Yellow bean field with white barn in Iowa. This US state is the 4th in the world for soybeans and corn.


Iowa

In Iowa you can discover the real Midwest, the region of the United States most famous for cornfields as far as the eye can see and delicious and tender pork steaks raised with cereals. Not only that: this state has different cultural realities that coexist with their traditions, from the ancient ceremonies of the Sioux Indians to the frugal lifestyle far from the civilization of the Amish.
PUBLISHED 17 JUNE, 2022 | BY GISELLA ISIDORI | 5 MINUTES READ
*This story appears on May-June 2022 Terre & Culture magazine issue, in the section Food & Friends - Ameritalia

Iowa became the 29th state admitted to the United States of America (USA) on December 28, 1846. It takes its name from an indigenous Indian tribe, the Iowa, one of at least 16 Native American tribes to live in what is now the state of Iowa.  As many as nine treaties were enacted between the Unite States government and Native American tribes between 1804-1851, that resulted in removing most of these indigenous people from the state.

Today, there are only a few thousand remaining members of the original tribes in Iowa.  Descendants of the Omaha tribe live in an area known as Blackbird Bend, which is located on the border between the state of Iowa and Nebraska.  Also, the Meskwaki, an Algonquian people, maintain their own settlement in Tama County. The American government provides some minimal support e.g., a monthly subsidy; despite this, tribal members have a lower-than-average life expectancy due to type-2 diabetes and other metabolic disorders, plus alcohol-related diseases.

There are numerous differences between the cultures and traditions of the American Indian tribes.  They differ in the beauty and complexity of ceremonial practices, including celebrations of their life during the Powwow, a ritual involving food, dancing and singing. These celebrations may also include craft exhibits, agricultural products and the serving of typical dishes from their kitchen culture. Through these gatherings, many times promoted with corresponding tourist events, tribes create a small amount of revenue. Many Indian tribes have opened casinos, an excellent source of income, because no US government taxes can be collected, as the territories have the status of sovereign land.

Sioux during a ceremony
The Territory | Iowa borders Minnesota to the north, Missouri to the south, Nebraska and South Dakota to the west, Wisconsin and Illinois to the east. The Mississippi and Missouri rivers draw their borders to the east and west, respectively. In general, the territory is undulating, made up of hills no more than a few hundred meters high, rich in lakes, both natural and artificial. The climate is continental with very harsh winters that can lead to heavy snowfalls and very hot summers with temperatures reaching 35 degrees. Throughout the year, Iowa can count up to fifty days characterized by thunderstorms, some with hail and ruinous rains.

 

EconomyIowa holds the top spot in the US for commercial corn and oat production.  It also grows soy, barley, flax, buckwheat, potatoes and fodder. No state produces more pork, and there is an ever-growing segment of farmers making excellent cheeses, including the famous  cheddars from Milton Creamery and Maytag Dairy Farms blue creations.

Agriculture also has a primary role because of the contributions of the many Amish settlers, owners of large tracts of land that cultivate naturally without the use of man modern techniques or equipment.

Farmers and artisans protect their territory by keeping it jealously free from the intrusions of civilization that could undermine their principles. This generates a curious fact: they do not use electricity to power their homes; they consider it as not fitting with their model of  simple living, but they do use alternative sources of energy such as wind, sun, water in their farming operations. There are no cars in the Amish community, since their intent is to live in humility, and this makes the Amish excellent horse breeders.  Horses are the major suppliers of transportation.

The animals pull the simple carriages covered or not (called buggies), which have become the symbol of this community. Their society is founded on mutual help, both for work and for money, which makes insurance, pension funds and the like superfluous. 

An Amish family on a buggie
History and curiosity | Iowa was colonized by the French, Spaniards and Germans, bringing their own cultures and traditions, but devoting themselves all to agriculture and livestock resulting in Iowa having the largest number of pig farmers and grain producers of all the United States.

The most famous Iowa personality is certainly the legendary John Wayne, born in Winterset, Iowa and known as “The Duke.”  Wayne starred in 165 movies, and portrayed Wild West characters in the majority of his roles.

Iowa is currently the state where every four years the first primary election is held.  This February primary officially kicks off the race that culminates with a national vote on the first Tuesday in November for the presidency of the United States. Currently, most offices in Iowa are controlled by the Republican Party, though in 2008 and 2012 Iowans supported Barack Obama, by a small margin, in the national elections.

The extraction of building materials and limestone is an active industry.  Iowa is an evocative and fascinating state, even if it is often underestimated and overlooked.

The capital is Des Moines, which literally means Of Monks. It is a very quiet city, full of greenery and botanical gardens where you can admire the beauties of nature. It was founded to supposedly protect the population and pioneers arriving from the surrounding territories from attacks by the Sioux and Fox tribes. From a cultural point of view, the Des Moines Arts Center, which houses works by Picasso, Renoir, Wood and Hopper, is remarkable. From a commercial point of view, the city is very important, as it represents the third largest insurance center in the world.

