In Iowa, “We don’t meet if we don’t eat” could be the state’s unofficial motto. It makes sense, if you think about it. When you’re blessed to live in one of the world’s most abundant agricultural regions, you live close to the land and benefit from the bounty it provides, including fresh, delicious food.
What do you think of when you think of distinctively Iowa food? Some say sweet corn. Others vote for Maid-Rites, while still others say you’ve got to include breaded pork tenderloins as big as a dinner plate. I agree with them all!
As a lifelong Iowan, I also decided someone should write a book filled with stories, photos and recipes showcasing Iowa’s delectable cuisine, which is quintessentially Midwestern. The South Carolina-based History Press agreed, and I’ve been on a fast-paced culinary journey across Iowa since Thanksgiving 2015 to write “A Culinary History of Iowa: Sweet Corn, Pork Tenderloins, Maid-Rites and More,” which will be released Aug. 1.
WHILE IOWA ISN’T ALWAYS recognized as a culinary epicenter, I believe that no one knows more about the fine points of food than those who produce it.
Is it any wonder that generations of Iowa cooks mastered the art of preparing exceptional meals with farm-fresh ingredients?
It’s also clear that Iowa’s food scene has been evolving in recent years. Now a new generation of innovative Iowa chefs and home cooks are adding their own twist on Iowa fare as they create memorable meals with some of the best beef, pork, turkey and home-grown produce in America.
A unique mix of progressivism and provincialism is reflected in Iowa’s food, as well as its culture and politics. This is a state distinguished by some beloved culinary traditions that offer an extraordinary taste of Midwestern life. My book preserves the stories and history of:
• IOWA’S CHILI-AND-CINNAMON rolls phenomenon. Do you know which restaurants in Iowa have embraced this school-lunch classic combo?
• THE HOTEL JULIEN DUBUQUE.
Built on a site where a hotel has been located since 1839, the Hotel Julien Dubuque reflects the unique history of the community and pays homage to one of Iowa’s first female entrepreneurs with Caroline’s Restaurant. Know which infamous gangster reportedly hid out at the Hotel Julien Dubuque?
• JELL-O. A CHURCH SUPPER and picnic mainstay, Jell-O often shows up in dishes that most people would consider desserts, but Iowans define as “salads.” (Think Strawberry Pretzel Salad.) Any guess as to which Iowa city led the nation in per capita Jell-O consumption in a 1999 survey?
• THE YOUNKERS TEA ROOM.
Opened in 1913, the elegant Younkers Tea Room offered a high standard of elegance and sophistication in Iowa dining for nearly 100 years. Remember the famous musician (and Iowa native) who played the piano at the Younkers Tea Room?
Some of the nation’s top steakhouses are found in the Midwest, close to some of the best beef in the world. Know which Iowa community boasts a James Beard award-winning steakhouse?
That’s just the beginning.
A smorgasbord of stories, recipes and photos in “A Culinary History of Iowa” will cover everything from the Amana Colonies to Dutch letters to Maytag blue cheese and more. As I’ve traveled the state to explore Iowa’s culinary traditions, I’ve been impressed by just how passionate Iowans (and former Iowans) are about Iowa food. It’s also inspiring to see just how much care, love and energy Iowans infuse into everything they do, whether they farm, run a mom-and-pop restaurant or prepare treasured recipes for family and friends.
In addition, I’m reminded of the importance of supporting local businesses and giving back to the local community as I’ve visited with countless Iowans who remain rooted in the essentials of farming, faith and food. Iowa’s family farms, locally-owned restaurants and hometown businesses make Iowa a much more interesting—and tasty—place to live and work.
While “A Culinary History of Iowa” will offer just a tantalizing slice of Iowa’s food and farming heritage, I hope it gives you a new taste of what makes Iowa distinctive—and remarkable. Come along on this delectable journey and feast on Iowa’s culinary history. Let’s eat!
Maulsby’s book, “A Culinary History of Iowa: Sweet Corn, Pork Tenderloins, Maid-Rites and More,” will be available on Amazon and her website on Aug. 1. Maulsby, who is also the author of “Calhoun County,” an illustrated, non-fiction history of small-town and rural Iowa through the eyes of those who lived it, is available to provide educational programs related to both books. For more information, log onto www.darcymaulsby.com.
Discover Iowa's rich culinary heritage