United States: Midwest Region
1 Geographic Setting and Environment
The Midwest region of the United States consists of the states in the center of the country, east of the Rocky Mountains. States considered part of the Midwest are North and South Dakota, Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Kansas, Michigan, Minnesota, Missouri, Nebraska, Ohio, and Wisconsin. The combined population of these states is over 67 million. The area is known for its plains, which are long stretches of grasslands. Historically, many tornados have touched down in the region, due to the flatness of the land and the area's climate. In Kansas, tornados are considered to be a fact of life, but other Midwest states are also affected. In May 2011, Joplin, Missouri, experienced a deadly tornado that destroyed about 25 percent of the city's buildings and caused an estimated $2 billion in damages and more than 100 deaths. More than a dozen people were killed in a series of tornadoes that struck Indiana, Illinois, Kansas, Missouri, and Nebraska in February 2012. Dodge City, Kansas, is said to be the windiest city in the United States, with an average wind speed of 14 miles (22.5 kilometers) per hour. However, the Midwestern states are not solely made up of flatlands. Many states have natural and artificial lakes and streams. In fact, Minnesota has over 10,000 lakes.
The Midwestern climate is highly changeable, according to season and state. The winters are generally snowy and cold, averaging around 10°F (–12°C). Springs are mild, with temperatures around 70°F (21°C). Summers are hot, averaging around 80°F (27°C), and fall temperatures taper down to around 40°F (4°C) to 50°F (10°C).
The climate and terrain of the Midwest are perfect for cultivating crops. The Midwest is
commonly called the “breadbasket of America.” Kansas is known as the Wheat State, Iowa's most famous crop is corn, and Nebraska is known as the Cornhusker State.
2 History and Food
The Midwest region of the United States has many cultural influences in its cooking. Over the decades, people including Germans, British, Italian, Hungarians, Greeks, and Scandinavians immigrated to the Midwestern United States and made it their home. In the early 1700s, the Germans started to arrive and brought beer, sauerkraut, and sausages. They also introduced the tradition of serving meals family style—meats, relishes, soups, vegetables, and pies were set on the table all at one time. The British arrived in the late 1700s and brought pasties (PASS-tees), or meat pies, bread pudding, and roasts with potatoes. The Italians brought pastas and native cheeses, and the Hungarians brought goulash. Lefse (potato bread) and meatballs were introduced by the Scandinavians.
In the late 20th century and early 21st century, the number of Arab and Asian immigrants increased, bringing with them new food traditions. In addition, some urban areas of the Midwest have attracted sizable Latino populations. Their culinary contributions include salsa, spicy peppers, and corn tortillas.
The cities of the Midwest all feature restaurants serving foods from every cooking tradition, from sushi to spicy Szechwan and Mexican food to Ethiopian cuisine. However, the primary influences over cooking styles in the Midwest remain those from the immigrant groups of Eastern, Northern, and Western Europe who settled there during the late 1800s and early 1900s.
Several fast food chains have headquarters in the Midwest, including McDonald's (Oak Brook, Illinois), Hardee's (St. Louis, Missouri), White Castle (Wichita, Kansas), and Steak 'n Shake (Indianapolis, Indiana).
3 Foods of the Midwest
Foods of the Midwest are considered to be simple and hearty. Dairy products, such as milk, cheese, and eggs, are common ingredients in Midwestern cooking. Main dishes may include roasts, stews, and dishes made from trout and whitefish. Rice is used in many side dishes and desserts. Wheat bread and cornbread typically accompany meals. Seasoning with spices is generally mild, and fresh herbs such as dill, parsley, and sage may be used to flavor a dish.
The Midwest is famous for its long stretches of grasslands. Corn (Iowa's most famous crop), apples, wheat, and potatoes are some examples of staple crops. Beef, pork, and poultry are produced in many Midwestern states, and trout,
bass, and walleye are just a few examples of fish found in Minnesota's 10,000 lakes.
