- Recent Books on Midwestern Foodways
Since 2013 at least twelve food books have been published with “Midwest,” “midwestern,” “Plains,” or “prairie” in the title or subtitle. The almost seven hundred recipes in these books are accompanied by conversations about place and region, and why author, editor, publisher, publicists, and market research tagged the book as Midwest. These books are part of a larger burst [End Page 162] of scholarly activity relating to food history as recently described by Jeffrey M. Pilcher in the American Historical Review (“The Embodied Imagination in Recent Writings on Food History,” American Historical Review 121, no. 3 [June 2016]: 861–87).1 Pilcher’s survey of the state of the discipline does not include modern mid-America, but his emphasis on food history emerging from cultural history and the search to determine the “nexus between human sensory experience of the environment and the cultural meanings assigned to it” contributes “new dimensions to our understanding of the past,” as do the books under discussion here (886).
Place is where the food book author draws inspiration. Many cookbooks are denominated by region, state, and city. Arcadia acquired the History Press in 2014 with its 171-title American Palate series, 16 percent of which highlight Midwest states—eleven titles for Michigan, seven for Ohio, three for Wisconsin, two for Nebraska and Indiana, and one for Illinois and Minnesota. University presses and historical societies in Illinois, Iowa, Minnesota, Nebraska, and Wisconsin added food lists to their publications, examples of the burgeoning interest in food literature. These books tethered to the Midwest cover wild food, the preeminence of corn, ethnicity, migration, memoir, food innovation, and fiction. The authors draw on multigenerational memories. The Midwest comfort food stereotype of casserole, meat loaf, and corn in myriad manifestations is clearly inadequate.
Hunters, gatherers, and foragers exploiting nature’s bounty of plants, animals, fish, and fowl, the earliest Midwest food harvesters, are treated from the perspective of Native Americans, European gun-and-rod-carrying devotees, and an ethnobiologist. In Original Local: Indigenous Foods, Stories, and Recipes from the Upper Midwest, Heid E. Erdrich, whose mother was Anishinaabe-French, her father, German-American draws from her Ojibwe ancestors who treated food as medicine. The natural resources fostered a way of life for hundreds of years. Erdrich presents 135 home tested recipes. Three Sisters are beans, corn, and squash. Fry bread and Indian taco are the most recognizable American Indian foods. But it is manoomin (wild rice—actually, a water grass) and mandaamin (corn) that stand as first foods along with bison, venison, and walleye. Heid’s sister, the famous midwestern writer Louise, contributed Cadillac manoomin (“Louise’s way”), woodchuck stew with equal amounts of ground turkey and bison, and fragrant manoomin with pine nuts. Fusion recipes combining local sources and lore, and twenty-first-century palates include maple-baked cranberry beans, manoomin [End Page 163] lasagna, and...