As you may know, one of my current culinary classes is called American Cuisine. Each week we take quick look at varying regions across the country. Part of diving in means putting together summaries of the regions, so we can begin to wrap our mind around the diverse cuisines and heritage across this vast country.
Recently we covered Mid-Atlantic cuisine. Now, New England comprises the states in the northeast quadrant of the United States, so the Mid-Atlantic States have New England states to the north and the Atlantic Ocean to the east. Mid-Atlantic cuisine is the cumulative cuisine of New York, New Jersey, Delaware, Maryland, Virginia and West Virginia.*
You may not realize, New York is full of dairy farms and apple orchards. New Jersey has one of the richest farmlands and fertile soil in the country, which is how it earned its name the ‘Garden State’; though it was once known as the ‘Clam State because of its rich heritage at sea. Pennsylvania started on the laurels of religious freedom and Quakers, Mennonites, Amish and Moravians rapidly gained respect as talented farmers. Who knew? Pennsylvania leads the country in production of mushrooms, and is also a leader in dairy.
Maryland is home to the famous Chesapeake Bay, were 40 fresh water rivers flow into the Atlantic. Colonists learned from Native Americans how to gather oysters and blue crabs; Maryland produces more oysters than any other state. Delaware historically grew wheat, corn and peach trees; today it is headquarters to Purdue Farms, the nation’s second largest poultry producer. Virginia’s early economy was based on plantations; tobacco was their main industry until the 1840′s. Today it is a valuable source of potatoes, peanuts and apples. West Virginia has very little flat land; this state boasts of orchards, and raises livestock and broiler chickens.
Lots of German, Jewish, Polish and Irish immigrants settled in these states; seafood is a mainstay, as are dishes and food lore attached to very rich cultural heritages. The delicatessen was born in New York. Think Boova Shenkel, Borscht, Challah, Gyro, Fastnacht, Funnel Cakes, Kugel, Latke, Bialy, Lebkuchen, Matzo, the Reuben Sandwich, Philly Cheese Steak, Sauerbraten, Schmaltz, Stromboli, and the Philadelphia Pepperpot. And that barely scratches the surface.
For class, Mid-Atlantic recipes included working with blue crab (I made my killer tartar sauce and the chef loved it!); braised short ribs, Manhattan Clam Chowder, Apple Brown Betty, Roasted potatoes & onions, Braised Greens Buffalo Chicken Wings with Blue Cheese dressing (I made mayonnaise from scratch as a base) and Shoofly Pie (I actually brought this recipe in as an extra, because I have been so curious about this dessert born in Pennsylvania—more on that later). It was cool to clean and saute soft shell blue crab (you eat the legs!) and our wings turned out great; the Apple Brown Betty rocked (recipe to come) and I have loved learning to be more proficient at braising meats and vegetables.
*Descriptions of cuisines, associated states, historical facts and recipes come from one of my textbooks for culinary school: American Regional Cuisine, Second Edition, The Art Institutes.