Biscuits and chocolate gravy are breakfast food in Arkansas. Immigrants from Somalia, in Africa, make meat-stuffed pastries called sambusas in Minnesota. In North Dakota, bees produce about 34 million pounds of honey a year. These are among the delicious little nuggets in United Tastes of America: An Atlas of Food Facts & Recipes from Every State!, by GABRIELLE LANGHOLTZ. She spoke with TFK’s Jaime Joyce.
How did you do the research for this book?
Well, you might say I’ve been doing the research my whole life. I had been to all 50 states before I started the book. As a kid, my family moved all around. I was born in Indiana. We lived in Kentucky, California, Alaska, Oklahoma, New York, and Virginia. I now live in Pennsylvania. Both my parents were college professors. Their approach to life was always, “Let’s just go see and do all of the things with our kids.” Everywhere we went, it was like, “Let’s taste this crazy barbecue! Let’s go to this Texas steakhouse!” We tried seal blubber in Alaska. Food was always a big part of exploring and experiencing on the way to and from national parks.
What do you hope kids take away from reading this book?
I hope kids take away that America has regionalism and diversity. When you go to different parts of our big, beautiful country, you have different experiences, different people, different geography, different history, and different cultures and customs. Through food you can learn about all those things.
Can you give examples of some fun things you learned in your research?
I learned so many fascinating things! A few examples: People in Florida eat alligator, people in Maine eat moose, and people in Colorado eat rattlesnake! Chicago hot dogs are covered in just about everything—except ketchup! And Idaho donuts are made even more delicious by a secret ingredient: mashed potatoes.
For those kids who may be going on a road trip this summer with their families, what are some foods that you want to make sure kids try?
It depends on where you're going, but I find that seafood, or freshwater fish, is pretty spectacular no matter where you go. If you're up in New England, it's lobster, but also clams and scrod and cod and chowder. And then you come down to Maryland and it’s crab legs that you eat on the shore. And oyster po’boys in New Orleans.
Also, paw paw. If you go to Indiana or Ohio, find the paw paw. This is a fruit that tastes like banana times passion fruit. You can't buy it in a store, or even in a farmers’ market. It's almost forgotten. Thomas Jefferson and George Washington grew it. It’s so delicious!
You’ve traveled all over the country. You’ve been to all 50 states. You’ve lived in many of them. Is there anything that was really new to you?
I love learning about Arizona. There’s a whole bunch of super ancient agriculture there. In Virginia, peanut soup. That was a fun one. Buttermilk pie [from South Carolina]. Love that one. I love this Guamanian chicken salad that I got from my childhood friend who’s from Guam. She gave me her mom’s recipe. You can cook your way through this book if you want to, but I hope people will just enjoy reading it, traveling while sitting on their sofa.