, and recipes to prepare a meal for my friends on this upcoming Thanksgiving. With a menu of fresh breads, biscuits, preserves, smoked meats, roasted birds, and mashed potatoes to name just a few of the dishes, I think we will be going in the right direction.
As an American, I feel conflicted regarding our cuisine. In New York, Los Angeles, New Orleans and Chicago, we are culinary leaders of the world. Restaurants like Le Bernadin, Momofuku, Blue Hills Stone Farms, Bouchon, and others throughout the country help to lead the way in the world of food. But it’s the other 90% of the country that causes the world to laugh at us. Eating frozen cardboard microwaved in plastic every night, or running to McDonald’s for food that contains just as many hormones as it does vitamins. If we could just have a few hard-working people in the Midwest working to re-educate people on their food heritage, maybe then we would see a decrease in people’s dependence on processed foods.