It was those experiences that made me thrilled to see a new show last fall on the Food Network called “Heartland Table” featuring Amy Thielen. A Minnesota native and chef, Thielen was born and raised in Park Rapids, Minn., which she left in her early 20s to head to New York City. There she attended culinary school and spent about six years working as a chef before she returned to her roots and her family’s Minnesota cabin. “Heartland Table” is set in the cabin, where she reinvents some family and regional favorites, gathering ingredients from the land and the small communities nearby. Many of the show’s recipes are part of a cookbook Thielen also published last fall called “The New Midwestern Table.” I bought the cookbook for my sister for Christmas and got one for myself as well. I recently spent some time perusing it and find it to be an interesting read as it’s not just a cookbook. It’s also part memoir and part education about Midwestern foods and their origins and has gorgeous photographs of not only Thielen’s culinary creations, but also the Minnesota landscape, family gatherings and local food establishments such as the family business Thielen Meats.
All the chapters and nearly all the recipes include meaty introductions explaining the relationship of the recipe or food group to the area or herself. The chapters are truly indicative of Midwestern foods with one chapter solely devoted to Lake Fish, with twists on recipes for walleye and pike and the traditional fish fry. There is another chapter devoted to Potatoes and Onions, where she says “it’s hard to find good ole’ Midwestern hash browns in New York City.” Another chapter called Projects includes a mish mash of concoctions such as pickles, chokecherry nectar and an explanation on how to make birch tree syrup. In the chapter Early Day Baking, Thielen’s recipe for Peanut Maple Fudge Bars emulates the Nut Goodie candy bar.
Thielen mentions South Dakota, Wisconsin and Nebraska multiple times throughout the book, however, the only reference I have found so far to North Dakota is in the Sides chapter where in a recipe for Milk Cabbage she mentions that a friend’s mother was from North Dakota where she used to bathe her garden veggies in milk while still in the ground. If you’re in the market for a new cookbook and looking for some new ideas for traditional Midwest dishes, I highly recommend “The New Midwestern Table.” Also, it appears “Heartland Table” returned to the Food Network in March airing on Saturday mornings. Check it out!