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Colorado’s state food?

November 25, 2010

A common reference question, assigned by overly-zealous elementary school teachers in states outside of Colorado, is “What’s Colorado’s State Food?”

When a student asked that question, I was tempted to respond “Enstrom’s Toffee.” We have regional specialties in Colorado, such as Olathe sweet corn or Rocky Ford canteloupe, but those are crops, not dishes.   My ancestors hunted elk and deer, gathered chokecherries to make jelly, fished for trout, and raised bees for honey, but those don’t make up a distinctive cuisine, like cajun.

Indications are that the Denver Omelet wasn’t invented in Denver, and I know two Colorado natives (my dad and his best friend) who didn’t try Rocky Mountain Oysters until they were in their 50s.

I took an anthropology class as an undergrad where we learned about Norwegian-American ethnicity (that was the subject of the professor’s dissertation).  We learned about the Norwegian-American predilection for lawn gnomes and for eating lutefisk.   I wondered what ethnic foods my own family ate, but aside from sauerkraut and carrot  salad (both of indeterminate origin in our history), I couldn’t think of any.  Most of my ancestors arrived in North America hundreds and thousands of years ago, so the lack of ethnic foods makes sense.

So, kids, tell your teachers that this particular question is impossible to answer.  What do we eat in Colorado?  It depends upon the family.  It depends upon the season.

My great-grandmother owned this cookbook, probably acquired in Colorado:

Woman's Favorite Cook Book

It’s missing the title page, but it appears to be available in Google Books. It was written by Annie Gregory and published in 1902.   My copy is stained, stuffed with hand-written recipes, and falling apart.  The recipes call for incomprehensible ingedients and there’s a section of cures, including several for freckles:  “Freckle Lotion.  Four grains of corrosive sublimate, twenty-four drops of muriatic acid, three-quarters of an ounce of lump sugar, two ounces of alcohol, enough rose water to make one-half pint; mix until dissolved and apply night and morning.”

Here is the Thanksgiving menu from that book, a menu which I am certain my great-grandmother didn’t follow.  Oysters on the half shell in Colorado?  Not likely.

Click on the image to see a larger version.

Three resources for more information about Colorado’s crops and food:

The Colorado State Agriculture Department has a cute crop map on its website:  http://www.colorado.gov/cs/Satellite/Agriculture-Main/CDAG/1195549490177

The Ag Department features recipes here:   http://www.colorado.gov/cs/Satellite/Agriculture-Main/CDAG/1178305877653

Food Timeline has a useful discussion of state and regional cuisine:  http://www.foodtimeline.org/foodfaq4.html

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