Many Midwestern foods are based on the season. In summer months (around May to August), picnic foods such as deviled eggs (Indiana is a leading state in egg production), potato and pasta salads, and fresh fruits are enjoyed. Winters once forced cooks to find methods such as smoking, pickling, and canning, to preserve food. Meatloaf (made with ground beef and breadcrumbs), chicken and noodles, and chili (a thick beef and bean stew) are hearty foods to keep people warm and full during the harsh winter weather.
2 teaspoons shortening
5 slices day-old bread, cubed
½ cup raisins
2 cups milk
⅓ cup sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla
- Preheat the oven to 350°F.
- Grease a small casserole or 8-inch square baking dish with shortening.
- Place the bread cubes and raisins in a mixing bowl and gently mix. Pour into baking dish.
- In the same mixing bowl, combine the eggs, milk, sugar, and vanilla. Stir well.
- Pour the mixture over the bread cubes and raisins.
- Bake for 35 to 45 minutes, or until a knife inserted in the middle comes out clean.
- Serve warm or chilled.
Makes 4 servings.
6 hard boiled eggs
2 tablespoons mayonnaise
½ teaspoon dry mustard
- Fill a large saucepan about half full with water. Add eggs.
- Bring the water to a boil. Lower heat and simmer eggs for 15 minutes.
- Drain eggs. Run cold water into the pan to cool the eggs. Drain and allow eggs to cool completely.
- Carefully peel the eggs and cut in half, lengthwise.
- Remove the egg yolks and mash them together in a small mixing bowl.
- Stir in mayonnaise and dry mustard.
- Spoon yolk mixture into the halved eggs and sprinkle with the paprika.
- Refrigerate until ready to serve.
Serves 8 to 12.
4 medium onions, chopped
3 garlic cloves, crushed
¼ cup vegetable or olive oil
1 teaspoon oregano
2 bay leaves, crumbled
2 pounds ground beef
¼ cup chili powder (4 tablespoons)
1 can (28-ounce) chopped tomatoes, do not drain
2 cans (20 ounces each) red kidney beans (do not drain)
2 teaspoons salt
3 tablespoons apple cider vinegar
Crushed red pepper flakes, to taste
- In a large pot, heat the oil over medium heat.
- Add chopped onions and garlic. Sauté onions and garlic until golden, about 10 minutes.
- Add oregano, bay leaves, and beef, and cook until beef is no longer pink.
- Add 2 tablespoons of the chili powder, tomatoes, and kidney beans.
- Reduce heat to low and simmer, stirring occasionally, about 1 hour.
- Add remaining chili powder and salt, vinegar, and red pepper flakes.
- Simmer for 15 minutes.
- Serve hot.
Makes 10 to 12 servings.
The city of Cincinnati, Ohio, is located close to Indiana. It is located in southwestern Ohio and borders the Ohio River. It is famous for its unique chili, which may include such ingredients as allspice, cinnamon, or cloves, and sometimes even chocolate. Cincinnati-style chili is usually served as a topping over a bowl of spaghetti and is popular throughout southern Indiana and elsewhere in the Midwest.
A typical Midwestern meal is considered “all-American.” It might be roast beef, grilled steak, hamburgers, or meat loaf accompanied by potatoes (mashed or baked), green beans, corn on the cob, and apple pie for dessert. Kansas City, Missouri, is a leading producer of beef cattle and is famous for its steaks. Other Midwestern favorites are chicken potpie (a creamy stew of chicken and vegetables baked in a pastry crust), potato salad, wild rice soup, and corn relish. Corn relish is made from fresh yellow corn, vinegar, and sugar, and is flavored with red peppers, onion, and celery. It is usually served with grilled or roasted meat.
Corn on the Cob
6 ears of corn
Salt and pepper, to taste
Butter or margarine
- Remove the husk from the corn.
- Fill a large pot about half full of water.
- Bring to a boil and add the corn.
