Flavor of Wisconsin: An Informal History of Food and Eating in the Badger State

Flavor of Wisconsin: An Informal History of Food and Eating in the Badger State
Flavor of Wisconsin: An Informal History of Food and Eating in the Badger State
Hardcover: $29.95
376 pages, photos
ISBN: 9780870204043

Published by Wisconsin Historical Society Press

Orders for Trade, Library or Wholesale
Price: $29.95
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Product Details
By Harva Hachten & Terese Allen

Much more than a cookbook - though its 400-odd authentic recipes will whet the appetite of all who love good food - this handsome volume provides delightful morsels of information about the history of food and eating in Wisconsin. Includes nine historical essays, 400 recipes, illustrations, and 32 pages of historical photographs from WHS collections.
"One of the most important books on American food ever published."--Cuisine Magazine

Terese Allen, a Wisconsin native and former chef, writes about the pleasures and benefits of regional foods, seasonal cooking, and culinary folklore. She has written several books on Wisconsin's food traditions, including "Wisconsin's Hometown Flavors" (Trails Books, 2003), "Fresh Market Wisconsin" (Amherst Press, 1993), "Wisconsin Food Festivals" (Amherst Press, 1995), "Cafe Wisconsin Cookbook" (University of Wisconsin Press, 2007), and "The Ovens of Brittany Cookbook" (Amherst Press, 1991). A food columnist for Madison's "Isthmus" newspaper and a former contributing editor of "Wisconsin Trails" magazine, Terese is also food editor for Organic Valley, the country's largest organic farmers' cooperative. She chairs southern Wisconsin's groundbreaking REAP Food Group and is a founding member and past president of the Culinary History Enthusiasts of Wisconsin (CHEW).
Harva Hachten earned a master's degree in journalism from Columbia University before joining the Wisconsin Historical Society as supervisor of publications in 1973. Along with "The Flavor of Wisconsin," Hachten wrote many articles for "Madison Magazine" and the "Milwaukee Journal" and was the author of "Kitchen Safari," an African cookbook, rereleased in 1998 as "Best of African Regional Cooking." Hachten lived in Madison. At the time of her death in April 2006, she was working on the revised edition of "The Flavor of Wisconsin."

2009 Midwest Independent Publishers Association Midwest Book Awards
Winner in the Cookbooks Category

2009 USA National Best Book Awards 
Finalist in the Cookbooks: Regional Category

2010 Living Now Book Awards
Silver Medalist in the Cookbooks/General Category

2010 National Indie Excellence Awards
Winner in the Regional Cookbooks Category

2010 Next Generation Indie Book Awards
Finalist in the Cookbook Category  
Finalist in the Home/Garden Category

Author Interviews

Jean Feraca interviewed author Terese Allen on the Wisconsin Public Radio program "Here on Earth".  This program originally aired on Friday, October 16, 2009 at 3:00pm.

Mitch Teich of the Milwaukee Public Radio program "Lake Effect" interviewed author Terese Allen. This program originally aired on Monday, June 8, 2009.


Marilynn and Sheila Brass, authors of "Heirloom Cooking with the Brass Sisters" and "Heirloom Baking with the Brass Sisters"

"Reading 'The Flavor of Wisconsin' is like partaking of a moveable feast. One travels from the early history of the state to entertaining multicultural essays to traditional appealing recipes. Rarely has culinary history been so appetizing. Congratulations to Terese Allen for continuing to preserve the history of the Badger State by harvesting the essence of Wisconsin fields and kitchens." 

Linda Brazill, columnist for "The Capital Times" 

"Brat frys, fish boils, Racine kringle. I was clueless about the things Wisconsin folks were waxing rhapsodic over when I first moved here. The late Harva Hachten came to my rescue with the answers in her seminal 1981 book, 'The Flavor of Wisconsin.' In it, Hachten dissected our culinary past; now Terese Allen charts the current territory while offering a glimpse of Wisconsin's fresh new age. For born and bred Wisconsinites, Allen's updated and expanded new edition of Hachten's classic will bring back treasured memories  complete with recipes. 'The Flavor of Wisconsin' is required reading not just for newcomers but for anyone interested in the delicious intersection of food, ethnicity, and history in the Badger state."

Nach Waxman, Kitchen Arts & Letters bookstore, New York City

"I wish there were a law requiring each of our 50 states to have a book about its life and food, and I would offer as a model for that book, 'The Flavor of Wisconsin.' It's an entrancing record of tradition and foodways, a cultural archive as well as a fine repository of home-grown recipes an American book that should be of more than local interest."

