Friday, March 03, 2006
I don't really think of the rural Midwest as having a culture. There's no unique and immediately recognizable accent. If someone hears that I'm from the Midwest, they don't immediately assume they can guess my stance on various social issues. We don't all dance the same way or like the same songs or eat the same foods. I mean, if I said, "Come with me to Swett's for some down home Southern cooking," y'all would immediately have some idea of what such a meal might entail. But if I said, "Come with me to this restaurant for some good Midwestern cooking" we'd have a much harder time defining what that might be. There'd certainly be a lot of casseroles and some layered Jello desserts and macaroni and cheese, but they have those foods other places. There might be loose meat sandwiches and horseshoe sandwiches. And, I suppose, there'd be burgoo. I was discussing burgoo just this morning with a man who had no idea what I was talking about. This man, who shall remain nameless unless he chooses to out himself, is something of a meat expert and yet he'd never heard of burgoo. He accused me of trying to warp him with some "Yankee" thing. Could the burgoo be the one unique Midwestern cuisine item? The one thing we can look at and say, "If you're eating burgoo, you're eating Midwestern?" I did some internet research. The home of the burgoo seems to be located in two places--Arnezville, Illinois, population 400 and Owensboro, Kentucky, population something or other that I couldn't easily find so I gave up looking. So, I don't think it's fair to call it "Midwestern" but I'll happily put it in the "rural central U.S." category. The folks in Arnezville now claim to only use beef and chicken in their burgoo, but I swear I remember this being one of those things where every one went into their freezers and took out whatever meat they had left over and bringing it all into one place to cook the shit out of it and eat it up and make room in their freezers for hunting season. So, I could have sworn you'd end up with beef (of course) and chicken (of course), but deer and rabbit and turkey and whatever else you'd caught and killed the year before. But none of the recipes are like that, so maybe I'm remembering wrong. I do, however, remember how all the men in town would gather around to take turns stirring the burgoo all night long and how hot the fires were and how listening to them laugh and talk when the women weren't around delighted me. Yes, I'll admit it confused me how all these men who could not go near a kitchen "because men can't cook" could, when the cooking was transferred out of doors and into kettles over large open fires,find the necessary skills to hack up meat and vegetables and make a fine thick hearty soup*. But I was a baby feminist at that point, and had the men all to myself, so I asked no questions. *If our Food Ambassador would like to chime in here with an explanation of the difference between soup and stew, I'd love to hear it. I think of stews as being thick, but this is thick and is still called a soup.