National Dish of the Week – United States Great Lakes Region

November 25, 2011 at 2:06 PM | Posted in baking, Food | 2 Comments
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United States Great Lakes Region

The Great Lakes region of the United States includes the states of Wisconsin, Michigan, Indiana, Ohio, Illinois, Pennsylvania, and New York. The region enjoys four distinct seasons. Although the climate is considered temperate, temperatures in the summer can exceed 100°F and can drop to –10°F in the winter. There is rich farm land, and farmers’ markets offer abundant produce and fruit in the late summer and early fall across the region.

The region is also home to much manufacturing activity. Industrial pollution threatened the health of the Great Lakes, especially Lake Erie (the smallest Great Lake), until the 1960s, when a growing awareness of environmental concerns led to increased government regulation. Acid-rain, believed to be caused by air pollution generated by the coal-fired utility plants in the region, is also a concern. Increased acidity in the lakes creates unhealthy conditions for fish and other living things in the ecosystem of the region.

The Great Lakes region was originally populated by American Indians who taught later European settlers how to hunt the local game, fish, and gather wild rice and maple syrup, as well as how to grow and eat corn and native squashes and beans. The European immigrants, mostly from Germany, Scandinavia, Holland, Poland, and Cornwall, England, each shared their traditional dishes with the rest of America. The Germans contributed frankfurters (hot dogs), hamburgers, sauerkraut, potato salad, noodles, bratwurst,

Various types of Kielbasa

liverwurst, and pretzels to the American diet. Scandinavian foods include lefse (potato flatbread), limpa (rye bread), lutefisk (dried cod soaked in lye), and Swedish meatballs, as well as the smorgasbord (a table laid out with several courses of small foods). The Polish introduced kielbasa (a type of sausage) , pierogies (a type of stuffed pasta), Polish dill pickles, and babka (an egg cake). Pancakes are a Dutch contribution, along with waffles, doughnuts, cookies, and coleslaw. Miners from Cornwall brought their Cornish pasties, and small meat pies that were easily carried for lunch. Later immigrants from Arab countries settled in Detroit, Michigan, and introduced America to foods like hummus (puréed chickpeas), felafel (deep-fried bean cakes), and tabbouleh (bulgur wheat salad).

Dairy is a major industry in the Great Lakes region, particularly Wisconsin, known as “America’s Dairyland.” Dairy farmers in Wisconsin milk about 2 million cows every day, and there is one cow for every two people in the state. Not surprisingly, milk, butter, and cheese are staples in the Great Lakes diet. Pigs are also common on farms in the Great Lakes region because they take up less space and are easier to raise than beef cattle. Pork, therefore, is another common ingredient in Great Lakes cooking, especially in the form of sausage.

The majority of those who live around the Great Lakes are descended from German, Scandinavian, and Dutch farmers who settled there in the 1800s. Farming life shaped the diet and mealtime schedule of the region. Hearty breakfasts and generous lunches gave the farmers the energy to finish their work. German immigrants taught America to serve meals “family-style,” with all the food on the table at once, rather than bringing it out to the table in individual servings.

The Scandinavians brought their tradition of the smorgasbord to America. The smorgasbord is a large feast made up of a variety of small dishes laid out together on one table, beginning with bread and fish and moving through hot dishes, such as Swedish meatballs, all the way to dessert. Each person or family brings a dish to contribute to the smorgasbord. (The word “smorgasbord” has even been adopted into the English language to refer generally to anything offering a wide variety of items.)

 

Miners from Cornwall, England, had long eaten pasties (PAST-eez), small meat pies that were easy to carry for lunch. Immigrants to

A pasty

the Great Lakes area brought their tradition of Cornish pasties with them, and they are still a popular snack in the area.

Germans love beer and started a number of breweries around the Great Lakes. The Pabst and Schlitz breweries were both founded in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, in the 1800s by German Americans. (Milwaukee still ranks as the number-one beer-drinking city in America: While Americans on average drink 6 gallons of beer per year, Milwaukee residents average 42 gallons.) The Great Lakes region is also home to many well-known food companies, including Kellogg’s, Kraft, Pillsbury, Green Giant, and Land O’ Lakes.

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