Larry Meiller, Wisconsin Public Radio

"I had a delightful interview with Harva Hachten about 'The Flavor of Wisconsin' when her book was first published. Now, Terese Allen has done a masterful job updating it. Because of the state's rich cultural heritage, Wisconsin also has a plethora of culinary tastes and traditions. Learning about those traditions adds to the joy of preparing and savoring the wonderful recipes in this book. Terese has captured the many positive changes that have occurred in Wisconsin's food landscape and woven them creatively into the recipes. The result is a fitting tribute to our cultural and culinary heritage."

Jerry Minnich, author of "Eating Well in Wisconsin"

"Harva Hachten's book has long been one the favorites in my cookbook collection. Now it has been brought up to date in a bright new edition, with additional recipes and fascinating new stories about Wisconsin's rich and diverse food traditions. And who better to accomplish the task than Terese Allen, certainly the state's foremost food historian, keeper of our culinary heritage."

Anne Bramley, cofounder and host of "Eat Feed Podcasts"

"'The Flavor of Wisconsin' reveals that there is so much more to the Cheese State than just cheese. Allen's detailed, smart, and surprising update is an indispensable resource not just for enthusiasts of Wisconsin food but for anyone interested in food history or the amazing revolution happening in Midwestern food today."

Mary Bergin, author of "Hungry for Wisconsin"

"Good historians know when the ordinary becomes extraordinary, and that pertains to matters of the stomach as well as the heart. I have long trusted Terese Allen's observations about what defines, stimulates, and sustains Wisconsin's cuisine. What a fitting match her expertise is for the groundwork laid by Harva Hachten in 'The Flavor of Wisconsin.' The expanded version of this delicious documentation celebrates who we were, who we are, and why we shouldn't forget."

This feature by Nancy Stohs appeared in the "Milwaukee Journal Sentinel" on April 28, 2009. 

Book on state's food traditions gets an update 

If I could slip back in time, to earlier chapters of our state's history, I'd set the location dial on my time machine to one place: a seat at the dinner table. 

Hungry from my journey, I'd join a burly crew of famished North Woods lumberjacks, seated in the camp mess hall, manners checked at the door, while they follow a dog-eat-dog approach to the masses of food placed before them. Roast beef! Gravy and potatoes! Pea soup! Cakes and pies! Homemade bread! 

Then I'd speed back to the very beginning, when Europeans were as unimagined as man in flight. With a settlement of Ojibwe Indians I'd feast on beans, corn, squash, wild berries, wild rice, boiled pigeon. 

And oh, how fun it would be to crash an old-time celebration, like the house-raising party held in Milton in 1838, at which a family thanked its neighbors with a meal of boiled ham, baked beans, breads, "all the vegetables attainable," pies, cakes, tea and coffee. 

Images like these have stayed with me, for days, ever since I picked up a copy of the newly revised culinary history, "The Flavor of Wisconsin." 

Add to them stories of early cheesemakers, pictures of women toiling at woodstoves, a longing to taste the authentic ethnic fare of so many new immigrants. And pride in a state that continues to set a high bar for fresh, local food. 

This cacophony swirling in my head proves one point, if any: As a food-loving land, the 30th state is filled with unimagined diversity. We are not a people who fill our bellies only with bratwurst, cheese and beer. Nor are we the meat-and-potatoes stalwarts we're so often assumed to be. 

Foolish are those who think their food choices are limited in any way by a Dairy State address. 

That's exactly the response Terese Allen is hoping to generate with this 392-page hardcover tome. Allen, a Madison food writer and author of a handful of Wisconsin food books, was tapped five years ago to revise and update Harva Hachten's groundbreaking 1981 history. The new edition ($29.95), still subtitled "An Informal History of Food and Eating in the Badger State," was published this month by the Wisconsin Historical Society Press. 

The original book by Hachten, who advised Allen on the revision until her death in 2006, was conceived as a heritage cookbook. Under the direction of Hachten, a journalist by profession, it grew into a longer, more serious work combining scholarly essays with original recipes submitted by citizens statewide. 

From conception to final book, that project took 10 years. 

Twenty-eight years ago, there was not the interest there is today in what scholars call "foodways," the cultural-historical food traditions of a region. And even today, a state-focused food history of this magnitude is rare. 

"There are a lot of books about American or regional food history," said Allen in a recent interview. "And there are state-focused books about specific periods of time and their foods. In my files I have a . . . folk history of Texas foods, and a book about Minnesota ethnic foods. 

"But I have not come across one that does it this way, that starts with Native Americans and goes up to the present times, that looks at food chronologically, but also considers ethnicity, geography and the business of food." 

And that's a shame, according to Nach Waxman, owner of the renowned Kitchen Arts & Letters bookstore in New York City, which bills itself as the country's largest store devoted completely to books on food and wine. 

