Having been born and raised in the Midwest and having lived in the Deep South, I have noticed that foods, and some beverages, definitely have their own unique renown. I was musing about this yesterday while baking birthday cakes to surprise two of our sons who celebrate birthdays this week. The cakes I baked, one a Red Velvet with cream cheese frosting and the other a Marble cake with chocolate frosting, were quickly consumed by the teens at Fuel last night;Fuel being the youth group event for high schoolers our teen sons attend on Sunday nights.
I was born and grew up in Defiance, Ohio, in the northwestern part of the state. I fondly recall a dish my mom would make in the summertime: fried sweet corn! One had to have fresh, sweet corn to make this dish. Frozen corn or canned corn wouldn’t do. Mom would take the sweet corn, and after shucking it, getting all the cornsilk off of the ears of corn, she would hold one end of the ear on a plate and with a sharp knife, and sometimes with an electric knife, she would cut off the kernels of corn. The kernels would softly fall and make a mound on the plate. When she had enough kernels, she would melt butter in a skillet, put in the fresh, sweet kernels of corn, add some salt and a bit of pepper, and saute them. Oh how good that dish tasted! For the calorie-conscious, or low-carb dieters, you will want to avoid fried sweet corn at all costs!
In the early days of our marriage, my husband came down with a stomach bug. He had to stay on the sofa that day, so I went to the store to get some 7Up soda for him to drink. When I came home and presented him with a glass of the fizzy, citrus-flavored liquid, he looked at me with a questioning look in his brown eyes and asked, “Where’s the Vernors?” I had completely forgotten about that ginger based drink! My late father-in-law had been born and raised in Detroit, MI and there was a Vernor’s Factory in the town. When he was a boy, he said he and his friends would often go to the Vernor’s site and get small cups of the amber-colored drink for a tiny amount of change, maybe even for free, as that part of the story I can’t recall as well. I had to tell my husband that I didn’t even think of Vernor’s for him and in future outings to the grocery stores in our South Carolina town, I couldn’t locate any Vernor’s! Some food items and beverages are definitely restricted to their regions of the country and Vernor’s hadn’t made it to that part of the South.While living in SC, we had encounters with many food items that we had not grown up eating in OH. Boiled peanuts was one such delicacy. Across the Savannah River from our community of North Augusta, SC was Augusta, GA. Hometown of The Masters Golf Tournament and all of those lovely azaleas. In Augusta, there was a holiday store called Fatman’s Forest. It was a unique store, selling decor for the home and decorations for all the holidays one could think of. In October, they would put a huge iron kettle on their front porch. The kettle would be full of boiling, salted water and peanuts in their shells. Some workers would take turns stirring the kettle’s contents with a big, wooden paddle and one could buy these peanuts. The concept was lost on me, so I never tried them. Sweet iced tea I did learn to enjoy, especially due to the efforts of the cafeteria ladies at Schofield Middle School in the city of Aiken, where I taught for 3 years. Every morning, these ladies would have large vats of brewing tea on the stove and to those vats they would add sugar, stirring it well to make sure that all of the sweetness would dissolve into the hot tea. At lunchtime, the ladies made sure every teacher and staff member received a large styrofoam glass full of ice and that tea. It really was a treat, and to have told the ladies that I didn’t want their tea would probably have hurt their feelings.
Also at Schofield Middle School, I had my first encounter with sweet potatoes. One of my co-workers had brought some in from their garden and gave me some. Now, my mom never fixed sweet potatoes so I decided to poll my students that day, asking them how did their mamas’ fix sweet potatoes? The majority of them said their mamas’ used butter, sugar, and marshmallows. As my students knew I was a “yankee”, they were eager to inform me of the delights found in a sweet potato! The next day, one of my students shyly handed me a recipe card, on it was printed her mama’s recipe for Sweet Potato Bake. I still have that recipe card and it is the only way I fix sweet potatoes, making sure the dish is a part of our family’s Thanksgiving Day dinners. Instead of the marshmallows on top, the recipe calls for a tasty blend of melted butter, brown sugar, and chopped pecans.
After 5 years of southern living, my husband’s new job moved us to the St. Louis area. What new food stuffs would we encounter here? Frozen custard was one of the first. It is not the same as ice cream, as it is richer, and I believe eggs are a part of the mixture as well as cream. Fritz’s was the place we frequented the most for the frozen treat, the Florissant location was our go-to spot. Ted Drewes’s also sells the treat, in the city of St. Louis. Toasted ravioli was another new food concept and one we readily welcomed. An intrepid St. Louis area restaurant owner created the appetizer, a typical ravioli pasta, stuffed with seasoned beef or cheese, then the cooked pasta packet would be dipped in an egg wash, coated in flavorful crumbs and deep fried, sprinkled with parmesan cheese, and served with a warm marinara sauce. Yummy! Toasted ravioli is a traditional food served at St. Louis area wedding receptions! Another item we learned to like was a paczki. It is a large, jelly doughnut, dredged in powdered sugar. The fillings of a paczki( a Polish creation, to English speakers, it sounds like one is saying “poonch-key”) can be raspberry, lemon, chocolate, vanilla, or my favorite, prune; my kids can’t quite believe that that is my favorite filling for these pastries, but it is! Paczkis are a treat to enjoy on Fat Tuesday, or Mardi Gras, and once Ash Wednesday arrives, no more paczkis are made or to be had in St. Louis. The treats are only made in February and one year, for his February birthday, our son wanted only Paczkis, no birthday cake. Another food icon in St. Louis is the lowly pork steak. St. Louisians love to grill these and slather them with barbeque sauce. I have never seen a region of the country that is so crazy about pork steaks! A last food item peculiar to St. Louis is provel cheese. It is hard to describe, but to me, it has the consistency of American cheese, is white in color, and tastes like a smokey-flavored American cheese. St. Louis natives love to sprinkle it on salads and on pizza. Imo’s Pizza is a chain to the St. Louis area and they use that cheese on their pizzas. Maybe because my husband and I both grew up in OH but we never did learn to like provel cheese or Imo’s Pizza! We must have passed that anti-provel gene on to our children because only 1 of our 7 children will eat Imo’s Pizza! We prefer mozzarella on pizza every time!
America is a large country, divided up into regions, each with their own unique foods and beverages to try. I am glad that I have had the opportunities to live in two different parts of the country, to get to know those regions and to appreciate the people, the customs, and the foods!