I am soon leaving the Midwest, but first taking a detour, finally, into the Great Plains, land of amber waves of grain, sunflowers, corn and so on. Before anything else, however, I have to figure out just what constitutes the cuisine of the "Great Plains" in the first place.
Official Name: State of Kansas
State Nicknames: The Sunflower State; The Wheat State; The Breadbasket of the World
Admission to the US: January 29, 1861 (#34)
Capital: Topeka (4th largest city)
Other Important Cities: Wichita (largest city); Overland Park (2nd largest); Kansas City (no, the one in Kansas: 3rd largest)
Region: Midwest, Great Plains; East North Central (US Census)
RAFT Nations: Bison
Bordered by: Nebraska (north); Missouri (east); Oklahoma (south); Colorado (west)
Official State Foods and Edible Things: buffalo (animal); wild native sunflower (flower & flower emblem); honeybee (insect - its honey is what is edible)
Some Famous & Typical Foods: prairie foods, including Native American and pioneer foods; wheat, wheat and more wheat; sunflowers; honey; did I mention wheat?
In her cookbook Prairie Home Cooking, Judith M. Fertig discusses her reaction as a girl to moving to Kansas in the 1980's - an exciting expanse of prairie, as European immigrants discovered a century beforehand. Today, the prairies are a mixture of culinary traditions from Europe and Native North America, as seen in their festivals, which "[celebrate] cultures as diverse as Czech, Norse, Russian Mennonite, and Sioux" (Fertig 1999: xi). The foods of the prairies are part and parcel the foods of the Midwest, and Fertig describes them as a culinary oral history of sorts, connecting the past to the haute present:
Although Sunday dinner at grandma's is but a memory for many far-flung families, foods that say "comfort," "family," and "farm" are returning to favor. They get a lot of play in food magazines and they are being reinterpreted by well-known chefs in major cities [Fertig 1999: xii]She mentions noodles and dumplings, relish trays and homemade pickles, bread - homemade - and beef, potatoes and wheat beers as major parts of prairie life. I hear her on the beer.
Kansas, specifically, is a major exporter of wheat, as the Kansas Wheat Commission points out: Kansas is "on average" the country's leading producer and storer of wheat, producing about 20% of the nation's wheat (Kansas Wheat Commission, 2011). I can't even begin to grasp the different varieties of wheat they grow there.
Since wheat is so important to the "Breadbasket of the World", a loaf of bread made sense for my first recipe. But in the spirit of Kansas, I sought out a recipe that also included some of the other very important ingredients from the state: sunflowers (the state flower) - harvested by native peoples for many generations before Kansas even existed, and honey - produced by the state insect, the honeybee. I was surprised at the sheer number of recipes for "Honey Sunflower Bread". King Arthur Flour has an excellent recipe that they even call "Kansas Sunflower Bread" featuring both hand-kneaded and bread maker versions. Plus the Baked Bree blog has a lovely honey wheat sunflower bread recipe where the author, Bree Hester, kneads it in the bread maker and then bakes it in the oven. But in the end, I went with the one straight off the Kansas Wheat Commission's website.
The recipe: (Honey) Sunflower Wheat Bread
To make this thoroughly Kansan bread you will need the following (measurements can be found in the Kansas Wheat Commission's recipe):
* whole wheat flour and bread flour (I had just enough leftover bread flour that I didn't need the extra $3.50 bag I bought just in case; I had plenty of whole wheat flour)
* milk (skim but all I had was whole)
* cracked wheat (I have no experience with this stuff and have never used it before. I bought bulgur wheat in bulk)
* sunflower seeds (salted, though I ended up getting unsalted, also in bulk)
* butter, salt, turmeric (had them all)
* orange juice and orange rind (I forgot to add this last part after accidentally adding a little extra dash of orange juice)
* active dry yeast (one packet - this I ran out of)
Unlike most bread recipes I have followed, this one featured a simple first step: cook the bulgur wheat in just enough water until it boils out, about five minutes or so but watch it so it doesn't burn.
Next add the ingredients in the order you normally would for your bread maker. Since I had a newly-purchased second hand bread maker - the Zojirushi BBCC Q10 at the Goodwill for all of $8 - I had to figure out just what order I needed to add the ingredients. I ended up adding the liquids first, then the flours and solids, and then finally the yeast.
Now for the really hard part: set your bread maker for the "whole grain" setting. On my new bread maker, that's about 4 hours.
Four hours later you get this:
The one thing I found disappointing was the fact that the flavor was not very honey-like. I couldn't taste it at all, really. It's still a nice, light bread, with nice specks of bulgur and sunflower poking out from all over. And it is an easy bread, even with the cracked wheat (which, again, I have little experience using). All in all, a good use of Kansas' best ingredients. Again, however, I would have to add a tablespoon more of honey. hopefully for a more honeyed taste.
It slices nicely too.
Fertig, Judith M. Prairie Home Cooking: 400 Recipes That Celebrate the Bountiful Harvests, Creative Cooks, and Comforting Foods of the American Heartland. The Harvard Common Press: Boston, 1999. Also partly available on Google Books.
Hester, Bree (BakedBree). "Honey Wheat Sunflower Bread Recipe". Published August 24, 2010.
Kansas Wheat Commission. Facts About Kansas Wheat. Kansas Wheat, copyright 2009.
Kansas Wheat Commission. "Sunflower Wheat Bread". Kansas Wheat, copyright 2011.
King Arthur Flour. "Kansas Sunflower Bread". King Arthur Flour, copyright 2011.
Some information also obtained from Wikipedia's "Kansas" page and other pages, and the Food Timeline State Foods link to "Kansas".