The Gathering Place
A Midwesterner learns to love the food of her childhood by sharing it with her kids.
Make lasting food memories with friendly midwestern cooking.
My husband and I decided that our West Coast days had run their course. Though my career flourished during our 13 years in Los Angeles and San Francisco, in October 2015, we felt an undeniable shoulder tap from the universe telling us it was time for a big change. We wanted our two little Californiaborn children to grow up in the central states, as we both had.
So, with an exciting job offer in hand for him—and for me, some concern that by settling in the Midwest, I would lose any cool quotient I had in the food world I worked in—we moved to Chicago. We moved to be close to family and friends, to increase our hot dog intake and to give our kids more seasons and less exposure to kale. The first Thanksgiving and Christmas that we didn’t have to buy plane tickets to visit family was magical. I also found myself looking at food here, and particularly heartland baking, in a whole new light.
When I left for California at
25, my culinary interests hadn’t yet found me. As a midwestern mutt, with everything from German and Scandinavian to Irish, Greek and Italian heritage, I thought of my upbringing and all the food we ate as fun and delicious, but never as anything particularly interesting. The inventiveness of the California food scene did little to elevate those early food memories.
Still, I felt the old-school cravings. As the empty moving trucks pulled away from our new home in Illinois, the distant familiarity I’d longed for became real life. I unpacked our boxes and thought about what I wanted my kids’ childhoods to be.
Since then, it’s been a mission of sorts to pull meaningful meals and sweet treats from the oven— dishes that have a connection to the new life we’re building here as a family. I want to pepper these new heirloom recipes with the vast array of cultural influences that have long been part of the story of this region—the funky quilt of ethnicities that make up not only our cuisine, but our actual DNA. Most of all, I want my children to have detailed, active food memories and a deep appreciation for this place, something I never gained while I was growing up.
What I love about Midwest baking is that the goal isn’t to smack you in the face with bizarre ingredients and fancy, impressive techniques. Instead it celebrates the creative use of pantry staples, a people-pleasing
approach that will simply never go out of style.
There’s a thread of flavor that runs through cooking and baking here, and often it’s found in the marriage of butter and flour. This is food that yields to the tooth. It’s friendly, like the Midwesterners who wave you ahead of them in the grocery line, or strangers readily exchanging recipe ideas over a market bin of early-season cherries, saying, “After a long winter and cold spring, isn’t it great to see cherries again?” To me, these are some of the most nourishing things in life.
Shauna Sever returned to Illinios to live—and bake— with children Andrew and Caroline after 13 years in California.
Shauna Sever has grown to love “people-pleasing” midwestern food.