To call Indiana "white bread" might seem like a put-down, until you consider two words: Wonder Bread.
The soft, squishy symbol of bland Americana was created in 1921 by Taggart Baking Co. of Indianapolis. And for nearly 100 years, Indiana has stayed true to the image of its most culturally influential product. Indianans are 84 percent white, and evenly divided between women and men. They are middle aged, middle class and at the geographic middle of the country. In fact, Indiana is so perfectly situated in the middle of so many measures that it is the fictional setting for a prime-time television program called The Middle.
And what's always in the middle? The good stuff. The cream in an Oreo? The middle. Candy in a Tootsie Pop? The middle. The 50-yard line, where gigantic men face off week after week until only two teams are left? Yeah, that's right, the middle.
When Super Bowl XLVI comes this Sunday to Lucas Oil Stadium in Indianapolis, Indianans will flaunt their middleness in all its glory. Alongside the burgers, beer, pizza and wings that are the standard-bearers of football food will be the state's signature items: pork, popcorn and a creamy vanilla dessert called Hoosier Pie.
Nearly a quarter of Indiana's 6.8 million people claim German ancestry, according to the U.S. Census. And what do Germans eat? Schnitzel (yes, I know it's Austrian, but trust me — all of central Europe loves a good schnitzel). Enter the tenderloin sandwich.
Michele Kayal is a food writer specializing in the intersection of food, culture and identity. Her work has appeared in The New York Times, the late great Gourmet, Bon Appetit, Conde Nast Traveler and many other national outlets. She writes regularly for The Associated Press and on her blog, The Hyphenated Chef.
The fifth-largest hog-producing state in the nation pounds, breads and deep-fries pork chops the size of a salad plate then sticks them on buns (right again — traditional schnitzel is made with veal, but many schnitzels, even in Europe, are today made with pork). Perhaps the most famous tenderloin is the one at Nick's Kitchen, a Huntington, Ind., restaurant founded in 1908 by Nick Freienstein. There are no spices or seasonings involved. The sandwich is served with lettuce and tomato. Occasionally, says owner Jean Anne Bailey, someone will ask for mayonnaise on the bun.
And what game-watching snack is more American than popcorn? Americans put away 16 billion quarts of popped popcorn every year (that's 52 quarts per person), according to industry marketing organization The Popcorn Board, and most of that comes from Indiana, the nation's top producer. Orville Redenbacher — who was an actual human being — founded his popcorn company in Valparaiso, Ind., in 1970.
But the state's signature dish, the one that binds Indianans far from home, the one that is the secret handshake of Indianans everywhere, is sugar-cream pie, aka Hoosier Pie. "It's kind of like green bean salad," says Angie Satterfield, executive director of the Indiana Foodways Alliance. "Somebody always brings a sugar-cream pie."
The pie is typical farm fare, made of ingredients that any country kitchen would have on hand. Similar desserts are popular in Europe (think blancmange), and the religious sect the Shakers also had a version. But its Indiana provenance is unclear. Perhaps it came with a short-lived 19th-century Shaker settlement. Maybe it migrated from Amish country. Another thought is that it arrived with Quaker settlers from North Carolina. But no one much seems to care where it came from. Its jiggly goodness is what counts. Sugar cream recently became the official pie of the state of Indiana, and Winchester — where the family-run Wick's Pies ships them to more than 25 states — its official capital.
"Just about every farm kitchen had a recipe for sugar-cream pie," says Wick's president, Michael Wickersham, "and every one was just a little bit different."
So is sugar-cream pie the greatest thing since sliced bread? Maybe. But even sliced bread — introduced by Wonder in 1925 — came from Indiana.
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1 pound boneless pork loin, cut into 4 chops and cubed,* if possible
2 cups buttermilk
2 large eggs
1/2 cup all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon salt
3 cups panko
4 hamburger buns
Peanut oil for frying
If the pork has not been cubed, use a meat mallet to pound it until it is about 1/4-inch thick. In a medium-sized baking dish, whisk together the buttermilk, eggs, flour and salt. Place the pork into the dish and let marinate overnight.
At cooking time, heat the oil in a deep fryer to 350 degrees. If you don't have a deep fryer, fill a large skillet with 2 inches of oil and heat to 350.
Place the panko in a shallow dish. Remove a cutlet from the marinade, letting the excess drip off. Dredge thoroughly in the panko, place in the deep fryer or skillet and fry until golden, about 6 minutes. Let drain briefly on a paper towel. Check for doneness; if cutlet is still pink in the middle, return it to the 350-degree oil for 1 to 2 minutes, being careful not to burn the crust. Let drain again. Place the cutlet on a hamburger bun. Garnish with lettuce and tomato, if desired.
*Even a supermarket butcher will likely have a "cuber," a meat-tenderizing machine that presses little squares into the flesh.
The late D.E. "Wick" Wickersham, who founded Indiana's iconic Wick's Pies, patented the recipe for his family's famous Sugar Cream Pie in 1962. "I don't suppose there's any way you'd share that recipe?" I asked his son, Michael Wickersham. "There is none," he said. But Jean Anne Bailey of Nick's Kitchen — another famous spot — came to the rescue. This recipe is adapted from her version of the sweet, soft state pie of Indiana.
1 9-inch unbaked pie shell, or pre-made refrigerated pie crust dough to fit a 9-inch pie
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
Preheat oven to 360 degrees.
Crumble brown sugar, 1/2 cup of white sugar and flour with fingers in a mixing bowl. Add cream and vanilla and whisk. Pour into the unbaked 9-inch pie shell.
In a small bowl, mix together the cinnamon and remaining 3 tablespoons sugar. Sprinkle all over top of the pie. Bake for at least 1 hour, or until it is bubbly on top to center and still a bit jiggly. Cool on rack before cutting.
Heat a nonstick pan over medium-high heat. Lightly butter one side of each piece of bread. Place one slice butter side down in the pan. Layer the bread with cheese and tomato, placing the tomato in the middle of the two cheese slices.
Place the second piece of bread on top of the sandwich, butter side up (facing you). Cook for 3 to 5 minutes, until the bread is golden and the cheese is starting to melt. Turn the sandwich and cook for an additional 3 minutes, until golden.