When you talk about regional cuisine, things like Cajun food in New Orleans, seafood in Boston, or southern barbecue come to mind. But when it comes to Wisconsin, a feature in this month’s Milwaukee Magazine makes the point that the food itself is only part of the picture.
"People wonder: What is Wisconsin cuisine? There's that debate... It's so part of our own, personal history and our forefathers and what they brought here, and the economy, and what grows here. It so transcends just the food itself," says Ann Christenson, dining critic and senior editor at Milwaukee Magazine.
Christenson authored the cover story for the March issue of the magazine, Eat Like a Wisconsinite. The article details some of the quintessential foods, drinks, and cooking styles that makeup Wisconsin cuisine. She joined Lake Effect's Mitch Teich in studio to highlight some of the more unique aspects of Wisconsin dining.
Perhaps the most quintessential Wisconsin restaurant, supper clubs are often seen as a throwback to the dining culture of the 1950s, but they've made a comeback in recent years.
"They're certainly very big right now and kind of went through a period where they weren't. I think part of it is people love nostalgia... Maybe there's something about us as Wisconsinites that we really have a lot of reverence for the past," says Christenson.
She explains, "It's raw ground beef that sometimes would be mixed with raw egg... It would be always layered on maybe some buttered rye bread or marble rye bread, and then you put a little raw onion on top for a little bit of sharpness and some salt and pepper. And that's it."
Christenson says this was a sandwich she remembers being a common feature at holiday buffets when she was a child. While not as popular among the kids of Wisconsin, it was a favorite among adults, like Christenson's father.
Curious if cannibal sandwich was still a staple at Wisconsin gatherings, Christenson reached out to local butchers who said they still get calls for the raw beef mixture, particularly during the holidays and Packers games.
"Some Minnesotans will claim that they're the booyah capital," Christenson cautions, but for many mid-state Wisconsinites, booyah is an omnipresent stew at church potlucks, American Legion parties, and even flea markets.
"It's a stew that has chicken and sometimes has another kind of meat in it and then it has like, 10 kinds of vegetables. Essentially everything that's in a Wisconsin garden," she explains.
The soup is "tied into the communal experience of eating it with people," according to Christenson, which is why it's generally made in large vats and served to crowds.
"You don't just make like a 2-pound batch of booyah, it doesn't work that way. You have some giant kettle... it's outside, you know, over wood or something and you're making this for like 50 people."
Blue Moon Ice Cream
For those who have spent a summer in Wisconsin tourist towns, Blue Moon ice cream is a familiar sight. Popular among kids, the flavor has been described as similar to Froot Loops or Fruity Pebbles, but Christenson doesn't believe the flavor is the main attraction for young Wisconsinites.
She explains, "I think kids are sort of gravitating to that bright blue color."
The ice cream flavor has somewhat mysterious origins, but it's believed to have been created by a Wisconsin chemist. "There's a theory that there's a Milwaukee origination to it. A chemist, who could be maybe was the first person to create that flavor, maybe not... He certainly helped spread that flavor," says Christenson.