For many people, a Midwestern dinner is built around a central dish of meat. It was the main protein source throughout much of the 18th and 19th century. The Ioway culture was built around when gardens were planted and when bison were hunted on the prairies. White settlers in the mid-1800s raised both beef and pork. Railroads opened up new markets for Iowa farmers and both beef and pork were raised for shipment to metropolitan markets. Farmers at the turn of the 20th century still harvested and processed their own pork and beef, but new canning methods meant the meat no longer had to be cured, salted, or smoked for preservation. The historic farms’ will focus on meat and livestock this week. On Thursday, the 1700 Ioway Farm will prepare a bison stew and will discuss the role of bison in Ioway culture. The 1850 Pioneer Farm will highlight the mixed breed hogs, and working livestock at the farm. Food preparation on Thursday will include smoking bacon and cooking corned beef on Friday. Drop into the Flynn Mansion any day this week and ask to see the prized lithograph of Martin Flynn’s pure bred Shorthorn bull!
“What’s Cooking” Program Presenting Sponsor – Hy-Vee
Meat was the main protein source for Midwesterners, but it was also hard to preserve. During the hunt, the Ioway could celebrate their kills with fresh meat roasted over the fire, but most of the animal had to be preserved for future use. Processing the meat was a major undertaking and almost the entire animal was used in some way. The Ioway preferred to dry bison meat. The flesh was cut into thin slices and dehydrated in the sun and/or wind quickly. Dried meat would be kept in leather pouches or cache pits to keep it dry. Because the dried meat, or jerky, was tough to eat it was many times pulverized. This would then be put into stews. Soup and stew was the staple of the Ioway diet. Most of the food ingredients were dried for storage, so stew was a natural way to then prepare food for consumption. When the weather was too humid for drying the fresh meat, smoking was used for preservation.
1lb bison meat, diced
Red and black beans, dried
*Magdalena squash, dried
*(a can of pureed pumpkin can be substituted for the dried squash)
Bison meat could be prepared in a variety of ways, but among the most effective ways was to boil the meat with vegetables that had been sun-dried from the previous year’s harvest. This would provide some extra flavor and body to the soups and stews.
For the pioneer farmer, hogs and cattle were allowed to forage and graze during the summer and were fattened with corn in the late fall. The meat was generally harvested in winter—when cooler temperatures made processing and preserving easier. Pork and beef needed to be salted and cured, dried, or smoked for preservation. Pork was more common on Iowa tables; pigs were smaller and easier to process for home use. John H. Sudlow l wrote on December 14, 1851, “I killed my pig on Friday afternoon. It was about 20 months old and weighed 304 lbs. I had given it about 12 bushel of corn and paid 1.25 cts. for him last winter. Pork has fallen from 4½ to 3¾ and 3½ per lb.” Hams, bacon, and sausage were common ways to process the meat.
Beef was a favorite treat and company meal. Socially conscious Victorian Midwesterners would make sure beef was on the menu for any special occasion guest dinner. Beef was also a cash crop.
In the 1870s, men such as Martin Flynn began to focus on breeding purebred cattle, improving the mixed breed herds farmers kept previously. Purebred stock could be very expensive; Mr. Flynn bought and shipped a prize bull from Kentucky named the 33rd Duke of Airdrie in 1884 for $3100.
By 1900, cattle could be shipped by rail to markets in Chicago. Farmers could sell a 1200 pound steer for $60.
Whole animals are broken down into “primal” cuts. Primal cuts near the legs and ends of the animal are generally tougher than cuts from the center. Tougher cuts require longer cooking times at lower temperatures; braising or stewing is ideal. Tender cuts can be grilled or fried at higher temperatures.
A la mode Beef.
Six pounds of the upper part, or of the vein, of the round of beef, half a pound of fat salt pork, three table-spoonfuls of butter, two onions, half a carrot, half a turnip, two table-spoonfuls of vinegar, one of lemon juice, one heaping table-spoonful of salt, half a teaspoonful of pepper, two cloves, six allspice, a small piece of stick cinnamon, a bouquet of sweet herbs, two scant quarts of boiling water and four table-spoonfuls of flour. Cut the pork in thick strips–as long as the meat is thick, and, with a large larding needle (which comes for this purpose), draw these through the meat. If you do not have the large needle, make the holes with the boning knife or the carving steel, and press the pork through with the fingers. Put the butter in a six-quart stew-pan, and when it melts, add the vegetables, cut fine. Let them cook five minutes, stirring all the while. Put in the meat, which has been well dredged with the flour; brown on one side, and then turn, and brown the other. Add one quart of the water; stir well, and then add the other, with the spice, herbs, vinegar, salt and pepper. Cover tightly, and simmer gently four hours. Add the lemon juice. Taste the gravy, and, if necessary, add more salt and pepper. Let it cook twenty minutes longer. Take up the meat, and draw the stew-pan forward, where it will boil rapidly, for ten or fifteen minutes, having first skimmed off all the fat. Strain the gravy on the beef, and serve. This dish may be garnished with potato balls or button onions. – Practical Cooking and Dinner Giving, 1876.