Pop quiz—where in Iowa you can dine at a James Beard award-winning steakhouse? Any idea where to find Iowa’s own distinctive style of potato chips, which might be the world’s best chips? What if you want to step back in time and enjoy a slice of homemade pie at an Iowa icon that first opened in 1852?
You’ll pass the test with flying colors—and impress your friends—when you discover Iowa’s hidden history. Okay, it’s not really hidden, if you know where to look. If you have an appetite for adventure, you can’t do better than Iowa when it comes to history, culture, and one-of-kind culinary experiences. And yes, contrary to popular belief, Iowa does have distinctive food traditions, as revealed in my new book, “A Culinary History of Iowa: Sweet Corn, Pork Tenderloins, Maid-Rites and More.”
(In case you’re wondering, the steakhouse is Archie’s Waeside in LeMars—see page 56; the chips are Sterzing’s from Burlington—page 144 has the scoop; and the 1852 restaurant is Breitbach’s Country Dining in Balltown near the Mississippi River, page 92).
Relish the tantalizing tidbits you missed in history class.
This hunger for all things Iowa started decades ago. For nearly 20 years, I’ve been a “Roads Scholar,” with my work as a freelance ag writer and marketing specialist taking me across Iowa’s back roads year-round. As a lifelong history buff and food aficionado, I’ve made it a point to visit every mom-and-pop café, museum, and food festival I encounter in my travels.
I also love sharing what’s great about Iowa and often post stories, photos, and recipes form my adventures on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and my blog. I’m old-school, though, and still love printed books. After working with Arcadia Publishing in 2015 on my first book, Calhoun County, which tells the story of small-town and rural Iowa through the eyes of those who lived it, I was hooked.
I was thrilled when The History Press offered me a contract the day before Thanksgiving 2015 to write “A Culinary History of Iowa” I freaked out, though, when my editor wanted a draft of this 190-page book by late February 2016. Had I bitten off more than I could chew?
From Al Capone to Jell-O
Never one to back down from a challenge, I channeled my inner “Roads Scholar” again and headed across Iowa. First stop? The historic Hotel Julien Dubuque, where I dined on incredible Banana Bread French Toast at Caroline’s Restaurant (named in honor of one of Iowa’s first female entrepreneurs) and heard tales of infamous gangster Al Capone and his ties to the hotel. (Want the whole story—and maybe stay in the luxurious Capone Suite? Check out page 120.)
All this whet my appetite for more. Iowa’s delectable cuisine is quintessentially Midwestern, grounded in its rich farming heritage and spiced with diverse ethnic influences. Then there so many tantalizing Iowa originals, like the world-famous Iowa State Fair, where a dizzying array of food on a stick commands a nationwide cult following. You can’t forget Maid-Rites, the moveable feast known as RAGBRAI, Steak de Burgo, strawberry-rhubarb pie from the Amana Colonies and other Iowa classics.
And then there’s Iowans’ mystifying love affair with Jell-O. (See page 45 for the surprising story.) Want to spark a heated debate? Ask an Iowan to decide whether Strawberry Pretzel Squares with Jell-O on page 46 is a salad or a dessert.
Feel like raising a few eyebrows? Ask Iowans (and non-Iowans) what they think about serving chili with cinnamon rolls. As a friend fromMinnesota told me (with an air of disgust), “Chili and cinnamon rolls—together? That makes about as much sense as birthday cake and scrambled eggs!” Only to the uninitiated, my friend.
Don’t miss the world’s best cinnamon roll recipe (which can also be adapted to make the world’s best caramel rolls) on page 154. I can vouch for the awesomeness of Mom’s Favorite Cinnamon Rolls from my friend Jerry Schleisman, who farms near Lake City. Jerry’s mom, Loraine, was a school cook when I was growing up, and I still remember how fabulous her homemade caramel rolls were. I promise you—no one skipped school lunch when it was chili and caramel roll day!
I invite you to dig in Iowa’s tastiest traditions through “A Culinary History of Iowa” and make time to explore my home state, from our small towns to the cities. You’ll relish the tantalizing tidbits you missed in history class!
Darcy Dougherty Maulsby grew up on a Century Farm near Lake City, Iowa, and still lives in this area, where she runs a marketing/communications company and is working on her next book. Learn more at www.darcymaulsby.com, where you can visit her online store to order “A Culinary History of Iowa” and “Calhoun County.” Darcy’s books are also available on Amazon.com.