By most standards, the United States is a young nation. But its food history is storied, diverse, and notoriously proud. Different regions lay claim to certain foods — some controversially — for their role in helping shape that area’s identity.
From the Hoosier State’s decadent sugar cream pie and San Francisco’s notoriously sour sourdough bread, to Louisiana crawfish boils and Maine lobster, to Chicago’s legendary deep dish pizza and Italian beef, these iconic foods each convey a strong sense of place. Luckily, you don’t have to buy five plane tickets to sample them. All you need is a hearty appetite and an address.
Sugar pie (or sugar cream pie, as it’s known in the U.S.) has its origins in Europe and the Canadian province of Québec, though like many foods, it migrated to the U.S., where it was popularized in a few different regions. The Quakers, Amish, and Shakers all have their own versions of this sweet treat, which is traditionally prepared as a single-crust pie with a filling made from flour, butter, salt, vanilla, cream and brown sugar or maple syrup (or sometimes both). As it bakes, the filling forms a homogenous mixture similar to caramel.
Wick’s Pies has been producing sugar pies for more than 60 years from a family recipe that dates back to the 19th century. Whole sugar pies, along with other favorites including pecan, peanut butter, pumpkin chess and German chocolate, are available for next-day shipping.
A trip to San Francisco’s renowned Fisherman’s Wharf wouldn’t be complete without trying that distinctively tangy sourdough bread. Made famous during the California Gold Rush when commercial leavening agents were scarce, this bread gets its pronounced sourness from naturally occurring yeast and bacteria specific to the region.
San Francisco sourdough French bread has remained in consistent production since 1849, owing in part to the Boudin family and its namesake bakery, which got its start that same year. Today, a portion of the 150-year-old starter, or “mother dough,” still goes into each and every batch of Boudin’s handcrafted loaves, which take 48 hours to mix, shape, and bake. Breads are shipped via FedEx two-day delivery the same day they’re baked to ensure maximum freshness. Customers can order the classic loaves in a variety of shapes, as well as seasonal breads and specialty flavors including walnut bread and jalapeño cheddar sourdough. Scoop out the center of a round loaf and fill it with seafood chowder — you’ll almost feel the cool bay breeze on your face.
Few cities boast as many iconic foods as Chicago. A historic Midwest epicenter of the meat-packing industry and agricultural markets, the “City of Big Shoulders” is unsurprisingly known for sleeves-up, hearty eats like hot dogs, Italian beef, and deep-dish pizza. Few foods are taken as seriously by Chicagoans as the Chicago-style hot dog, which originated in the Depression era.
A true Chicago dog is made up of mustard, onion, tomato slices, pickle (or relish), sport peppers, and celery salt on a poppy seed bun — absolutely no ketchup! The Italian beef sandwich, thinly sliced beef dripping with beef juices and hot or sweet peppers on an Italian-style roll, has disputed origins, with some saying they were invented by Italian immigrants in the old Union Stock Yards, and others insisting they first appeared on banquet menus.
Deep-dish pizza, with its buttery crust and thick layer of toppings, also has its 1940s-era origins steeped in controversy. Whatever story you stick to, Tastes of Chicago brings all these Windy City favorites to your door from names trusted by locals for decades. Portillo’s, Chicago’s best-known spot for authentic Italian beef and Chicago-style hot dogs, ships Italian beef sandwich and Chicago-style hot dog kits to recreate these classics at home. Lou Malnati’s, considered the oldest family name in Chicago pizza, also ships its famous deep-dish pies nationwide. Now all you need to do is work on that accent: “Daa Bears!”
Whether or not you’re from New England, it’s hard to say “lobster” without thinking “Maine” —together, these two words are synonymous with the best of the best. The species Homarus Americanus (colloquially known as Maine lobster), hails from the cold waters of the North Atlantic and is prized for its sweet, tender meat.
Now a staple on many fine-dining menus, Maine lobster didn’t achieve popularity until the mid-19th century, when New Yorkers and Bostonians acquired a taste for it. Before then, it was widely associated with poverty and often found on prison menus. One of the first companies to begin shipping Maine lobster to anywhere in the United States, in 1996, was The Lobster Net in Brewer, Maine. The company ships live lobsters as well as flash-frozen tail, knuckle, claw and leg meat and kits for dinners or lobster rolls. But it all starts with freshly caught lobster from the coast of Maine and Southern Canada.
There’s nothing quite like an authentic Cajun crawfish boil. Sitting at a long, newspaper-covered table, slurping down boiled, fresh crawfish (affectionately called mudbugs), crab, shrimp, corn on the cob and potatoes — all washed down with an ice cold local ale, just screams summer on the Bayou. Now you can have that experience at home, with shipments of live or boiled crawfish, frozen Gulf shrimp, steamed crabs and other specialty seafood at CajunGrocer.com. The company has been shipping tastes of Louisiana all over the country for the past 14 years, and now has more than 1,000 authentic Cajun and Creole foods available. You can also find tips on hosting a truly authentic boil, how to handle live crawfish and more on the site.
Maggie Hennessy is a Chicago food writer, editor and recipe blogger. A certified chef, she has spent the past seven years as an editor across multiple segments of the food service industry, including bakery, fine dining and supermarkets. In her free time, she blogs at Marge’s Next Meal. She lives in Chicago with her husband Sean and dog Penny, both of whom prefer steak over vegetables. Connect with Maggie on LinkedIn, Twitter, and Google+.