- Boil over high heat until corn is cooked, about 15 minutes.
- Remove from the water and rub butter or margarine over the corn.
- Season with salt and pepper, if desired.
4 Food for Religious and Holiday Celebrations
Christian religions dominate in the Midwest, with Christmas and Easter being the main holidays. These holidays are celebrated in generally the same way as the rest of the United States;
it is a time for families to get together and visit and eat. Roasted ham or turkey is a common main course. A variety of vegetables may be served, such as potatoes, carrots, green beans, or corn. Depending on family traditions, gifts are exchanged Christmas Eve or Christmas Day. Children may hunt for colored Easter eggs on Easter, go to church, and eat candy from baskets given to them by the Easter Bunny.
There are many non-religious holidays and festivals celebrated in the Midwest. Thanksgiving Day, a national holiday, commemorates the feast held between the Pilgrims and Wampanoag Indians in 1621. Midwesterners, as most Americans, celebrate Thanksgiving with a menu that typically includes turkey and stuffing, mashed potatoes, cranberries, green bean casserole, rolls, and a variety of pies, such as pumpkin pie. Television sets are usually tuned to Thanksgiving parades in the morning and football in the afternoon.
Food festivals are very popular in the Midwest. In early July, St. Paul (Minnesota's capital) celebrates the Taste of Minnesota Food Festival. Food stands feature roasted corn on the cob, deep-fried walleye, corn dogs, barbeque ribs and chicken, and a variety of soft drinks and beer. The festival lasts for one week and ends each night with fireworks.
The Potato Bowl festival has been celebrated in Grand Forks, North Dakota, since 1965. Held each year in September, it celebrates the potato harvest of the Red River Valley area and offers visitors free french fries and many potatoinspired foods and activities.
The annual week-long Taste of Chicago festival held in July is typical of food festivals held in cities in the Midwest. Each year, this event attracts nearly 70 of the area's finest restaurants, as well as well-known musical acts. It is one of Illinois's top tourist attractions. Milwaukee's Summerfest, similar to the Taste of Chicago, offers visitors a variety of the area's best cuisine and musical entertainment.
Green Bean Casserole
¾ cup milk
1 can cream of mushroom soup
2 packages frozen cut green beans, thawed
1⅓ cups french fried onions (canned)
- Preheat oven to 350°F.
- Combine all ingredients except ⅔ cup french fried onions in a casserole dish.
- Bake 30 minutes.
- Stir, then top with remaining ⅔ cup french fried onions.
State fairs also highlight the produce and livestock of Midwest farmers and aspiring
farmers, who participate in 4-H and similar programs and compete for blue ribbons every summer. The Iowa State Fair, first held in 1854, attracted nearly 1 million visitors in 2010. It is one of the country's largest and most popular state fairs. (The largest attendance was 1.1 million, recorded in 2008.) Its display of a large cow sculpted from butter is a favorite among those who attend.
5 Mealtime Customs
Midwestern people, like many other people in the United States, usually eat three meals a day and snacks throughout.
12 slices rye bread
¾ cup Russian or Thousand Island dressing
18 slices cooked corned beef
1 cup sauerkraut
12 slices Swiss cheese
- Preheat the oven broiler.
- Spray a broiler pan with the cooking spray.
- On 6 of the bread slices, place 3 slices of corned beef, a heaping tablespoon of sauerkraut, and 2 slices of cheese.
- Place in the pan.
- Place the other 6 slices in the pan to toast.
- Place the pan under the broiler.
- Wait until the cheese is melted and bread slices are lightly toasted, about 2 minutes.
- Spread the bread slices with the dressing and place on top of the other sandwich half.
- Cut in half and serve.
Makes 6 sandwiches.
Breakfast may be hearty, with bacon, sausage, eggs, toast or biscuits, grits or oatmeal, and coffee, or a simple doughnut or cinnamon roll with coffee.
