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Celebrate Midwest food

What’s Cooking in Illinois: What’s more Midwestern than a horseshoe?

Signs have a way of drawing us in and making us think.

On a recent shopping trip with my daughter in Tuscaloosa, Ala., we noticed a Hardee’s marquee advertising an interesting menu item: country ham pimento cheese biscuits.

I’m quite sure that would only be offered in the South.

It made me wonder what would be so recognized in Illinois that an out-of-towner would say, “I’m quite sure that would only be offered in the Midwest.”

Would it be our famous Springfield horseshoe — an open-faced sandwich of toast with your choice of meat, piles of fries and homemade cheese sauce? Chicago-style deep dish pizza? Maybe popcorn, the state snack food of Illinois — especially the Chicago-style blend of cheese and caramel popcorn? Or even pork or beef, since Illinois is one of the leading producers in the nation of both commodities?

My choice would be fresh-from-the-garden sweet corn, on or off the cob. Farmers devote 15,000 acres to sweet corn in the state, from Supersweet to the bicolor Peaches and Cream. Coming up with an entree wouldn’t be all that hard; Hardee’s offers Mexican cuisine in many of its stores in the Midwest. A burrito bowl featuring our Illinois home-grown corn would be trendy and popular. Or how about corn biscuits with corn chowder? I know it’s not on the typical menu board, but neither is ham and pimento cheese biscuits.

That sign also got me to thinking about how we celebrate Midwest gardens. I recently planted tomatoes, peppers, peas, herbs and brussels sprouts. If my green thumb doesn’t appear this season, I’ll head to our local farmers market and give thanks that someone who lives near me does have a green thumb.

A few summers ago, I was teaching a group of homeless veterans to cook and helping them get their food manager’s license so they could get a job in a restaurant. I took them to the farmers market in downtown Springfield to purchase items for preparation in our next class. As we wandered and marveled at the local produce, I was stunned that several had never been to a farmers market. That seemed unbelievable to a farm girl.

Farmers markets — or growing your own — offers the best way to get more fruits and veggies in your diet and on your kids’ plates, and to think about what’s local, what’s native and what’s Midwestern. And be sure to take youngsters to the market and let them choose a veggie to try.   

Who knows, they may be designing a local menu someday.

The Springfield Horseshoe
So back to that Midwestern food question. What’s the Springfield horseshoe?

Created for the hungry horsemen who used to frequent Springfield, the original horseshoe was served on a sizzling metal plate, known as “the anvil.” Two thick-cut slices of toasted bread each were topped with a thick slice of ham or turkey or a hamburger (which was shaped like a horseshoe), followed by a Welsh rarebit cheese sauce made of white sharp cheddar. Just before serving, shoestring french fries were added as the “nails” in the horseshoe.

There’s a bit of controversy over just how the cheese sauce should be made. The original used white cheddar cheese. Since then, it’s been made with everything from sharp cheddar to Velveeta.

HORSE WHAT? The original Springfield horseshoe consisted of two thick-cut slices of toasted bread, each topped with a thick slice of ham or turkey or a hamburger (which was shaped like a horseshoe) and a Welsh rarebit cheese sauce made of white sharp cheddar. Just before serving, shoestring french fries are added as the “nails” in the horseshoe.

Understand, this is not a healthy entree by any stretch of the imagination, but it’s a very Springfield offering.

Here’s a recipe I like, using white cheddar:

Horseshoe Sandwich
4 ¼-pound cooked ground beef patties
1 (28-ounce) package frozen french fries (or homemade), baked or fried
4 pieces Texas toast thick bread, toasted

For the sauce:
½ cup butter
2 cups flour
1 quart milk or evaporated milk
1 teaspoon salt
1 tablespoon Worcestershire sauce
¼ teaspoon cayenne pepper
½ teaspoon dry mustard
1 pound white cheddar cheese, shredded

Melt the butter in a heavy double boiler. Stir in the flour to make a roux. Cook, stirring, for five minutes. Gradually stir in the milk. Stir and cook until thick. Add the rest of the ingredients except the cheese and mix well. Add the cheese and continue stirring until it has the right consistency to pour over the meat.

On a plate, place two slices of Texas toast; then layer the hamburger patties on the toast. Top each patty with fries and cover with cheese sauce — or if you prefer, cover the patty and bread with cheese sauce and top with fries. Four hamburgers make two horseshoes or four pony shoes.

Optional: Add ¼ cup of beer to the cheese sauce while it thickens.

Fargo is a dietitian for Hy-Vee in Springfield, Ill. Send recipe ideas to her at [email protected].

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