Indiana became known as the Hoosier state over 150 years ago, although the origin of the term is still debated. One popular version comes from it being risky to approach someone’s cabin on the early frontier. There was often a “shoot first, find out who you shot, second” policy. So, the traveler would call out, and the resident of the cabin would respond with “Who’s here?”, which in those days may have sounded like “Who’sh ‘ere?”. From there, it’s not hard to see how it became “Hoosier”.
What are Hoosiers known for? Fierce college basketball programs immediately leap to mind, as well as the exciting Indy 500, which just happens to be the world’s largest and most popular racing event. Competition may be important, but, so is balancing it with the really significant things in life, like home and family. Nothing defines home life in this part of the Midwest better than the simple, classic foods of Indiana.
Every state and region has their own brand of chili. Texans believe it blasphemous to add beans of any kind and use only chunks of beef, never the ground version, while folks in Cincinnati actually add cocoa powder to their chili. For those of us growing up eating “regular” chili, the kind with ground beef and kidney beans, the Texas and Ohio versions sound different but reasonable. But, what about getting your chili to the point where the ingredients are all well-mixed and it just needs to simmer a bit and then someone starts breaking spaghetti into small pieces and adding it to the pot? Seriously? Yes, in Indiana, they are as serious about adding some sort of pasta to their version of chili as those Texans are about keeping the beans out!
It is believed that the Latin word for persimmon meant “food of the gods”, although it is debated whether this was because of the purported health benefits or the delicious sweetness of the non-astringent variety. Those unfortunate enough to choose the astringent variety of persimmon for their first taste likely found it bitter to the point of swearing off persimmons forever. If you live in Indiana, though, when you think persimmon, you think pudding. Similar to traditional English puddings, the Indiana version is judged in a special contest at the annual Persimmon Festival every fall.
Okay, so those annoying persimmons that litter the lawn can be turned into pudding, and pasta really is pretty tasty in chili, but who would ever think of deep-frying sauerkraut balls? You guessed it. Hoosiers. Most local and state fairs have people lined up for fried ice cream and Oreos, but, if you aren’t careful which line you get into at the Indiana State Fair, the deep-fried treats that will end up clogging your arteries will be filled with sauerkraut. The really bad news is that you may just love them!
Maybe spaghetti in your chili or deep-fried sauerkraut isn’t quite your thing. You can be forgiven for that. But, if you leave this part of the country without trying their signature, melt-in-your-mouth tenderloin sandwich, you will never forgive yourself. Similar to Wiener Schnitzel, this pork cutlet is hand battered and fried. If you have never had one before, you will likely be more than a little surprised to see that the bun occupies a spot in the center of the plate and the tenderloin itself often overlaps the entire plate. Not to worry, though, you will happily eat every morsel.
When it comes to dessert, besides pudding, Indiana residents are extremely fond of pie. Not just any pie, though. Their Hoosier pie is simple and decadent all at the same time. As were so many things, this pie was created in the 1800s as an effort to not let ingredients on hand go to waste. Butter, flour, and sugar were combined with vanilla to create a simple, but delicious, custard pie that has been passed from generation to generation.