"Midwest comfort" doesn't roll off my tongue. Does it yours? Nor is there a liquor by that name. But if you call the midwest home and you know its comfort and feel a fondness for its landscape then you can appreciate how a place and its foods grips our hearts, minds, stomachs, and ultimately, our bowels. Heartland by Judith Fertig is a thick walnut of a book whose photography and recipes cover twelve states: Ohio, Indiana, Michigan, Illinois, Iowa, Wisconsin, North Dakota, South Dakota, Minnesota, Missouri, Kansas, and Nebraska.
Incidentally, I'll take this opportunity to be straightforward in outlining my minimal midwestern cred: My grandfather was born in Detroit and his people were from Ireland and Germany by way of Illinois, Missouri, Pennsylvania, and Maryland. My husband's parents are from Ohio and I've visited parts of Canton and Cleveland and sampled those regional cuisines (they are not foreign or peculiar at all--the cuisines, that is). Likewise, I've traveled thorough the midwest and visited all the twelve states except for Michigan, Minnesota, and the Dakotas.
People love land, community, and what those tings represent and Fertig's introduction ties recipes and traditions to foodie trends such as artisan bakers, micro-breweries, and charcuterie. She also looks to midwestern literature and draws from scenes in My Antonia to illustrate the role food plays in the work of regional authors.
Fertig organizes the book traditionally into pantry, breakfast and brunch, breads, appetizers and drinks, salads and soups, main dishes, and deserts. And then her end matter includes resources, permissions, credits, metric conversation and equivalents and an index.
This is another lovely coffee-table type book that's too nice to bring into the kitchen and cook from. It's perfect to browse and drool over, and the photography by Jonathan Chester and Ben Pieper contribute to the book's overall excellence. Some of the more eye-catching recipes are home-rendered lard, egg pasts, bacon-infused vodka, no-knead clover honey dough, clover honey challah, farm girl cosmo with rosy rhubarb syrup, and the garden gimlet with fresh herb syrup.
This reminded me a great deal of Cider Beans that I reviewed in November simply because both books embody a "new" regional cooking and not the traditional regional cooking that we associate with that region. One of the sections that I loved in this book was the section on foraging.
If you've been living under a rock the last two or three years, foraging--or wildcrafting as I've always known it as---has made a come back. There was an NPR story late last month. Fertig's book includes a section on foraging that features the Omaha tribe and their traditional foraging of elderberries, pawpaws, wild greens, ramps, morels, and hickory nuts.