Being a Midwest girl through and through, I was pleased to see Kitchens of the Great Midwest selected as this year’s One Book South Dakota title. I was born into a Norwegian/Swedish family and raised in west central Minnesota; I grew up with tator tot hotdish, jello salad, delicious bars, and, of course, lutefisk, herring, and lefse every Christmas.

As I perused the chapter list in the front of the book, I was not disappointed. Each of the chapters centers around a different food: Lutefisk, Chocolate Habanero, Sweet Pepper Jelly, Walleye, Golden Bantam, Venison, Bars, and The Dinner. Each chapter is also told from a different character’s perspective. Each of these characters interacts with the novel’s main character, Eva Thorvald, in some way.

I found Eva to be a fascinating main character. She experiences a lot of hardship, but she is never bitter or mean. It’s clear from the beginning that she’s very smart, with a true gift where food is concerned, but she never holds that over the heads of those around her. She loves deeply and takes care of her people, adopting the outcasts and weirdos that cross her path. The book takes us through Eva’s life, starting before she was born, and watches as she grows into a legendary chef. Because of the shifting perspective of the novel, we both know more about Eva than we ever would have if she’d told the story completely from her point of view, and are left wondering what she is thinking as a result of that storytelling decision.

As I was reading, I appreciated the fact that Minnesota was another main character in its own right. From the beginning of the first chapter, Eva’s father, named Lars, speaks of the Twins winning the World Series in ’87. The characters drink Grain Belt Premium throughout the entirety of the book. There are casual references to Highway 169 north and Minneapolis-Saint Paul as “the Cities”. There’s the elitist former mortgage loan officer who graduated from Carleton and bought a fancy house on Lake Calhoun. Stradal interweaves these Minnesota nods seamlessly into the novel, and while they don’t need to be there to make the story work, in their inclusion Stradal adds a subtle nod to those of us who live in this part of the country. With his focus on Midwest classics as well as spicy home-grown peppers and Sunday night dinners focused on updated versions of classic comfort food, he also captures the beautiful complexity of the Midwest food scene, one that’s sprinkled with old favorites and a newer “foodie” scene that appreciates those roots.

Kitchens of the Great Midwest was a fun read that I thoroughly enjoyed. The Library currently has 50 copies available for reading in advance of our One Book South Dakota discussion on October 12 with scholar Dr. Jamie Sullivan (a program made possible by the South Dakota Humanities Council, an affiliate of the National Endowment for the Humanities). Pick up your copy today!