"I wish there were a law requiring each of our 50 states to have a book about its life and food," wrote Waxman in his cover blurb to "Flavor," "and I would offer as a model for that book 'The Flavor of Wisconsin' . . .  an American book that should be of more than local interest." 

Waxman's remark, Allen said, "made me float on a cloud." 

"Flavor" largely is chronological but also is organized by theme. The first six chapters - "Earliest Days," "Pioneer Life," "Immigrants," "Laboring Fare," "On the Road," and "Cookbooks and Kitchen Medicine" - mainly are the same as in the first edition, with minor changes by Allen to update language and address modern sensibilities. 

Allen greatly expanded the chapter now called "The Business of Food," and she wrote a whole new chapter, "Fresh Age," 50 pages chronicling the organic and local foods movements, the growth of farmers markets and other trends related to sustainability and the politics of food choices in Wisconsin. 

Another chapter in the original edition, "Leftovers," a collection of unrelated stories and anecdotes, was deconstructed. The morsels were either incorporated into the text or turned into boxed "sidebars." Allen also wrote new sidebars and added subheads to break up the narrative - all designed to make it easier for readers. 

Her main charge was to bring the history up to the present. Hachten's emphasis had been the 19th century and the first three or four decades of the 20th century, Allen said, with "very little segue into mid- to later 20th-century life." 

To complete the picture, Allen had to cover not only the decades since the first book was published but flesh out the 30 to 40 years before that as well. 

Allen "connects the historical dots of the state's magnificently rich food history and widens the lens to show how economic forces, immigration and sustainable agriculture continue to flavor Wisconsin's foodways," wrote Odessa Piper, founder and former owner of Madison's L'Etoile restaurant, in the book's foreword. Piper was a leading force in the movements covered in Allen's final chapter. 

Reading the revision, Piper said, reminded her of "how much has changed, how far the pendulum has already swung back toward better aspects of our culinary past." 

Merging her voice with Hachten's was perhaps the biggest challenge, Allen said. Hachten's approach was more formal, more journalistic and factual, and she was a native of California. Allen was born and raised in Wisconsin and began her career as a chef. And her approach as a writer is more folkloric. 

"She probably had a better outsider view, and I had more of an insider view," Allen said. "But after a while, it wasn't hard to meld the two." 

Despite her experience writing about Wisconsin food, Allen said she learned "vast amounts" from research for the book. 

"Our fish foodways just astounded me," she said. "There should really be a whole book on that alone. Everything from early fishing history to the vast changes that happened in the 20th century because of pollution and overfishing. And the side stories - aquaculture and spearfishing, the fish boil, fish fry, sport fishing, it just went on and on." 

"Flavor" should appeal to a wide audience, Allen said. Foodies, of course, "who are nuts about anything to do with food." Chefs, especially those who want context for the local foods they serve. 

"And it's fun for home cooks because they get to taste the way things used to be through the recipes." 

Whether you're interested in food or not, Allen said, "if you're a Wisconsinphile, this is a book you'll like, too. It gives you more details about how people lived. You see Wisconsin through that lens of food. 

"Plus, it's got great pictures." (Most of the 130 photos are from the historical society's archives.) 

This may not be the last food history project to emerge from Allen's partnership with the society. She was mum about details but said "the idea has occurred to us" (her and editor Kate Thompson) of an educational book for children, using Wisconsin food as a way to teach history.

This Starred Review appeared in the April 16, 2009 edition of "Publishers Weekly" 

When journalist Hachten joined Wisconsin's State Historical Society in 1973, she inherited a regional cookbook project; after 10 years of work, Hachten produced a comprehensive cookbook attached to an important, definitive account of the immigrant pioneer experience and the evolving view of food and community in the Midwest. In this update, Wisconsin food columnist Allen expands the opus without upstaging Hatchen or muting her voice, taking the development of Wisconsin cuisine from wild gooseberry gathering and Native American gardens to current, ballooning demands for organic produce. Many engaging diversions crop up, including fascinating day-to-day accounts of pioneer life; after a tragically difficult transatlantic voyage (little fresh water, inedible food), future Wisconsin was more than welcoming, and settlers began recreating their native dishes as soon as it was economically feasible. Early settlers from Germany, Norway, the Netherlands, Poland and elsewhere gave the state iconic foods such as pasty (for meat pies) and the beloved brat, as well as community traditions like the fish fry. The 450 recipes, including traditional dishes like Bohemian Sausage and Lutefisk alongside homey favorites like Aunt Nellie's Drop Cookies, are the icing on this already-satisfying cake.