Saturday, January 29, 2011

Happy 150th Birthday Kansas!

Today, January 29, 2011, Kansas celebrates 150 years of statehood. By the time Kansas entered the Union as the 34th state in 1861, the territory and its people had lived through much calamity. As a matter of fact, the state motto is Ad astra per aspera; "to the stars through difficulty." Throughout the year, the Sunflower State has been celebrating its sesquicentennial with a slew of statewide events. In addition to the planned events, the U.S Postal Service issued a commemorative Kansas 150th stamp. I'll leave a few links below so you can check out the calendar of events.

Before I realized that today was Kansas Day, I had another post all planned. I even baked a cake for the occasion. A Cheesecake! You see, today is also the day a man by the name of William A. Lawrence was born in 1842. Legend has it, Mr. Lawrence "invented" cream cheese. As is usually the case in matters such as these, there's a whole lot more to the story. With your permission:) I'd like to save Mr. Lawrence for National Cheesecake Day and share a few tidbits I didn't know about Kansas. Nibble on this while we explore:)

I appreciate the fact that "The Wheat State" is the Wheat Capital of the World. However, I wasn't aware it was Russian Mennonite immigrants who introduced "turkey red wheat" to the Great Plains in 1874. Turkey Red Wheat or hard red winter wheat, was a milestone in Kansas agriculture. It was appropriately suited to Kansas climate and made Kansas one of the leading wheat producing states in the United States. It is a hardy strain of high protein wheat used for baking bread. Which leads me to my next unknown fact, "In 1990 Kansas wheat farmers produced enough wheat to make 33 billion loaves of bread."

Children in Russia hand-picked the first seeds of this famous winter wheat for Kansas. They belonged to Mennonite Colonies preparing to emigrate from the steppes to the America prairies. A peace-loving sect, originally from Holland, the Mennonites had gone to the Crimea from Prussia in 1790 when Catherine the Great offered free lands, military exemption and religious freedom. They prospered until these privileges were threatened in 1871. Three years later they emigrated to Kansas, where the Santa Fe R.R. offered thousands of acres on good terms in McPherson, Harvey, Marion & Reno counties, and where the legislature passed a bill which exempted religious objectors from military service. Within a month after landing in New York the Mennonites planted the red~gold grains their children had selected. The harvest was the first of the great crops of hard Turkey Red and its derivatives that have made Kansas the Granary of the Nation. (source)

I knew the Honeybee was the state insect of Kansas and the American Buffalo the state animal. So, why was I surprised to discover that the state song is...yup, you guessed it, Home on the Range.

Oh, give me a home where the Buffalo roam

Where the Deer and the Antelope play;

Where never is heard a discouraging word,

And the sky is not clouded all day.

Dr. Brewster Higley (1876)

People who live in Kansas are called Kansans. Kansans are sometimes referred to as Jayhawkers, Grasshoppers and Sunflowers. Oh goodie, an excuse to share last year's Sunflower with you backwards:)

Okay, let's get to the serious stuff. Did you know, at one time it was against the law to serve ice cream on cherry pie in Kansas. Why oh why I wonder?

Kansas Food Trivia

It's not exactly the right time of year for brain freeze, but, I'll give it to you anyway. It was a Kansan by the name of Omar Knedlik who invented the first frozen carbonated drink machine in 1961. In 1965, 7-Eleven bought the machine from its inventor and the Slurpee was born. We'll be celebrating the Slurpee's birthday in July, a more appropriate time of year don't you think? (In PA anyway:)

According to Pam Grout, author of You Know You're in Kansas When...:, ( preview available @ google books) Windom, Kansas has claims on being the Covered Dish Capital of the World. I may just have to question that claim. There sure are a heck of a lot of potlucks around here too.

I was really surprised to discover fast food is right on track in Kansas, especially after that covered dish claim above. Here goes, the very first White Castle was opened in Wichita in 1921 as was the first Pizza Hut in 1958. AND, the first restaurant chain; The Harvey Houses. (You may have heard about them in an old Judy Garland movie:)

  • The first Vegetarian Community was established in Kansas in 1856.
  • Hutchinson is nicknamed the Salt City because it was built above some of the richest salt deposits in the world.
  • Being a former New Yorker, I didn't know there was a Manhattan in Kansas so, imagine my surprise when I also learned The American Institute of Baking is located in Manhattan, Kansas.
  • And, there's a Pittsburg in Kansas also. According to wiki Pittsburg, Kansas is dubbed the Fried Chicken Capital of Kansas.
  • Chetopa, located on the Neosho River in Southeast Kansas, stakes its claim as the Catfish & Pecan Capital" of Kansas
  • MarCon Pies has helped Washington County become the "Pie Capital" of Kansas.
  • I bet Popeye weighed in on this one. Lenexa, Kansas was hailed as the “Spinach Capital of the World” during the 1930’s!
  • Kansas State University is home to a wonderful collection of rare books on cookery.
  • Kansas is cattle country and Barbecue rules!

