The Novel Bakers Present Kitchens of the Great Midwest: A Novel


I’m joining The Novel Bakers with a review of *Kitchens of the Great Midwest: A Novel

by J. Ryan Stradal

J. Ryan Stradal delves in to the American heartland, sweeping the vast landscape of Lutheran church bake-offs, chili-pepper–eating contests, and the opening of deer season to capture the zeitgeist of the Midwest and the rise of foodie culture:

Midwestern Chef Lars Thorvald has three loves in his life—his kitchen; his wife, Cynthia; and his newborn daughter, Eva. When Lars Thorvald’s wife, Cynthia, falls in love with wine—and a dashing sommelier—he’s left to raise their baby, Eva, on his own. He’s determined to pass on his love of food to his daughter—starting with puréed pork shoulder.

  Each chapter tells the story of how a single dish or ingredient came into Eva’s life—culminating in an opulent, emotional feast that’s a testament to Eva’s spirit and resilience.


Eva is a fish out of water, blessed with a once-in-a-generation palate and living in a fast food household. At age 11, she’s growing hydroponic chile plants and prefers vegan blueberry sorbet for her birthday over cake. I loved all the foodie culture and differing food points of view in this book, from the Jell-O Salad/pasta-in-the-box camp, to the opposing artisinal side, sourcing local ingredients and consumed with labels of vegan, gluten-free, and non-GMO.


The tomato debates. . .F1 hybrids, early growth heirlooms, indeterminate vines, and the reign of San Marzano.


  And corn:

“With American cornfields at close to 90 percent GMO corn, and all the numerous crosses and hybridizations and so-called improvements made to corn even before genetic intervention, Anna Hlavek at the farmers’ market was growing something almost unheard of:  an open-pollinated corn variety that hadn’t changed a bit in more than one hundred years.”


“…Anna had inherited her seed stock from her grandfather, who’d bought it from a catalog when Burpee first introduced Golden Bantam 8 Row back in 1902.”


I made a succotash recipe with inspiration from two different versions served at a dinner party in the novel. Succotash recipes are as varied as tastes~ if you look up 10 succotash recipes and you’ll find 10 different versions, the only common ingredient being corn!


Succotash can be prepared as a Southern stir-fry or stew, made with butter and cream, or served room temperature or cold as salad. Beans vary from the traditional lima, to edamame, fava, or green beans, as in the book. I made a lighter salad version of succotash for summer with lima beans or butter beans, as we call them in the South. And I added bacon since everything is better with bacon. :)


Succotash Salad with Bacon

Serves 6 – 8


3 – 4 slices of bacon

1 medium sweet onion, chopped

1 1/2 cups fresh or frozen lima beans, cooked al dente

4 – 5 cups of fresh corn, cooked and removed from cob, (about 6 ears)

1 pint cherry, or grape tomatoes, halved

1 – 2 tablespoons freshly squeezed lime juice

1/4 cup chopped fresh basil

Salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste

PicMonkey Collage

Cook bacon until crisp, set aside, and crumble. Remove bacon drippings from pan, reserving 2 tablespoons in the pan. Add chopped onion to bacon drippings and cook over medium heat until onion is translucent and tender, about 5 minutes.


Lower the heat and add the beans and corn and stirring until just heated through, about 1 – 2 minutes.


Transfer cooked ingredients to a large bowl and add tomatoes and lime juice. Just before serving add basil, bacon, and season with salt and pepper to taste. You can find a printable recipe, here.


“The green beans and corn were each just slightly firm, the bacon was fragrant and not too salty, the nearly diaphanous white onion pieces were in that goldilocks zone of piquancy, neither overbearing nor nominal.”


“Bars” was my favorite chapter in the book and not just for the recipes:

“She was not raised to confront people or defend herself in a confrontation; she was raised to appease, to mollify, to calm, to tuck little monsters in a night, to apologize for things she screwed up without realizing, to forgive, to sweeten, and her bars did that for the world, they were her I’m Sorry, they were her Like Me, they were her Love Freely Given.”


“Everyone knew that Deer Lake made the best bars in the county—one of them had won the Bars division of the County Fair Bake-Off six years in a row—and everyone knew that the best bars in Deer Lake were made by the women of First Lutheran Church.”


“Pat didn’t like to toot her own horn, but her peanut butter bars had won the blue ribbon for Best Bars of the last six years now. Still, she couldn’t rest on her laurels, because there were some really darn good bars out there. Like Sandra Bratholdt’s cherry coffee cake bars, Frances Mitzel’s sour cream raisin bars, Corrina Nelsen’s lemon bars, and Barb Ramstad’s Kraft caramel bars.”

Peanut Butter Bars2

I made Pat Prager’s Blue Ribbon Peanut Butter Bars. The recipe comes from 1984 edition of First Lutheran Church Women, a cookbook released by the First Lutheran Church in Hunter, North Dakota where the author’s grandmother was born, which includes recipes from his great-grandmother.


Peanut Butter Bars, No-bake, Easy, and Blue Ribbon-Worthy!

Makes approximately 24 bars

I increased the amount of chocolate chips in the recipe and substituted semi-sweet morsels for milk chocolate.


