Eating history: Menu planning for NFL playoffs

 Last week I planned a weekend menu around the NFL playoffs – giving home team advantage. We ate Shrimp Creole in honor of the New Orleans Saints on Saturday, and Cowboy Stew approximating the Denver Broncos on Sunday. Apple Pan Dowdy for the New York Giants.

When Curt and I went over the games that would be happening this weekend, I got excited, because they’re all great food areas: New England, San Francisco, Wisconsin, Baltimore. Clam chowder, Cioppino, Beer Brats, Crab Cakes. Those are the dishes I thought of instantly. But as I looked at the weekend schedule, I realized that New England and San Francisco were playing on the same day – two seafood soups in one evening? Crab cakes and beer brats together? That sounded weird.

I realized I needed to stretch my knowledge about these regions: what else were they known for?

Through simple Google searches, “traditional New England/San Francisco/Maryland/Wisconsin cuisine,” I came across several dishes that interested me, but more importantly, I came upon a fantastic, beautifully researched website: Food Timeline: food history and vintage recipes. The site was created by Lynne Olver, “a reference librarian with a passion for food history.” I’ve only scratched the surface of it; for my menu planning purposes yesterday, I was looking at state foods, classic dishes that the regions are known for. Olver does a terrific job giving a shortlist of “state foods”, as well as providing resources to explore for further information.

As I became absorbed in exploring further and further into each state’s history, the foods they’re known for, I was reminded again of how the history of food is the history of the world: when people talk about chop suey as a San Franciscan dish, they’re referencing the history of the railroad, the history of Chinese immigration. When we talk about apple pie as an American dessert, we’re talking about the ability of apples to flourish in the Northeastern climate, with its cooling down and frosts in the fall and winter.

At the moment, our weekend menu looks like this:

Saturday: San Francisco/New Orleans; Denver/New England

Cioppino

Sourdough Bread

Apple Pie

Sunday: Baltimore/Houston; New York/Green Bay

Hot Crab Dip

Beer Brats with Homemade Sauerkraut

Menu planning by home field advantage for the NFL playoffs has inspired me to learn more about other regions, and has challenged me to create meals that make sense for each day. It’s an interesting, fascinating project and makes me want to know more about regional foods, and by extension the history of America. I’ll report back next week – until then, happy eating!

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