Lunch is usually a light meal, with dinner being the main meal of the day. Lunch may be a sandwich (such as a Reuben, made with corned beef and sauerkraut), a salad, or soup. A hamburger and french fries may be a quick lunch picked up at a fast food restaurant. Students may buy lunch at the school cafeteria or carry a lunch
made at home. Barbequed pork sandwiches, chicken nuggets, and hamburgers may be on a typical school cafeteria menu, while a sandwich, potato chips, and fruit may be brought from home.
8 cups popped corn
1 cup butter (2 sticks)
1 cup brown sugar, packed
½ cup corn syrup
1 teaspoon baking soda
- Preheat oven to 250°F.
- Place the popped corn in a large roasting pan.
- Place the butter, brown sugar, corn syrup, and baking soda into a large saucepan. (The baking soda will cause the mixture to foam, so an oversized saucepan is needed.)
- Heat the butter-sugar (caramel) mixture over medium heat, stirring constantly.
- Remove saucepan from heat and allow to cool about 5 minutes.
- Pour caramel mixture over popcorn and stir until mixed.
- Bake for 45 minutes, stirring every 15 minutes.
- Remove pan from oven and pour onto wax paper.
- Allow to cool slightly, and break apart.
Serves about 6.
Snacks eaten in the Midwest are similar to the rest of the United States, and may include potato chips, crackers, caramel corn, and candy.
Dinnertime is usually the time when family members gather to eat and talk about their day. Large dinners are traditionally cooked on Sundays. Dinner, or supper, usually consists of
meat, such as beef, chicken, or pork chops, a vegetable (or vegetable casserole) such as corn, green beans, or carrots, and a starch, such as potatoes, rice, or noodles. Baked beans may also be eaten.
4 pounds potatoes, peeled
3½ tablespoons butter
2½ tablespoons heavy cream
1¼ teaspoons salt
2 teaspoons sugar
1 cup flour
- In a pot, cover potatoes with water and cook until tender.
- Chop potatoes and blend together with butter, cream, salt, and sugar.
- Mix together potato mixture and flour to form a dough.
- Form 1 inch balls of dough and roll them out into a flat shape.
- Butter and heat a pan. Fry cakes until bubbles form on the top. Flip and fry for another minute.
- Cool and serve.
Midwestern Pork Chop Dinner
6 pork chops
1 teaspoon vegetable oil
4 cups potatoes, peeled and sliced
2 cups carrots, sliced
2 cups onions, sliced
1½ teaspoons salt
½ teaspoon marjoram
2 cups milk
Pepper, to taste
- Preheat oven to 350°F.
- Heat oil in a large frying pan over medium to high heat.
- Add pork chops and brown on both sides. Season with salt and pepper.
- In a large bowl, combine the potatoes, carrots, onion, salt, marjoram, and pepper.
- Mix lightly and place mixture into a 9 × 13-inch baking dish.
- Pour milk over potato mixture and top with browned pork chops.
- Cover baking dish with aluminum foil and bake for 1½ hours, or until pork chops and vegetables are very tender.
Purchased dough for 1 pizza (thaw according to package directions, if using frozen)
¾ cup marinara sauce
1½ cups grated cheese
1 package pepperoni
- Preheat oven to 350°F.
- Divide the pizza dough into two equal parts.
- Dust a countertop with flour. Using a rolling pin, roll each dough portion into a large oval about 6 by 9 inches.
- Spoon sauce onto one of the ovals. Leave a 1-inch border.
- Arrange pepperoni and cheese on top of the sauce.
- Place the other dough oval over the oval with the ingredients. Pinch the edges together, sealing the two ovals together.
- Carefully transfer the calzone to a baking sheet. Using a knife, slice 3 or 4 vents (1-inch cuts) into the top of the calzone.
- Bake for 30 minutes, until the top is golden brown.
- Slice into sections and serve.
Serves 4 to 6.
