Nothing seems more Midwestern than white bread. But take a deeper dive into the delights that flour, water and yeast can yield, and you’ll discover a colorful and multicultural Midwest “tradition” that encompasses complex histories of immigration and creative adaptation.
“When you look at how sometimes people outside of the Midwest view the Midwest, they see it as kind of a homogeneous, one-dimensional culture or almost absent of culture,” Capri Cafaro, former Ohio State Senator, author of the cookbook “United We Eat” and host of the podcast “Eat Your Heartland Out,” said.
While the Midwest is known as “America’s breadbasket,” those outside of the Midwest tend to view the “bread” in the “basket” as just Wonder Bread: sliced, white and plain. Nonetheless, the Midwest’s bread history comprises much more than just white bread. A complex combination of agricultural, Indigenous and immigration histories have made the Midwestern culinary landscape of today more nuanced than stereotypes lead on.
The first people who lived in the region were Indigenous peoples, including the Kickapoo, Sac, Potawatomi, Ottawa, Ojibwa, Illinois, Miami, Huron, Dakota and Sioux tribes.
In addition to Indigenous cultures, the Midwest has also historically hosted significant Greek, Italian, Croatian, Polish, Amish, German, Irish, Puerto Rican and Mexican populations, each with their own cultural breads.
Newer waves of immigration are also gradually shaping the bread culture of Midwestern states, including Vietnamese, Somalian and a diverse array of Middle Eastern communities.
And so perhaps the Midwest’s identity as the breadbasket of America is only becoming truer with age. And the basket is ever growing, encompassing the great diversity of the cultures coming into America, sharing their unique bread recipes and creating new connections.