Back in 2011, when the biggest thing going on in England was the Royal Wedding, we got to thinking: How could we properly commemorate a year in which we’d be watching the Summer Olympics and voting in a presidential election? What collection of dishes would scream Americana and help us champion our national pride? We turned to our Kitchens, tapping into their culinary prowess and vast research library to help us define the full breadth of American cuisine. Soon we realized that each of our 50 states has its own unique and quirky food scene. How were we to choose the best eats from sea to shining sea?
But then it became clear: We didn’t need the best dishes in America (we’ve got Jeffrey Saad to help us with that), but the most distinctive. What one dish defines each state, we wondered? So we turned to you, our fans and resident state experts, to tell us about your state’s most iconic dishes. And tell us, you did, taking to Facebook, Twitter and commenting on Devour to show us how passionate you are about your local staples.
Armed with our list of 50, we asked the Kitchens to re-create the voted-upon dishes — and that’s when things got fun. This was no ordinary list; sure, there were some staples like peach pie, French fries and clam chowder, but there were also recipes with interesting names (Funeral Potatoes?) and some foods most of has had never heard of, like Lefse, Chislic and Salmon Candy (salmon WHAT?). Our chefs were challenged with the task of researching and writing recipes for these regional specialties, doing their best to replicate local flavors. Over the course of two weeks, they would prepare the recipes and set them out for tasting (called “development”), and then prepare one, two or even three revisions incorporating the testers’ feedback (called “cross-testing”).
From the first spoonful of Chile Verde to the final slice of Mississippi Mud Pie (and yes, there were several), participating in this project was nothing short of an adventure. We scored some insider chef tips (“chimichangas are great for breakfast the next day, when the flavors have melded”) and learned some smart substitutes (Can’t find huckleberries? Blueberries will do.). We discovered that pork roll is not a sandwich, but a cured meat that’s then tucked into a sandwich and that there is nothing somber about Funeral Potatoes (they are a positively delightful cornflake-topped cheesy potato casserole).
Once the recipes were developed, tested, cross-tested and tied with a bow, 52 dishes (one for D.C. and a traditional election year-themed cake) were prettied for their glamour shots. Some recipes were photographed more artfully (salty-sweet salmon candy balanced atop pink sea salt blocks) while others were shot to illustrate the way state natives might consume them: Nebraska meat pies on a fast-food tray, lobster rolls on a seaside picnic bench. When all the shots were completed, they were displayed for all to admire: beautiful, delicious photographs tacked to a bulletin board in rows.
Want to go deeper behind the scenes? See all our pictures of this project, from start to finish.
Then, check out Across the Country in 50 State Dishes for all the recipes and the stories behind them.
*All photography by Roberto Ferdman.