1 can (14½ ounces) yellow or white hominy (found in supermarkets), drained and patted dry
2 cups canned corn, drained and patted dry
1 cup shredded sharp cheddar cheese
4 eggs, beaten
2 cups milk
2 tablespoons flour
1 clove garlic, minced
Salt and ground red pepper, to taste
- Preheat oven to 350°F.
- Combine hominy and corn in a greased 2-quart casserole dish. Top with cheese.
- In a mixing bowl, whisk eggs, milk, flour, and garlic.
- Season with salt and red pepper.
- Pour mixture over hominy and corn mixture.
- Bake 50 to 55 minutes, or until inserted knife comes out clean.
- Let stand 10 minutes before serving.
Makes 6 to 8 servings.
Dinner is most often eaten at home, but may also be eaten at a “sit-down” restaurant, where diners are waited on, or at a fast food restaurant. The list of fast food restaurants is endless, offering a wide variety of foods. McDonald's offers its regular fare of sandwiches and fries, along with some regional dishes. In the Midwest, for example, grits are on the breakfast menu. Kansas City, Missouri, is known for its beef cattle, and its streets are lined with steak restaurants. Chicago is famous for its deep-dish pizza, which was first made there in 1943. It is baked in a deep dish, so the sides of the crust hold in more cheese and toppings than a thin-crust pizza.
6 Politics, Economics, and Nutrition
In general, people of the Midwest receive adequate nutrition. The foods they eat come from the land and are plentiful. A variety of crops, such as corn, potatoes, and wheat are grown, and cattle and poultry are raised in abundance. These foods supply not only the Midwest, but also the rest of the United States and abroad. These natural resources contribute to the United States being among the world's leading exporters of wheat and corn. For those who cannot afford it, the U.S. government provides money to pay for school lunches and nutrition programs.
In 2011 the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention issued its U.S. Obesity Trends Report. The Midwest states had 2010 obesity rates as follows (from highest to lowest): Michigan, 30.9 percent; Missouri, 30.5 percent; Indiana, 29.6 percent; Kansas, 29.4 percent; Ohio, 29.2 percent; Iowa, 28.4 percent; Illinois, 28.2 percent; South Dakota, 27.3 percent; North Dakota, 27.2 percent; Wisconsin, 26.3 percent; and Minnesota, 24.8 percent.
7 Further Study
Blaxland, Wendy. American Food. Mankato, MN: Smart Apple Media, 2012.
D'Amico, Joan, and Karen Eich Drummond. The Coming to America Cookbook: Delicious Recipes and Fascinating Stories from America's Many Cultures. Hoboken, NJ: Wiley, 2005.
D'Amico, Joan, and Karen Eich Drummond. The United States Cookbook: Fabulous Foods and Fascinating Facts from All 50 States. New York: John Wiley & Sons, 2000.
D'Amico, Joan, and Karen Eich Drummond, The U.S. History Cookbook: Delicious Recipes and Exciting Events from the Past. New York: John Wiley & Sons, 2000.
Gammon, Shana. The Great State Cookbook: Recipes from Around the Country for Kids!. Lynchburg, VA: Willow Tree Press, 2003.
Houts, Amy. Cooking Around the Country with Kids: USA Regional Recipes and Fun Activities. Maryville, MO: Snaptail Press, 2010.
Centers for Disease Control: U.S. Obesity Trends. http://www.cdc.gov/obesity/data/trends.html (accessed on February 22, 2012).
Food Timeline: Traditional State Foods and Recipes. http://www.foodtimeline.org/statefoods.html (accessed on February 2, 2012).
Midwest Foods. http://www.midwestfoods.com/ (accessed on February 2, 2012).
Midwest Living: Favorite Midwest Recipes. http://www.midwestliving.com/food/favorites/ (accessed on February 2, 2012).
Whats4Eats: United States. http://www.whats4eats.com/cuisine/united-states/ (accessed on February 2, 2012).