Illinois - The Prairie State
Updated: Jul 31
Official Slogan: The Land of Lincoln
Unofficial Slogan: Daaaaaaaaa Bears! Da Bears! Da Bears! Da Bears!
Two Truths and a Lie
It wasn’t supposed to be there, but a strike blocked Plan A, so Enrico Fermi and his team built the world’s first nuclear reactor on a squash court beneath the University of Chicago’s football stadium back in 1942.
The south side of Chicago is often called “Little Egpyt.” Some say the nickname refers to the site's location above the swampy Chicago river delta; others say it is because it is home to so many museums and sculpture gardens.
Mississippian culture thrived between 800-1400 A.D. The political, religious, and economic center of their civilization was the city of Cahokia located north of present-day St. Louis. Archeologists estimate Cahokia’s population exceeded that of London and Paris in the thirteenth century.
The Recipe - Pumpkin Breakfast Cookies
It’s the great pumpkin state, Charlie Brown! Illinois grows 90-95% of the nation’s processing pumpkins (the ones that end up in cans). They also grow most of the nation's ornamental pumpkins (the ones that end up on stoops). The reasons for this are partly natural, partly industrial. Illinois lies chiefly in the Central Plains, a fertile land once covered in tall-grass prairie. The state's continental climate of cold winters and hot, humid summers, is ideal for many crops including pumpkins. The rest of the Midwest shares those two attributes, but only Illinois has a giant Libby’s processing plant. This one site produces 85% of the WORLD’s supply of canned pumpkin. Since the good folks in Illinois went to the trouble of growing and processing the pumpkins, I happily grabbed a can for this recipe.
I routinely use pumpkin puree in cakes and muffins, but not cookies. When I asked the internet how to convert a muffin recipe into a cookie recipe, the most common reply was “why would you do that to a perfectly good muffin?” Pumpkin puree has a lot of moisture, which works well in runny batters, but not stiff cookie dough. Undaunted, I looked at the ratios in a standard cookie recipe and the ingredients in my beloved pumpkin muffins and set out to combine them.
I knew I had to remove liquid from other segments of my recipe or my pumpkin cookies would likely be flat and stodgy. First I browned butter, using a food scale before and after the browning process told me just how much liquid had cooked out. Later I separated eggs and measured the weight of the whites. The egg whites were saved for later and only the yolks went into the batter. I now had an idea of how much pumpkin puree I could safely add to the dough without mucking up the texture.
I probably should have stopped there, but I love tinkering. My muffin recipe uses alternative flours, so I mixed whole-wheat flour, almond flour, all-purpose flour, and whole oats into the batter. I also kept the sugar content low, just ¼ C, figuring I could sprinkle some raw sugar on top to elevate the sweetness. Unsurprisingly, my final cookie was very wholesome, but not particularly indulgent. It seems this marriage of cookie and muffin recipes resulted in a homemade pumpkin Cliff bar.
Maybe someday I’ll revisit the recipe, but I was mostly pleased with the result. Pair them with a big mug of milky coffee and breakfast is served. I’d happily eat them as a healthy-ish snack while I road-trip to Chicago, so I could gorge myself on deep-dish pizza and Garrett’s popcorn once I got there.
Want to experience Illinois for yourself? Then Teresa recommends ...
My best memories of this state involve hanging with my cousins. We danced the house down at family weddings, played silly games, and simply enjoyed many laughs together over the years. But if you don't have awesome family members to visit then I would recommend a visit first to the windy city, Chicago. Stroll through Millennium Park, admire the architecture, tour the museums (The Art Institute is my fave), or catch a show. I've visited the city half a dozen times and only seen a fraction of it.
If you can’t make it or just love narrative non-fiction, read Erik Larson’s “Devil the White City.”
Time for the whole truth
Little Egypt is the nickname of the southern tip of Illinois, the land between the Mississippi and Ohio rivers, which has a warmer climate than the rest of the state. The largest city in the area is Cairo.
(By the way, you can click on any of the 2 truths and a lie statements to visit the source of the trivia)