This season’s Director’s “Dish” might in fact be a pie plate . . .
I never thought I’d come to know as many people who grew up on farms as I now do. Until moving to Lincoln almost five years ago, I’m pretty sure I had known no more than one or two people with farming backgrounds. But Nebraska—like so many midwestern and great plains states—was built on farming.
As Evelyn Funda points out so beautifully in her wonderful memoir/cultural history book Weeds, due out this month from the Press, 90 percent of Americans worked on family farms in the eighteenth century; today, less than 1 percent of Americans claim farm-related occupations. The story of family farming in the United States is the story of immigration, of agribusiness, of climate—of the many important strains that together have created our identity as a nation. Weeds is both a history and a lament for a time gone by—one that speaks to many of the people I’ve come to know.
Farming didn’t always work out, though, even early on. In The Last Days of the Rainbelt, David Wishart chronicles the sobering tale of those who mistakenly thought that rain would follow the plow into the western great plains. Wishart studied land records, climate reports, census records, and diaries to track the western expansion of farming and its ultimate failure in that region. A sad and cautionary tale.
When I came to UNP, I introduced the staff to the Annual Pie Contest. When I recently complained to friends about having lost every year—not even placing or getting an honorable mention nod—I was reminded that my competitors had probably been baking pies since they were knee-high to a cricket; pie is a crucial part of the cuisine of the Midwest. So true, and a good reason not to bake pies anymore—just invite others to bake, then sit back and enjoy the fruits of their labors (pun intended)!
One of the most pleasant Midwestern culinary discoveries my husband and I made when we moved to Chicago as a young family was the Door County Fish Boil. First, it was clear that Door County, Wisconsin, is itself a delight to discover—imagine going to the tip of Door County, where Lake Michigan and Green Bay meet! The fish boil—originally designed to feed large groups of lumberjacks at camp—is now part spectacle and part culinary event. I won’t go into the extravaganza’s details; you can read about it in Peggy Wolff’s Fried Walleye and Cherry Pie: Midwestern Writers on Food, which will be available in November. But wait until the summer to go to Door County—the winters are rough! And, I might add, a typical fish boil includes not only the fish, but potatoes, cole slaw, and, you guessed it, pie.
At UNP we’re proud to be the largest university press located between Chicago and California. We’ve got a wonderful crop of books for the fall—not just books about our region. But, as a still somewhat new Midwesterner, and certainly a still-green Nebraskan, I’m especially excited about the role we play in chronicling the life and history of our region. To those who might disagree, I would say, “Let them eat pie!”