2 ½ cups crushed graham cracker crumbs

1 cup melted butter

1 cup peanut butter

2 ½ cups powdered sugar

12 oz. semi-sweet chocolate morsels


Mix together the graham cracker crumbs, melted butter, peanut butter, and sugar. Press into a greased 9 x 13 inch pan. Melt chocolate chips according to package directions and spread over peanut butter layer. Refrigerate just until firm. Cut into bars and serve. You can find a printable recipe, here.


“Showing the ways in which food provides us with both comfort and community, Kitchens of the Great Midwest is by turns quirky, hilarious, and heartbreaking. This is a novel about one girl’s extraordinary farm-to-table success story, how food becomes the common language of our lives, and the bittersweet nature of life itself—its missed opportunities and its joyful surprises.”


*Thanks to Penguin Random House for providing copies of Kitchens of the Great Midwest for our review.


Visit Novel Bakers, Jain and Michael Lee for a taste of Kitchens of the Great Midwest:

a quiet life

Rattlebridge Farm


Thank you for your visit, also sharing with:

 Metamorphosis Monday,

The Scoop,  Inspire Me Tuesday,

Wow Us Wednesdays,

 Foodie Friday and Everything Else Link Party

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  29 comments for “The Novel Bakers Present Kitchens of the Great Midwest: A Novel

  1. July 27, 2015 at 5:39 am

    Your bounty is beautiful Mary! I’ve been enjoying heirloom tomatoes this year too. As for the peanut butter bars… All I can say is, my coffee cup is full and my plate woefully empty:@)

  2. gloryj
    July 27, 2015 at 6:03 am

    The Succotash recipe took my back many years to when my mother made it all the time. I had almost forgot about it, We get use to the “mixed vegetable” combo of today but that combination with the limas and corn had a flavor all its own. The fact that the choice of ingredients was non-GMO also made me happy as that is what we have been planting in our little garden and looking for to purchase. We recently found and organic Amish farm not far from here. Now I must see what varieties the have. Loved the book and will definitely look for it. Thank you.

  3. Carol Broadwell
    July 27, 2015 at 6:47 am

    Succotash reminds me of my southern childhood, those splendid memories of wonderful food served with grace and hospitality. As I watch the sun rise on the ocean shore and read your posting, these pleasures take me to a happy place. Your talent is most appreciated. I shall look forward to reading this cookbook.

  4. Michelle
    July 27, 2015 at 6:54 am

    Succotash is almost forgotten! I haven’t had or made it in a long time! This is a recipe worth making. My family loves peanut butter, will have to try this recipe as well. Thanks for sharing.🌴☀️

  5. Sherlie Magaret
    July 27, 2015 at 7:06 am

    I grew up on a farm in Iowa and I know about these recipes and the cooks and feeding a family of six with four growing children. My goodness, we cooked day in and day out and we always had home raised meats and fresh food. We canned and froze vegetables, It was a wonderful life with lots of memories and I treasure them. Foods just do not taste the same today with the GMO and the hybrids and breeding animals with less fat. I just put sweet corn in the freezer and it was that two colored stuff. We will eat it but it doesn’t excite me, the flavor and smell isn’t there. It really makes me sad.

  6. Martine
    July 27, 2015 at 7:10 am

    As in France, you have culinary specialties according to US regions.
    Our culinary heritage is very rich and is very popular with foreigners.
    Your recipe should be very well because I always appreciate vegetables recommended for health. This is a perfect dish for summer meals.
    The kitchen of old books retain their charm with their images “antiquated”, they are real treasure for “cordons bleus” (kitchen passionate).
    As for the cake ….. I can not resist chocolate!
    I do not really like to cook, this does not prevent me to enjoy the good food.
    Thank you for your beautiful photos.
    good day.

  7. Ellen Stillabower
    July 27, 2015 at 7:27 am

    I love old church cookbooks..I have lots. They were published mainly to raise money for their ladies auxiliary..I inherited most from my mother and mother-in-law..when my “Italian” mother made succotash, she would start with a bean, I.e. Lima and then add whatever was in the fridge or what came off of Joe’s veggie truck that day..and she called is succotash!! Corn, tomatoes, etc. are all coming in now in Indiana (if you can get to it before the raccoons)..but we still need a little more sun!! I love those little heirloom tomatoes. Bought some and made a capresse salad with fresh mozzarella & basil from my garden..HEAVEN!! Thanks for sharing those recipes!!😍😍😍🍆🍅🍋🍑🍓🍐🍒🌽

  8. July 27, 2015 at 7:32 am

    The book sounds so interesting, Mary, and one that I would love to read. Your version of the succotash is so colorful and adding the bacon does make it better! I have a similar recipe for peanut butter bars and I can attest to the fact that they are delish. I’ll bet you sent some of those off to share at your hubby’s work. Happy Monday morning to you!

  9. July 27, 2015 at 7:50 am

    This sounds like a wonderful book and I must say that the succotash looks so delicious…such a great dish to serve for its taste and presentation of the bounty of beautiful colors of the harvest. The bars look decadent. Always swoon over your presentation, especially when you feature vintage seed packets and books….I am lucky that we have a “tomato man” down the road from us that recently opened his fields with 6,000 tomato plants of many varieties…Around here, the joy of summer peaks when the “tomato man” opens! Have a great day Mary.

