An Iowa folklorist is tackling a massive project — documenting some of the state’s place-based foods. Riki Saltzman, the folklife coordinator for the Iowa Arts Council, says the undertaking goes far beyond just sweet corn. She says Iowa holds a wealth of foods with connections to both place and cultural heritage. There are many areas in Iowa where the descendants of European settlers, for example, still live and those ethnic groups hold festivals, run museums — and make and sell food. The list is practically endless: rhubarb wine from the Amanas, Maytag blue cheese, buffalo meat from the Iowa Great Lakes area, Italian sausage in Des Moines, and even organic chestnuts in Winfield. Muscatine melons are basically any melon grown in Muscatine, though she says they taste different because of the soil and the climate — like Vidalia onions or French wine. Saltzman says the list of place-based foods also include lefse, a Norwegian potato flatbread. Saltzman says another favorite ethnic food in Iowa is from Czechoslovak and they’re called kolaches (kah-LATCH-eez). They’re a cookie, somewhere between a butter and a more “bready” kind of cookie, usually with jam in the middle. She says you can get kolaches in virtually any bakery in Cedar Rapids, as that’s where many Czechs settled. Saltzman got a 25-thousand dollar grant from the Leopold Center for Sustainable Agriculture for the project. She says it’s still not certain just how the information will be presented, possibly in book form.
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