When my sons were in fifth grade, the schools hosted international fairs. Students created maps and displays and were required to dress like a resident and cook a popular dish from their assigned country. We spent hours grating fresh beets for Russian borsch, wrapping wonton and searching for candies and nuts from Brazil.
When I taught Lost Horizon by James Hilton, high school students experienced Shangri-la by cooking Tibetan food. Second semester the same students prepared Elizabethan dishes when studying Shakespeare. Taste buds and stomachs have strong memories – years later my sons and former students still talk about ginger carrots, stuffed onions and wonton.
I knew gumbo would represent Louisiana when I saw Food.com’s 50 Iconic USA State Dishes. Key Lime Pie, Peach Pie and Mud Pie were no-brainers, too (I know my desserts). But some of the representative dishes threw me for a loop even though I’ve eaten in almost every state. Some places, residents devour dishes I’ve never heard of. Nebraskans eat Runza, Nevadans dine on Basque Salad, and in the Dakotas they relish Lefse and Chislic.
After reading Food.com’s list, I recommend hosting “state fairs” at elementary schools. Cooking and eating signature American dishes will generate as much excitement as international fairs and literary feasts. Grade schoolers will love lining up for an American smorgasbord that features Indian Fry Bread, Baked Potato Wedges, Deep Dish Pizza, Corn Dogs, Bison Burgers, Blueberry Pancakes, Cincinnati Chili, Walnut Maple Fudge, Battered Cheese Curds, Tater Tot Hot Dish, Fried Fruit Pies, White Clam Pizza, Amish Sugar Cream Pie, New Jersey Disco Fries served with Utah French Fry Sauce, Fried Ravioli and Pepperoni Roll Ups. Students can research “how” the food is made and, more importantly, learn “why” the dish represents a state.
It’s a great way to study American geography and history, plus learn how to read a calorie and nutrition label. There are some real scale-busters on the list.
The article inspired me to cook a nice batch of New Mexico green chili for dinner tonight.
But I’m not using the article’s recipe. Instead I’m cooking a recipe from a first-generation Chinese artist born in Mississippi who invented the recipe when living in Colorado. He shared it when we visited from Texas. I think it will taste great with Indiana Amish Sugar Cream Pie, even though I live in Florida. My kitchen’s a melting pot.