Midwestern cooking, in its history and in its present forms, goes
a long way toward defining what American cooking is all about,"
writes cookbook author Judith Fertig in the introduction to her
recent book, "Prairie Home Cooking" (Harvard Common Press, $16.95).
"Food here is simple and comforting." says Ms. Fertig, and offers
up evidence in the form of 400 recipes that demonstrate the savory
diversity and creativity of heartland cuisine, and lays to rest the
notion that Midwestern cooking is little more than casseroles and
The recipes that make up this thorough treatise cover everything
from breakfast to dessert, including appetizers, soups, salads,
meat, chicken, fish, side dishes, and breads. Fertig has gathered
recipes from a wide variety of sources - from home kitchens, church
suppers, and state fairs, to out-of-print cookbooks and
Some of the recipes are based on homespun classics of the prairie
table, like New Prague Meatloaf, Homesteaders' Bean Soup, Cornhusker
Corn Casserole, and North Country Pot Roast. Fertig serves up new
and inventive creations as well, such as Walleye Pike with Fennel
and Herbs, Grilled Butterflied Leg of Lamb with Thyme and Garlic
Cream Sauce, Herb-Crusted Loin of Veal, and Gingerbread Waffles with
Fertig draws heavily on the ethnic heritage of the region. The
book abounds in recipes drawn from German, Scandinavian, Bohemian,
French-Canadian, British, and Italian cooking traditions that have
been transplanted to the Midwest by waves of immigrants over the
Then there are dishes like Exoduster Stew, a one-pot meal that
originated in the coastal South and was brought to the Midwest by
freed slaves who homesteaded in Kansas and Missouri after the Civil
War. Mexican Fish Stew came to the region with the Mexican
immigrants who moved to the Midwest to work on the railroads and,
later, to pick crops.
Indian Fry Bread and Black Hills Bison Roulades with Wojapi, a
traditional Sioux fruit "pudding" usually made with chokecherries,
reflect the influence of native Americans.
"We really are a melting pot," Fertig said in a recent interview.
"One of the things that I finally decided was that the heart of
American cooking is really Midwestern cooking."
A noted food writer and the author of several cookbooks, Fertig
has been researching Midwestern cooking and collecting recipes since
She notes that Midwestern cooking is making a comeback. It's
getting more attention in food magazines and being reinterpreted by
well-known chefs in major cities.
"We're in an age when comfort means a lot now," she said, while
remarking that Midwestern cuisine is often synonymous with comfort
food. "Everybody's running all over the place, and we have very busy
lives. A little comfort is very attractive to people."
Sprinkled in with the text of the book are scores of sidebars
that cover a broad range of subjects. Many of these are brief,
informative digressions on specific foods, like honey, sausages,
curds, morel mushrooms, dandelions, pot roasts, wild rice, and
heirloom tomatoes. …