Our Dinnertime in America series features snapshots of families across the country and what they put on their tables. Offered in partnership with The Six O’Clock Scramble’s Family Dinner Challenge, stories will run Wednesdays and Fridays through September. Twitter #DinnertimeInAmerica, Pinterest: Dinnertime in America
Eight-month-old Cruze Corwin weighs just over 20 pounds, but, boy, can he pack away the zucchini.
“That’s his favorite thing,” says the baby’s mom, 30-year-old Jessica Corwin. “It’s ridiculous how heavenly he finds zucchini. The dietitian in me loves it.”
A community nutrition educator who lives in Grand Haven, Mich., Jessica feeds her baby and her husband, Cort, 35, a steady diet of lentil soup, beets, salads and fresh local chicken often gleaned from the contents of her CSA box. Yes, she makes a mean cherry chocolate cupcake – her birthday cupcake always is filled with the state’s signature Traverse City cherries – but the Corwins are more likely to have fruit for dessert, especially watermelon and the blueberries that flourish along the coast of Lake Michigan.
“We’re surrounded by blueberry farms,” she says. “It’s so nice to be able to have a fresh blueberry pie or even having them frozen in your freezer.”
Grand Haven lies in the western part of the state, right on Lake Michigan, and is one of its most famous beach towns. (The Grand Haven visitors’ bureau boasts that the city’s premiere attraction — a fountain that performs a water show synchronized to music — is “the world’s largest musical fountain of its kind.”) Jessica’s dad and brother always have been big fishermen, she says, and when she was growing up dinner was often fresh-caught perch or walleye, deep-fried, with French fries and cole slaw. In the winter, it came from the freezer. If they got a deer, the family had venison, usually grilled or broiled.
Residents of the upper Midwest also are fond of pasties, the meat-and-potato filled hand pies brought by Cornish miners. In the winter, Jessica makes a version that looks more like a rectangular pot pie, filling a casserole dish with flank steak or something cheaper, plus carrots, rutabagas, sweet potatoes, parsnips and “for sure an onion.” It’s her mom’s recipe, she says, but she still remembers the hand-held pies advertised on billboards in “the UP,” or Upper Peninsula, the spit of land that juts into Lake Michigan above the state’s mitten-shaped mainland.
“The more you get up into the UP, the fewer signs you see, but that’s the big thing advertised,” she says. “We’d snowmobile into the middle of nowhere and at these Podunk places that’s what you would have.”
Jessica likes her pasty drenched in ketchup. “Soak it in ketchup is how I was taught to eat it by my dad,” she says. “It’s maybe not the best habit.”
Jessica and her husband are Michiganders born and bred. Jessica’s mom came to Michigan from California as a child, but the English and German forebears on her dad’s side arrived in the state generations ago. Her dad grew up across the state in Detroit, where he worked in a car factory, just like his father. Today, everyone lives in Grand Haven. Jessica’s mom is her nanny, taking care of Cruze while Jessica’s at work. Every couple of weeks, the whole clan has dinner together.
When Jessica cooks for the extended family, she puts her dietician’s twist on their favorites. She often makes potato salad — “Potatoes, that’s a true Michigan food right there. That makes it easier to get more buy-in from everybody” – but skips the mayonnaise. Ditto for the Miracle Whip, which her mom grew up eating on peanut butter sandwiches. With lettuce.
“We tried it as kids,” Jessica says. “It tastes better than what you think. But it’s the oddest combination.”
Apple pie also is a feature of the larger family gatherings. Michigan is the third largest apple-producing state in the country, behind Washington and New York. The bulk of these apples come from the land around Grand Haven and the rest of the Lake Michigan coast. Jessica’s grandmother, Shirley Nickol, had a fruit farm about an hour south of Grand Haven in the town of Watervliet. Apple pie was – and is – her signature. Now in her 90s, Nickol still makes her crust from scratch.
“She still brings her pies,” Jessica says. “Apples are what they had on their farm and apple pie is her classic.”
It may seem like a Norman Rockwell painting, but like everyone else, the Corwins struggle to get dinner on the table every night. Jessica cooks from The Six O’Clock Scramble’s meal plans about three times a week, she says, and signed up for the dinner challenge to keep herself motivated.
“Once we had a baby in the picture I suddenly realized how difficult it is, even when you love to cook,” she says. “If I don’t have a game plan I find my husband whipping up PB and J and I have oatmeal.”
Michigan is famous for its cherries, but in the Lake Michigan beach town of Grand Haven, blueberries are the thing. Grand Haven resident Jessica Corwin says her family's classic treat is to pile them in a bowl with milk and sugar. For something fancier, this pie captures all the flavors of a Lake Michigan summer.
- 2 tablespoons lemon juice
- 3 cups sliced peaches
- 1 cup blueberries
- 1 cup sugar
- 1/2 teaspoon salt
- 2 tablespoons quick tapioca
- 2 cups flour
- 1 teaspoon salt
- 3/4 cups shortening
- 4 tablespoons ice water
- 2 tablespoons butter
- 1 large egg yolk
Preheat oven to 425F.
Sprinkle lemon juice over fruit in a large bowl.
Mix sugar, salt and tapioca. Toss with fruit. Let stand 15 minutes.
For the crust, combine flour and salt in a medium mixing bowl. Slowly cut in shortening pieces using a food processor, mixer or pastry tool. Add ice water to reach the right consistency for pastry. (Can also purchase package of 2 pastry crusts).
Roll out the pastry dough.
Pile filling into the center of the pastry crust. Top with a dollup of butter.
Add second pastry crust over top of the filling. Fold pastry crust so that the top goes underneath the bottom crust.
Press two pastry crusts together to seal.
Brush pastry with beaten egg yolk and 1 tablespoon of water.
Bake for 45 minutes.
Jessica Corwin from the lakeside town of Grand Haven, Mich. has never eaten one of the hand-held pasties popular in the state's Upper Peninsula. Instead, her family's version looks more like a rectangular pot pie. "My mom must have found a twist on the old pasty,” Corwin says. In her family, they eat this drenched in ketchup.
- 1 Vidalia onion
- Mixture of carrots, potatoes, rutabagas, parsnips or other winter vegetables (just enough to fill a 9-by-13-inch glass pan), cut into 1-inch pieces
- Homemade pastry crust or store bought package of 2 pie crusts
- 1 pound flank steak or round steak, cut into bite-size pieces
- 1 to 2 tablespoons flour
Preheat oven to 350F.
Place the vegetables into a large bowl.
Coat the steak with flour and add to the vegetable mixture. Stir to combine.
Pour veggie-steak mixture into a glass 9-by-13-inch pan.
Top with two 9-inch pastry crusts, attempting to seal them together in the middle. They will overlap. You can also use another crust on the bottom.
Bake for about 60-90 minutes.