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My Wonderful Culinary Fly-Over Country

(post, Cindy Pepple)

Being the foodie that I am, I read as many culinary websites as I can. I find it fascinating to see what others are cooking, growing and buying in other parts of the country.  Sometimes there is an implication on some of these sites that the Midwest or Heartland is fly-over country when it comes to understanding and having access to good food and great ingredients.  Living in rural Illinois, I find myself increasingly grateful that I live in fly-over country.

When I read today's Culinate article "Rethinking Our Food Priorities" I was once again reminded of how fortunate I am.  I'm a big fan of free range, farm fresh eggs, but I would have a tough time spending $6 a dozen for them.  Fortunately for me, once a week a dozen of them is waiting on my desk when I arrive at work.  You see, the couple that cleans our offices also has a farm that's pretty much run as it has been for over a hundred years by the same family.  They raise chickens among other things and my cost for those beautiful eggs is fifty cents a dozen.  I give them a dollar a dozen in protest.  Since I can't eat a dozen eggs a week by myself I share the bounty with family and a few select friends that I know appreciate them for the treasures that they are.  All I ask is that they return the cartons to me so I can give them back to the farmers.  

Then there is the fallow deer farm owner who raises venison for top restaurants on both coasts. After processing he gets around twenty dollars a pound wholesale for some of the cuts.  My sister, brother-in-law and I got to know him through other friends.  He loves to talk to others that love to cook, and so, if we stop buy the farm he'll beckon us into a maze of barns and tack rooms for his wife's horses and he'll lead us to a deep freezer in a far back room.  He'll pull out a shopping bag and load it up with roasts, tenderloins and chops full to the top, all the while telling us how he prepares each cut.  He'll charge us $25 for the whole bag.  In return my brother-in-law brings him sausage cures from the spice plant he manages.  All that and we get to see the magnificent horses his wife breeds get excercised while engaged in foodie talk.

Morel season is almost upon us.  That means treks through the wooded properties that some friends own.  One friend of mine had everyone over one year for hamburgers and morels because they had so many of them they couldn't use them all.  They sent us home with bags of them.   

We also have the luxury of a wonderful meat processor and butcher shop in the area.  They only process beef from farms they know and with the quality they approve of.  Prime rib roasts of superb quality are $6.99 a pound during the holidays.  Usually $7.99 a pound at other times.  If the butchers know you love lamb, they'll give you a schedule of when they'll have the processed winning lambs purchased at the County Fairs in the area.  Their freezers are stocked with rabbit, duck, goose and veal.  And the bones are always available for making stock. 

If I didn't grow my own, I'd go to the asparagus farm about a mile away where you can pick your own.  And the farmers market not far away hosts the Nun's from Sinsinnewa Mound Convent selling the fabulous breads they bake, for never more than around $1.50 a loaf.  The Amish are there in force as well, with canned goods, fresh vegetables, baked goods and home sewn aprons like the ones that my grandmother used to wear.  The ones with sleeve holes, that actually cover more than 10 inches of your chest.

Last but not least is my secret cheese map.  Within an hour's drive I can visit five cheese makers, some of them award winning.  If you go during the week, you can go into the factory and buy fresh goat cheeses, sheeps milk cheeses, and award winning cheddars and swiss for about one quarter of the price you can buy it at the supermarket.  You have to reach into a cooler for it and have exact change in some cases for the hairnet wearing, white coated employee that sells it to you.  

I love Fly-Over Country.  It's the only way I can afford may tastes.