Do you ever think about where you have your roots? For some, it resides in a different country. For others, though born and raised in the US, they associate to their original heritage. If you're from Texas, then you think you are already in your own country... kidding! Well, okay maybe not totally kidding. My roots lie in Wisconsin. I was born there, and though I've lived many years elsewhere, I associate a trip to Wisconsin with going home.
My cultural heritage and food heritage are inexorably linked - one is absent without the other. The other weekend, IceDaddy and I had the opportunity to go back to Wisconsin for my brother's wedding reception. Leading up to the event, I really looked forward to foods that I associate to Milwaukee, my hometown - cheese and beer. Very long story short, during our trip, we made a pilgrimmage up to my aunt's dairy farm, Lawn View in Norwalk, Wisconsin. It was homesteaded in 1854 by my uncle's family, the Menns. Today, my aunt and uncle preserve traditions of family farming with the "modern" methods of organic milk production, and the raising of chickens, goats, and bunnies.
After driving 4 hours North, (traffic caused a bit of a delay), we entered the rolling green hills of farm country. The countryside is amazingly picturesque and absolutely what you would picture dairy country to be. The most pleasant surprise was a meal prepared by my mother (also visiting the farm) of homemade bratwurst cooked in beer with onions made from jersey cows butchered from their own herd. After tasting the bounty of sausage, served with fresh steamed corn and juicy watermelon, Ice commented, "you just can't find that flavor in a packaged bratwurst!" Amen!! While I can't give you the sausage recipe, I can tell you how the corn was prepped. My Uncle Scott, who lives in Tahuya, WA, taught us this method:
1 ear corn, shucked
1 - 2 paper towels, moistened
Butter, salt, and pepper (Preferably fresh-churned dairy butter)
Shuck the corn. Moisten 1 - 2 paper towels and wrap corn. Microwave on high 3 - 4 minutes or until corn is cooked through. Caution - it will be hot! Unwrap and spread with butter, salt, and pepper to taste.
Those simple ingredients explode with flavor when at the peak of freshness. That is what summer food is really about. But wait, there's more! My sister-in-law, native to Slovakia, has never known the joys of fresh cheese curds. One of the most fascinating tidbits about travel in farm country is that you can literally walk into any gas station and you will find freshly made cheese curds right on the counter by the register. I know that may sound faintly unappetizing. For the uninitiated, a cheese curd is simply the solid cheese pieces after the whey is drained off. Typically, the cheese you see in the store is pressed together into blocks or circles. The curds are the loose pieces of cheese before pressing. When you bite into a fresh room temperature curd, they squeak! Please - if EVER you find yourself in Northern Wisconsin and happen to see some cheese curds by a cash register, ask where they are from (most likely they are made within 50 miles of the store) and TRY THEM! Any time I'm in that area, I am compelled to buy them.
Visiting the farm inspired me to pick up the book, Animal, Vegetable, Miracle by Barbara Kingsolver. The book details one family's efforts to grow their own food and eat locally for an entire year. While there is a lack of practicality for Ice and I to pursue growing our own food completely, it did inspire me to visit our local farmers' market, Frisco Farmers Market. I am ashamed that I was not already a frequent visitor, but better late than never, right!? My plan was to build my meals around the bounty of the market. That way, not only was I supporting local agriculture, but we would be eating the freshest seasonal ingredients (one of the main principles in the book). And boy! Did I ever find some bounty. I found cheese curds (!) made locally in Yantis, TX 90 miles from Frisco, homemade sausage, heritage pork ribs, heritage skirt steak, fresh eggs, local tomatoes, strawberries, green beans, and new potatoes.
We decided to make a meal of spiedini - chicken thigh pieces and homemade sausage basted in a rosemary and garlic-infused oil, maple-chipotle glazed pork ribs, fresh corn on the cob, and potatoes and green beans with bacon. The green beans and potatoes were so simple and delish - I cooked up two slices of thick-cut bacon and crumbled, then used the bacon fat to saute the potatoes and some pre-blanched green beans.
I have to say, our unbiased taste-tester, Sam (my sis-in-law) absolutely raved about the meal. The meal did perhaps come across as a hodgepodge of food, but we embraced the bounty of the market and in doing so, experienced an explosion of taste. Sorry to say, no pics (I promise to make more effort there!), but the food was tasty!