  10. July 27, 2015 at 8:22 am

    Oh I love your presentation… I feel so bad mine is droll, yours is a true celebration of the bounty of summer, mine looks like a prison sentence, which is a shame because I really loved the book…

    The seed catalog was brilliant and your succotash a thing of beauty, I loved that chapter down, to the baby and jello with carrots, thought he captured foodies succinctly.

    Your bars are gorgeous, when I made mine Scott served me, he cut them in big squares thinking it was cake, he was trying to be kind and said my these are dense… I found the size of a quarter was perfect!

    You know I am one breath from being out of bandwidth, so glad I could SEE your pics and still be online to comment, even if I hunt and peck on my tiny kindle… thanks so much for a gorgeous, thoughtful presentation, this book deserves it all, thanks for being a novel baker!

  11. July 27, 2015 at 8:37 am

    What an intriguing book and a peek into a long ago life style. The stories in the book sound bittersweet, and the recipes straight from the kitchens of grandmothers and church cookbooks are always blue ribbon worthy! I can’t wait to try both the succotash with bacon :) and I know some little boys that would flip for those peanut butter bars. I can’t believe how easy they are! Thank you for another mouthwatering experience with the Novel Bakers Mary!

  12. July 27, 2015 at 10:14 am

    I always enjoy the Novel Baker posts, not just because they are so engagingly written and beautifully photographed, but also because I learn about yet another book that I know I’m going to love. My Amazon wish list pretty much reflects all of those books, with this one to be added. Except for the Lima beans (I just cannot eat them, I think they scared me as a child, and, honestly, have always tasted pretty much like munching on a candle), the succotash looks delicious.

  13. July 27, 2015 at 10:15 am

    Perfect gift for my foodie best friend! Do u mind if I print out your post and send it to her with copy of the book??
    Sometimes I love your words and images more than the books themselves!!!! Will wait for your approval. Thanks!

    • July 27, 2015 at 2:24 pm

      Help yourself Janey! I hope she enjoys the book :)

  14. July 27, 2015 at 11:35 am

    Love, love, love this post! Thank you so much, Mary. I am inspired! And I must get this book….

  15. linda kemp
    July 27, 2015 at 11:47 am

    What a great way to start Monday morning but now I am so hungry :-)

  16. Mary in Idaho
    July 27, 2015 at 1:04 pm

    I appreciate how much time it must take you to create your food blogs. They are greatly enjoyed! As a western girl who grew up on western dishes it is fun to learn of dishes popular in other sections of the U.S. I have heard of succotash, but never eaten it. I will try your recipe. I’m also buying this book for the girls in our family. I can peek through it before I give it to them! Again, thanks for your blogs.

  17. rattlebridge farm
    July 27, 2015 at 1:22 pm

    A beautiful presentation that captures the heart and magic of the novel. Your details are exquisite, and your photos are vibrant and bring the book–and its food–to life. Love your succotash and the divine chocolate peanut butter bars. I’m off to pick out last-minute carpet, tile, and gutters. I’ll be back to Pin.

  18. Linda
    July 27, 2015 at 5:09 pm

    Your photography is always so awesome!

  19. Susie
    July 27, 2015 at 6:34 pm

    There’s no “Great Midwest” about it. …this is Minnesota! !
    Succotash is for sissies–try the Lutefisk. LOL! !

    Another wonderful post–thanks :)

  20. Paula
    July 27, 2015 at 9:24 pm


    I love the tomatoes (tomato sandwich yum) but I don’t know about the Succotas? But for the Peanut Butter/ChocBars, yes yes indeed !! Your pictures make it all look delightfully good !! :)


  21. July 28, 2015 at 12:23 am

    Mary, You are a sweet friend. I read about the soup tureen lid, and you are just a thoughtful person.
    Michelle from

  22. July 28, 2015 at 3:57 pm

    Succotash and Peanut Butter & Chocolate Bars…….takes me right back to summer at my grandmother’s house…Although I have declared a moratorium on buying any books for a while, I think I need to make an exception with this one!

    Reminds me of the novel “The Secrets of the Tsil Cafe” (a novel with recipes by Thomas Fox Averill)

  23. July 29, 2015 at 2:26 pm

    I learn something new from you all the time. Here I am in my late 60’s just finding out that succotash is not just corn and lima beans!!! I can’t WAIT to try this now! And, I will make the peanut butter bars for my Joe, he LOVES peanut butter and chocolate so this will be a winner! Thanks so much. Your photos and presentations are always exquisite!!!

  24. July 29, 2015 at 5:05 pm

    Yum, from start to finish! Love the way you framed the pages with the veggies. Amazing creative talent behind that camera of yours!
    Thanks for introducing us to this new book. Looks amazing!

  25. February 2, 2016 at 5:27 pm

    I would really love the recipe for the Banana Chocolate Chip Oat Cakes, but only part of the recipe is published. Do you, or any of your readers have a recipe similar to those oat cakes???

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