The City: St. Louis, Missouri
This stop marks two milestones for me: The first is that we are officially 1/5 of the way through the states of this country. That's pretty exciting to me! The second is that we are in a city that was featured in the most famous road trip movie in American history-National Lampoon's Vacation. The first, the original, and the best. You might recall Clark Griswold pointing out the world-famous St. Louis Arch to his family as they drove over the "Mighty Mississip" and then claim that they had no time to actually go to it. Then they got lost in the city in a hilarious, if racist sequence featuring the dangers of inner cities...If you have not seen this movie, do yourself a favor and watch it.
St. Louis was founded in 1763, and was a slave state. It has a long and complicated history, much too long to get into here, but I will focus on a few points of interest.
Prior to the European invasion, the region all along the Mississippi River was home to the Osage and numerous other tribes. They lived there for at least 700 years, during which time they created mounds of earth for various reasons. These reasons included ceremonial rites, burial mounds, and commemorative purposes. The majority of these mounds, sadly, were razed when Europeans began to settle the area and needed the space for their own needs. Several mounds still exist, however, and you are able to see them if you travel to the area.
A couple of interesting factoids about the city: It is the home to the country's first gas station, and not surprisingly, also the location of the very first car accident.
The current population, as of the 2010 census, is 319,294 people. 49.2% are African American, and 43.9% are white. This isn't the first time I have visited a city where white people are the minority, however this is the first large city I have visited where this was the case.
There is too much history to get into here, but there is one moment I would like to highlight. As a history major who focused on food and its role in history, the 1904 World's Fair marks an important time in American food history. It introduced a number of foods now considered to be standard American fare, to the nation. These foods include: hot dogs, hamburgers, ice cream cones, banana splits, iced tea, Dr Pepper, cotton candy and peanut butter*. Most of these foods existed in some form in other countries or areas of the United States already, but the World's Fair popularized them across the country. Imagine our nation now if the hamburger had never been introduced. No Burger King, no McDonald's...Some of you would love that idea, I know, but it has shaped our nation's history, whether or not you like the food. Roadside restaurants began popping up around the same time as highways were being built and people began to take long car rides on vacation or to get away for a few hours. The foods at those restaurants all had their beginning at the 1904 World's Fair.
The World's Fair is also the subject of one of my favorite musicals of all-time: Meet Me in St. Louis, starring Judy Garland.
This movie introduced one of the most famous Christmas songs ever, Have Yourself A Merry Little Christmas. Again, if you have never seen it, do yourself a favor and watch it. It's such a sweet movie.
The Food: Gerber Sandwich and Toasted Ravioli
You're probably asking why I chose these foods over the foods I've just waxed poetic about from the World's Fair. Well, the answer is simple, I've never had a Gerber Sandwich or toasted ravioli before, but I've had all the foods from the fair. I am trying to feature items that are new to me, or at least items I have never made for myself before. These are currently very popular foods that define St. Louis culture today, and for good reason--they're super delish.
I have links I will post for both recipes but as they are both so simple I will write out what I did for them here as well.
-Your favorite brand of frozen ravioli, thawed(I used Rising Moon Organics brand and selected their vegan spinach and soy cheese flavor. I have eaten this brand before and highly recommend it to any vegan/vegetarians or lactose intolerant people who miss being able to eat ravioli. Be sure to look at the package carefully though, as they also have non-vegan ravioli as well.)
-Italian seasoned breadcrumbs(I used Trader Joe's brand since they have no corn syrup in theirs, and added my own Italian seasoning, as well as salt and pepper to flavor it)
-oil for frying
-Spaghetti sauce of choice(I used my sister's that was sitting in the fridge. Nobody tell her...)
-Parmesan cheese for sprinkling on top
Combine the milk and the egg in a small bowl, whisking until well mixed. Pour the breadcrumbs onto a plate. Dip the ravioli one by one into the milk and then place in the breadcrumbs and carefully cover both sides with the breadcrumbs. Place onto another plate and let sit for 15 minutes or so to let the breadcrumbs adhere to the pasta really well.
Using a saute pan, heat oil over medium-high heat and carefully place the ravioli in the pan. Pan-fry both sides until nicely toasted brown. Do not worry about the pasta not being cooked in water first. The heat from the frying will cook it through as well as heat the filling. When they are done, remove from the pan and drain on a paper towel for a minute. Serve them on a plate with the sauce on the side and a sprinkling of cheese on top.
This was really amazing. So simple really, but unlike any other ravioli I've ever had before. These could be used as an appetizer if you wanted, but it could also be a meal.
Made famous by Ruma's Deli in the city, this open-faced sandwich feels almost like eating a French bread pizza, minus the tomato sauce. It is traditionally made with something called "provel" cheese, but I don't have access to that here, so I made an approximate substitute that was recommended, of one part white cheddar, one part Swiss, and two parts provolone. I diced all of these up and mixed it together and sprinkled it on top. Here is how I made it:
-1 small loaf of French bread(my store sells individually-sized French breads so I just used one of these) split down the middle and laid out flat
-deli ham slices
-cheese, as described above
Spread both halves of the bread with butter and sprinkle with garlic powder.(None of the recipes I found specified what kind of garlic, so I went with garlic powder. I was concerned that fresh garlic might not cook through fast enough and I don't like raw garlic, though I found I didn't really taste the flavor of the powdered kind. Granulated might have worked better, though fresh probably would have cooked through so I might try that next time.)
Layer the ham slices on top of it and then top with the cheese. Place them on a sheet pan(I actually did everything on the sheet pan to start with and found it was easier that way) and cook in a 400 degree oven for about 15 minutes until the cheese it melted and starting to brown on top.
This was pretty tasty, though like I said, the garlic didn't really come through. It was also really hot and the roof of my mouth is still burned the next day. I would recommend letting this sit for a while before eating it. The flavor of the cheese combination was pretty tasty, though the cheddar was drowned out by the provolone and Swiss.
Both of these recipes were really easy to make. There was nothing out of the ordinary about the actual ingredients, it's all pretty simple stuff. But putting it together in that way was so unique to me that it really stood out as a special treat. I highly recommend both of these, but if I had to choose one over the other, it would be the ravioli. They were just fantastic!
Worlds Fair Food info*List of food is a direct quote taken from here
More World's Fair info
Toasted Ravioli recipe
Gerber Sandwich recipe
Provel Cheese info