Quite a lot, actually! Throughout the summer, our museum demonstrates food traditions, cooking techniques, and the use of historic ingredients at many of our historic farms, houses, and shops. The traditions of how food is gathered, prepared, stored, and valued are called foodways. Midwesterners have developed their own unique sets of foodways over the course of the last 300 years. Some of what Iowans ate depended on availability and what could be stored or preserved. Other food traditions developed because of new cooking equipment and knowledge. Foodways were also dependent on the cultural heritage of the people doing the cooking and eating! Food traditions continuously evolve and diversify; yet some foods become staples on the table because of family or cultural values. Join us this summer season as our museum food historians explore topics in Midwestern Foodways from the Ioway Native Americans to Pioneer Farmers to today.
“What’s Cooking?” Program Presenting Sponsor: Hy-Vee
Did they have that? In June, our food historians challenge you to think about when ingredients and recipes entered Midwestern Food Culture. Tasters and chefs from more populous regions sometimes think of Midwestern food culture as bland or reliant on only a few core ingredients. Actually, we have developed a wide variety of ingredient sources and Iowans have enjoyed diverse flavor notes—many from very early on in the region’s history! Do you know when your favorite flavors enter your local food culture? You might be surprised to discover what made up the pantry staples of Iowans in the past!
The Ioway native culture is presented at our 1700s Ioway Farm site. In the era before European contact, the Ioway nation ate mostly what was locally available and in season. In 1700, the Ioway relied on the rich prairie region for food sources, hunting bison, deer, and other animals for meat. The Ioway were some of the Midwest’s first farmers. They cultivated flour corn, beans and many varieties of squash in large garden plots. In order to add variety to these staples, they gathered wild plants for seasoning. Did you know Iowa has native varieties of wild garlics, onions, and ginger? Trade routes and contacts with other Native American nations, such as northern plains cultures and eastern woodland cultures, introduced new spices, dried fruits, and smoked or dried meats not available here. Salt, pepper, and wild rice from Minnesota were special treats. These items are not native to Iowa and the Ioway traded with neighboring nations for them!
Early Midwestern pioneers were also dependent on foods they could grow seasonally. Transportation meant wagons or river boats and bringing items from other places was expensive! Sugar and spices from eastern states could be quite expensive. Pioneers were creative in their kitchens to work around high priced or unavailable items. Expensive coffee, for example, might be stretched by mixing it with other plants, such as chicory root. Snacks such as popcorn or dried fruits appeared in the wintery months when gardens weren’t producing. Recipes for cakes that didn’t require eggs or white sugar helped the farmwife work around scarce ingredients.
Railroads were a game changer for Iowa diets. After 1854 when the first railroad bridges crossed the Mississippi River at Davenport, Iowa, railroads could bring new and exciting ingredients like imported cheese, commercial pasta, sardines and oysters, cane sugar, Worcestershire sauce, cider, peaches, raisins and, for a price, even citrus fruit! Cookbooks in the 1870s began encouraging cooks to try new foods like curry powders and purchased pasta. By 1900, recipes for coconut, avocados, and bananas were teasing Iowa cooks, if they were willing to spend the money at the grocer! Packaged foods became more and more available by the turn of the 20th century. In the early 1910s, farm families might spend their luxury food budget on chocolate, or chewing gum, or packaged cookies or corn flakes!
During the week of June 10, 2019, our museum’s historic kitchens explored these and other surprising items with the theme of “Did they really eat that?” On Wednesday June 12, the Tangen Home prepared Macaroni and Cheese in the 1870s style! The 1700 Ioway Farm demonstrated Ioway unleavened corn bread on Thursday, June 13. On Friday, June 14, the 1850 Pioneer Farm explored the uses of chicory and other plants in coffee substitutes. The 1900 Farm and General Store quizzed guests on their knowledge of packaged goods and ingredients at the end of the week as well. Do you know when Oreos hit the market? How about powdered lemonade? Or Jello? Or condensed cream of mushroom soup? Here are a few period recipes to get you thinking about whether or not Iowa farming families “really ate that” food.
“Simmer a quarter of a pound of macaroni in, plenty of water, until it is tender. Strain off the water, and add a pint of milk or cream, an ounce of grated cheese, and a teaspoonful of salt. Mix well together, and strew over the top two ounces of grated cheese and crumbs of bread. Brown it well in baking, on the top. It will bake in a quick oven in half an hour.”
—Miss Beecher’s Domestic Receipt Book, 1850.
Sausage Stuffed Onions
Boil 4 onions, sliced in half to preserve full rings, for 10 minutes. Cool, push insides out, leaving single rings. Brown 1 lb pork sausage. Mix sausage with:
1 c. chopped onion, center of above
4 c dry breadcrumbs
1/2 t garlic
1/2 t sage
2 beaten eggs
Put mixture in shells. Place in baking dish, covering with cream of mushroom soup. Bake covered for 1 hour at 325.
Adapted from The Original Buckeye Cookbook, 1905