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In Dining

"The Flavor of Wisconsin" explores the culinary riches and history of the Badger State.

In Dining

Terese Allen worked with Harva Hachten to update the 1981 book.

Allen's update is a new testament for Badger foodies

In 1981, Harva Hachten published "The Flavor of Wisconsin: An Informal History of Food and Eating in the Badger State," charting the culinary history and landmarks of Wisconsin.

What made the book so fascinating, popular and important was that it was more than simply a cookbook. Hachten explored the history of food in Wisconsin from the Ojibwe through more recent immigrant groups. She looked at food producers, and episodes like the birth of "The Settlement Cook Book" in Milwaukee.

More than 20 years later, Wisconsin Historical Society Press asked for an update and paired respected food expert Terese Allen with Hachten to create the new version.

During their work, however, Hachten passed away, and it fell to Allen to complete the updated work on her own.

Now that the finished book is here, it's tastier than ever. With great illustrations, tempting recipes and expanded sections on Wisconsin food history, tradition and products, "The Flavor of Wisconsin" is -- more than ever -- a bible for Badger State foodies.

We asked Allen about the new edition of the book and how it came to be.

OnMilwaukee.com: Did you know Harva's book before you were approached to collaborate with her on the new edition? What did you think of it?

Terese Allen: I was very familiar with the book -- you could almost say it was a kind of bible for me. My books and columns typically feature the food and cooking of Wisconsin -- its crops, products, culinary traditions, people, recipes and so on -- so I would often go the first edition of "Flavor" to get historical perspective on the topics I was covering. It was an invaluable -- and unusual --resource for me.

To this day I don't know of another state that has chronicled its food history from pre-European settlement to contemporary times in quite the same manner. The recipe collection itself was/is something special -- a broad and intimate view into the kitchens -- and lives -- of days gone by.

OMC: What was her take on having a collaborator?

TA: Harva was elderly when the Wisconsin Historical Society Press approached us about doing the second edition. She and I only met once before she died, which was not long after that. It was a deep pleasure to meet her and she, in turn, was understandably happy that the book would have a "second life." Harva knew about my work and told me I was the right person for the job, so I felt pretty good about that.

OMC: How did you approach working together on it? Did you sort of divide up sections to focus on or were you going to collaborate on all sections...

TA: Before she passed away, Harva recorded her thoughts about the second edition, and I incorporated those into the new introduction I wrote. We both reviewed the entire first edition to note areas that needed to be updated and for language that needed to be changed. But it was my task to do the research and writing for the second edition.

Harva had, in the first edition, emphasized the 19th and early 20th centuries. I took it from that time period and brought it into the 21st century, and "connected the historical dots," as it were, along the way. I also wrote the new introduction, added subtitles throughout the book, edited the recipes -- and added some -- selected new photos and got to offer my two cents about the new cover and design.

OMC: Can you tell me a bit about your favorite sections -- new or old -- of the book?

TA: That's a tough question! Even now, if I just open the book, I seem to find myself engrossed with whatever topic pops up. But that's probably me -- every aspect of Wisconsin's food history is interesting to a food history nut like me. I do particularly love the description, at the beginning of the first chapter, of the riches of the region in its earliest days -- it reads like a culinary paradise.

Harva's coverage of the immigrant experience in Wisconsin is amazing, and there are endless "ingredient" topics that draw me: cheese, beer, sugar beets, hops, maple syrup, ginseng, cherries, cranberries and on and on. Overall, it's the sheer diversity of foods, recipes and culinary stories, and of Wisconsin's agricultural and ethnic heritage, that I love.

OMC: Is Wisconsin really stepping up nowadays when it comes not only to "foodie" culture, but also with regard to eating local, incorporating the Slow Food philosophy, organic farming and the like?

TA: I'm really glad you asked that question and I explored it in detail in the book. The answer is yes, Wisconsin cooks and eaters are all over the foodie revolution, from organic farming and farmers' markets to CSAs and urban gardens, from artisanal cheese and microbrewed beers to heirloom pears and farm-raised rainbow trout. We have a veritable cornucopia of foodways -- old and new -- in the state and a true explosion of interest in how what we eat affects everything -- the environment, our health, social justice, etc.

OMC: Do you think we were behind the curve on this for a while?

TA: On the contrary, southern Wisconsin is considered a national leader in the local foods movement. There are sections of the state, of course, where it hasn't taken hold yet, but the Madison area, in particular, is at the cutting-edge hub of the movement. I explored the why's and how's of this in the "Fresh Age" chapter of the book.

OMC: What do you think is Wisconsin's best kept "flavor" secret?

TA: People think of Wisconsin as just a "meat and potatoes" state but the real truth is that we have an incredible array of food traditions and they stem from our history -- long past and more recent -- of agricultural and ethnic heritage. Wisconsin food tradition is about brats and cheese, but it's also about lutefisk, barbecued ribs, kringle, Hmong egg rolls, fry bread, arroz con pollo, cream puffs, dried cherries, fish fry, Cornish pasties ... and much, much more.


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