After traveling from March to September, life feels slower, yet busier in Campbellsville. Kat works 50 or 60 hours a week at Amazon, and it seems like I work at least 50 while trailer-keeping, shopping, cooking, and struggling to get affordable health care. There’s time to write, but not so much to write about. I’ve reflected on this year’s travels, and today I’ll talk about the food side of them.
We grew up in Louisiana. Paul Prudhomme taught me how to pass for a Cajun cook (PP has a cooking show, and I have nearly worn out his Louisiana Kitchen.) Any good grocery store south of Shreveport stocks crawfish, boudin, twelve kinds of shrimp, and frozen gumbo crabs. To my amazement, in Vermillion, SD, I found a grocery with gator sausage, Natchitoches meat pies, and frozen crawfish tails from Breaux Bridge, not China. Andouille has become a national product. Manda, Savoie, and Richard’s regional brands offer a tastier, more authentic garlicky pork sausage, but Johnsonville’s is as close to real andouille as the Astros are to real baseball. Yo, they’re in the ballpark.
Kat likes sprouts but she rarely finds them. Sprouts are exemplars of the raison d’être of Whole Foods and Fresh Market: you can’t get them elsewhere. But sprouts are ubiquitous in Idaho. Alfalfa, clover, bean, mung bean, fennel, and mixed sprouts appear in every grocery. They ain’t bad atop a tuna sandwich.
Buffalo burgers are on every menu out west, and you’ll find ground bison in most groceries. Bison with beef, barbecue sauce and cheese has become our favorite burger. Ground bison can be had from the Dakotas to Idaho, and south as far as New Orleans. Wisconsin, Minnesota, Michigan and most of Ohio shun it. It is available in Cincinnati and Campbellsville. If I ever run across a buffalo tenderloin or rib roast, I will happily make the 401(k) withdrawal needed to fund it. The meat is just that good.
Other foods are regional. Grits are banned along the entire Michigan – Montana axis. Mary B’s biscuits range just north of Cincinnati, and that’s it. Scones are popular everywhere except Kentucky. Cincinnati chili is all the rage inside a 400 mile radius of the Queen City. If you haven’t had it, Cinci chili differs from the Texas version by inclusion of allspice, cloves, cinnamon, and chocolate. Yes, cocoa. Canned or frozen brands are Skyline, Cincinnati Recipe, and Gold Star. I don’t eat chili over pasta like the natives, but it’s great in a bowl with shredded cheddar and Fritos, or on a hot dog with caramelized onions and some more of that cheese.
Wal-Marts look the same everywhere. But their grocery offerings are as regional as Ralph’s Pretty Good Grocery. If the name doesn’t ring a bell, you better Google it: that’s something else you’re missing.