Alas, I can Pig Out just as much as the next person. On the other hand, what if we were to step back in time for a moment and explore Laura Ingalls Wilder's Little House on the Prairie. Just last month I sent a series of Laura Ingall's books to my grand daughter Tabitha, who is enjoying them immensely. When she gets a little older, I hope to buy her The Little House Cookbook by Barbara M. Walker. I found a recent review online here just in case you have the inkling:)

From what I recall, and mind you, I read these books many years ago, when Charles, Caroline, Mary and Laura hitched their covered wagon and ventured across the frozen Mississippi River to stake their claim on the Kansas prairie, the pioneer tradition of "making do" was a full time job for the entire family. Laura was only three when they arrived in Kansas. Food in Kansas was varied only by season. In essence, one meal was much like the other. Laura spoke a lot about pioneer food in her books and for that we should all be thankful:)

I've chosen a recipe from one of my favorite cookbooks for today's post; Prairie Home Cooking by Judith M. Fertig; Harvard Common Press, 1999. From the introduction:

"...For the European immigrants who came here in the nineteenth century, the sea of grass that was the prairie was an alien enviroment. Many of the new arrivals settled, of course, along the banks of the rivers, where trees and brush broke up the monotony of grass. Inland, too, groves of oak and walnut provided more relief, as did wild scrub plants like mulberry, chokecherry, and wild plums, common in low-lying areas...The richly patterned geographical quilt of "fly over country"-the great expanse that you see from the plane window as you fly from one coast to another-is home to enthnic communities of all kinds, where festivals celerating cultures as diverse as Czech, Norse, Russian Mennonite, and Sioux are occasions to remember the past and observe traditions in the present. In the pages of this book, you will meet some of the people who contribute to this region's culinary and cultural melting pot; great home cooks, farmers, speciality food purveyors, experts on regional foods, and even writer's of essays and fiction...Midwestern cooking, in its history and its present forms, goes a long way toward defining what American cooking is all about. Food here is simple and comforting. As Bon Appetit Magazine recently noted, "The cooking rooted in the middle of america has finally been discovered...Not only is the food delicious, but it offers an edible history of the settling of our county as well."... Now imagine an old quilt spread out under a prairie sky. On this quilt an array of sweet and savory dishes form the small towns, farms, and ranches beckon you to taste the best of prairie home cooking."

Now don't these Whole Wheat Pancakes sound simply perfect?

Featherweight Whole Wheat Pancakes
Anyone who grew up in a wheat-farming community in the Great Plains remembers the wonderful flavors of breads and pancakes made with freshly ground grain. With the resurgence of interest in homemade breads, grain mills for the home kitchen are once again popular. At the Thistle Hill Bed-and-Breakfast in Wakeeny, Kansas, fresh wheatberries are gathered after the harvest and ground at the farm shortly before making these pancakes.
2 cups whole wheat flour
1 tsp. baking soda
3 tbs. sugar
1/2 tsp. salt
2 eggs, well beaten
1/4 cup white vinegar
1-3/4 cups milk
1/4 cup canola oil or corn oil
1. Sift together the flour, baking soda, sugar, and salt in a small bowl. In a large bowl, combine the eggs, vinegar, milk, and oil. Whisk the dry ingredients, a little at a time, into the egg mixture until you have a smooth batter.
2. Lightly oil a griddle or skillet and place it over medium high heat. When it is hot, use a large spoon to transfer the batter onto it. Turn the pancakes when the underside is browned, but before the bubbles break through the upper surface. Remove from the heat when the other side begins to brown, and keep warm until all are done. Serve immediately, with maple syrup. Serves 6

The recipe suggests serving the Featherweight Whole Wheat Pancakes with Midsommersdag Elderberry Syrup and Home Churned Butter. I wasn't sure about the Home Churned Butter but I thought with its Swedish roots, the Midsommersdag Elderberry Syrup was certainly worthy of a scan. I've also scanned two beguiling syrup recipes; Honeysuckle Syrup and Watermelon Syrup, just because:) There's also a beckoning recipe for Fresh Farmhouse Cheese that needs to be shared. I think I'll save that recipe, since it appears fairly simple and has the consistency of cream cheese, for one of the other Cheesecake Days we will be celebrating throughout the year. Enjoy Louise


1. Kansas 150 Commemoration
2. Kansas Dept. of Commerce
3. Kansas Travel & Tourism on Facebook
4. Kansas Facts and Trivia
5. Kansas Facts & Fancies
6. Kansas Historical Society
7. Oysters in Kansas?
8. Cooking In Kansas: Bieroch Recipe