This piece was originally published in our newly relaunched partner publication, Table Matters: a journal of food, drink, and manners.
Long before Garrison Keillor debuted A Prairie Home Companion in 1974, there were prairie home companions on the radio every day.
Prairies are vast flat lands populated by shrubs, grasses, and wild herbs, with few trees and modest rainfall; the dry land cracks and is often dusty. Not very hospitable. North and South Dakota, Kansas, Oklahoma, and Nebraska are prairie states. California’s central valley and considerable portions of Colorado, Wyoming, Missouri, Iowa, Illinois, Wisconsin, and most of Minnesota are also thought of as prairieland. This part of America is also called, by some, The Heartland. Rarely, however, do the densely populated coasts of the country regard this vast mid-section of America as vital as that name might imply.
For many that migrated there in the 19th and early 20th century, it was their land of dreams. From 1836 to 1914, over 30 million Europeans immigrated to the United States. In the 19th century, people were encouraged to move out West. “Go West young man” was the clarion call put out by an Indiana newspaperman in 1851, and the slogan was picked up by Horace Greeley, New York Tribune editor and politician. Go West; many did. Among them were Germans, Slavs, Poles, Swedes, and Norwegians — immigrants who knew how to wrest life from hard soil. Like all immigrant groups, they carried their culture, their values, and their foodways with them.
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