The American writer Mark Twain once said “If you don’t like the weather in Missouri, wait a minute” and he was right, as I discovered last week when I spent some time in the state and its neighbour, Kansas.
One minute the sun is shining, the next snow clouds gather ominously in greying skies of those Mid West states famous for temperature drops of up to 40 degrees.
Driving through the prairies, the burnt yellow of the ground is what you really notice. Scorching hot summers and bitter winters leave the land looking a bit like the yellow brick road of the iconic “Wizard of Oz” movie.
The change in weather that Twain referred to was also extreme – on one day I had a short sleeved chef jacket on at lunchtime outside and within an hour it had dropped to minus 15oC!
I was there, as a guest, to do demonstrations and workshops with hospitality students at Kansas State University. The demonstrations were open to anyone and attracted a diverse range of ages, culinary students from other states and a lot of agriculture students.
The university has a big agriculture department. They have their own cows and dairy on site and make their own ice-cream which is deservedly legendary.
Among the images on a Powerpoint I was showing, were those of Irish Moiled cattle. They were of great interest to the Americans as they weren’t aware of this breed. Since the visit there’s been much emailing of information across the Atlantic and it was brilliant to see agriculture students so passionate about food and its provenance.
On one of the days I got talking to a marketing student who told me he hunted bears at the weekend (this was genuine!). He presented me with a pack of bear mince and bear loin. Never one to look a gift horse in the mouth, I cooked it up and a few of us tasted it – sweet venison was the general consensus!
Like us, red meat in general is something Kansans are very proud of. I had a flat iron steak one evening that was outstanding. You know you’ve good meat when you can cook a cheap cut like this rare and it’s still flavoursome and tender.
Midwestern Americans have a genuine respect for Irish beef. We might butcher ours differently, but the husbandry and dedication to quality is the same.
The midwest scenery and weather might be different to ours but the sense of place, work ethic and emphasis on family and church is very similar to our own. If you’re thinking of visiting America at any time I couldn’t recommend this area enough.
On the second week of my trip I moved to a dedicated culinary college in Johnson County, near Kansas City (the city is firmly planted on the border of Kansas and Missouri states). It’s famous for its barbecue. Don’t think cooking outside on a grill – this is a year round method of cooking over wood or coal slowly and then finished with a bbq sauce. They dry rub the meat first with spice, salt and sugar and then finish it with their uniquely sweet barbecue sauce.
One of the chefs at the college, Eddie Adel has won the national barbecue championships in the US on several occasions. Some chefs can be a bit precious about sharing recipes, but Eddie presented me with a folder full of instructions for his award winning barbecue. I’ve included his recipe for spiced pork butt. This cut is rolled and netted shoulder and is a great cheap cut for slow cooking. It’s finished off with sweet sauce to glaze.
The usual accompaniments to barbecue are coleslaw and baked potato but I had a corn pudding one of the nights in Kansas and I’ve included my interpretation of this dish.
Just remember, barbecue isn’t just for the summer – it’s for life and is delicious all year round!