With warmer weather comes the opportunity to eat fresh. Luckily for many Kansans this concept isn’t just a trendy idea, it’s a way of life. Farm-to-table is embedded in how we live. It’s in our history, it’s in our recipes, it’s in how we shop and how we talk about food. Our favorite comfort foods often incorporate items that are staples in the Kansas pantry: sunflower seeds, strawberries, beef, fresh vegetables, or poultry. Let’s explore why fresh, local food is rooted in Kansas history.
Community is History
By choosing to eat local food we have more opportunities to connect with our community. This concept has strong Midwestern roots. We like chatting with the man who picked the vegetables, or the woman who canned her jams. We like knowing our favorite seasonal treats will be available at our favorite places, like fresh rhubarb pie from The Millennium Cafe at the library. Restaurants like The White Linen and RowHouse have made local and fresh food a cornerstone of how they operate.
Supporting Our Neighbors
More schools and communities are creating community gardens. These are places where people learn from and access fresh food. Schools are using this as a way to supplement school lunch programs and as fundraising opportunities.
Celebrate Who We Are
The way we cook exemplifies who we are as Kansans. We tend to make recipes that are straightforward and practical, built on the farming tradition of our state settlers. We take pride in our food and we are honest and sincere. For Kansans making a meal for someone can be an act of love and compassion. We put our heart into our food. We revel in being creative with what we have and rely on our local resources to provide ingredients that change with the seasons.
Food For Thought
In The Kansas Cookbook: Recipes From the Heartland authors Frank Carey and Jayni Naas observe that creating their own recipes was motivated “by the notion that simple ingredients and good techniques would produce a meal worthy of Kansas’ heritage … Kansas is a major source for foods that feed the nation and the world; it should be known as well as a source for inspired cooking.”
In their updated version, The New Kansas Cookbook: Rural Roots, Modern Table, they reflect that in the 27 year time-span between books, not much has changed. “Kansans rely on food that is local and fresh. People are motivated by knowing where their food comes from. We choose to honor our “rural roots, but there is a new twist on the way we cook … a lifestyle based on rural traditions with modern appeal.”
We’ve put together a list of books to help you learn more about our Kansas food history. To explore cookbooks with some local historical flavor, browse our collection of historical cookbooks in the Topeka Room. In addition to historic recipes you can connect to food history by growing and/or eating heirloom plants, which are varieties our ancestors ate.