For shopping lovers it is worth visiting the Historic East Village of Des Moines, a pedestrian area that has a lot to offer with its shops and restaurants. Another prime attraction is the Downtown Farmers' Market, which is home to over 200 farmers who, from May 2 to October 31, sell seeds, flowers, plants, vegetables, baked goods and many other items. Also worth mentioning are historic malls: Merle Hay Mall, one of the oldest and largest in Iowa and Jordan Creek Town Center, the largest and newest; Valley West Mall and Southridge Mall.

The second largest city in Iowa is Cedar Rapids.  The city’s culture was influenced by Czech immigrants who began to arrive in the 1850’s.  Today, it is possible to visit the Czech Village, the National Czech and Slovak Museum and Library, plus find shops, restaurants and entertainment reflecting the Central European culture.

The old capital, Iowa City, is home to the main campus of the University of Iowa with about 30,000 students. The Writers Workshop, is one of its well-known programs, hence the city’s nickname is City of Writers.  Flannery O’Connor, John Irving, and others are among its famous alumni.

Ames, Iowa is the location of the main campus of Iowa State University, the largest university in the state with over 36,000 students.

Another somewhat unusual area is the Amana Colonies, an agglomeration of seven communities founded by a German Protestant sect, organized as a joint stock company, with the profits shared between all members of the same.

Gisella Isidori on a local newspaper; the Maharishi International University.
My memories | My favorite city, however, is Fairfield, where, in the 1990s, I spent a couple of winters with my husband and two nice guys from the Veneto, who attended the famous Maharishi International University.

Our task was to help these young business people set up a warehouse for the import of innovative, freeze-dried products, based on classic Italian specialties, such as Apulian orecchiette, polenta with truffles, and the classic Milanese risotto. In the following years I often went to Farfield to give cooking classes and participate in various radio and television programs. My favorite recipe was the preparation of Pizzoccheri Valtellinesi also because this is the specialty of my valley!

I am still in contact with Steven Boss, a great promoter of good natural food, and in particular authentic Italian products!  He is a superb person, passionate about sustainable local foods, producer of  a weekly radio program, Great Taste, and creator of the online community "The Foodverse", a virtual destination for anyone who wants to live a more active, engaged, joyful, and delicious life.

Despite my 87 years, I continue to promote Italian agri-food products and the best of Italian regional cuisine at an international level, even if from a distance.  All this gives me the opportunity to maintain the many precious friendships that I have been cultivating for over fifty years now!!

Apple Pie
The Iowa kitchen | It is based on agricultural products and in particular dishes prepared with maize, such as a Corndog.  This typical Iowa dish is prepared with a sausage, impaled on a stick, that is battered, fried or browned.  The corn dog is not easy to digest, but when I'm in Iowa I always eat at least one!

One of my favorite dishes, especially those prepared by the Amish, is definitely Apple pie.

 

Amish apple pie

Apple tart

Ingredients:

For pasta:

400 g flour

100 ml butter into small pieces

50 g sugar

2 egg yolks

1 tablespoon apple cider vinegar

1 pinch of salt

2 tablespoons of ice water

For the stuffing:

1 tablespoon cornstarch

5 Granny Smith apples / like the green apple

juice of 1 lemon

100 g sugar

½ tsp cinnamon

¼ teaspoon cloves powder

¼ tsp nutmeg

20 g butter

On a pastry board, arrange the flour and add the small pieces of butter. With two knives cut the butter into the flour until you get a grainy dough (you can also do this in a food processor). Transfer the dough to a pastry board and arrange it in a fountain. Make a hollow in the center and add the sugar, egg yolks and vinegar. Knead quickly with your fingers until the dough is smooth. Shape into a ball and let rest in the refrigerator for 15 minutes, wrapped in cling film. After the time has elapsed, take the pasta out of the fridge and divide it in half to make two sheets. With a rolling pin, roll out a very thin sheet of 2 mm and place it, without pulling it, in a buttered tart pan. Mix the corn starch with 50 g sugar and sprinkle this mixture on the bottom of the pastry.

Peel and cut the apples into chunks and put them in sparkling mineral water to keep them from blackening. Then drain and sprinkle with lemon juice and mix; then distribute them in the pasta shell. Sprinkle the apples with the remaining sugar, the powdered spices and chunks of butter. Roll out the other half of the dough into a sheet and place it on top of the apples. Trim the excess dough on the edges. Wet the edge of the basic pastry with water and seal the two discs with finger pressure, slightly raising the edges. Brush the surface with a little water and sprinkle with a little sugar and cinnamon. With a fork, prick the surface of the pastry to allow the steam to escape. Bake at 180 ° for 15 minutes and then lower the temperature and cook for another 35 minutes, until the dough is golden and the apples soft and succulent. Serve hot with a ball of vanilla ice cream or cold with whipped cream.

Expert in the history of Italian regional cuisine and leader in the promotion of organic Italian food, Gisella Menni Isidori is a well-known international consultant in the agri-food sector and sustainable tourism. She started making Made in Italy known in the United States since 1960. Throughout her career she has worked with many Italian growers, artisans and tour operators in Italy to improve their business and export their products to Canada and the United States.