Nebraska - The Cornhusker State
Updated: Jun 20, 2022
Official Slogan “The Good Life"
Official 2019 Tourism Slogan “Honestly, It’s Not For Everyone”
Two Truths and a Lie
In 1921, rancher Henry Kargier noticed his chickens pecking away at some rather large fossilized bones. Against the advice of museum staff, he used his own horses to pull the find out of the hillside and showed up at the Nebraska State Fair with one of the largest mammoth skeletons in the world. Now they're on display at the University of Nebraska’s museum.
Native Americans first gained legal rights at an Omaha District Court in 1879. In the landmark case of Standing Bear v. Crook, a Ponca chief, successfully challenged the U.S. government to honor the fourteenth amendment and allow him to leave an unwanted reservation and bury his son in their ancestral homeland.
Each spring, birders flock to Nebraska’s Central Platte River Valley to watch roughly 600,000 whooping cranes congregate during their annual migration, one of the greatest animal spectacles on Earth.
The Recipe - Mulberry Bars
I know bars aren’t technically cookies, but this recipe was a journey. Nebraska is my home state, and I was determined to make something delicious, beautiful, and memorable to honor it. I also insisted on featuring corn which is tricky to work with, but at least we aren’t the bugeater state anymore.
I tried savory biscuits with local cheese, sunflower seeds, and cornmeal. They were tasty but looked an utter mess, crumbling everywhere and refusing to brown in the oven. Next, I tried to make a GF cookie inspired by Cap’n Crunch -- they didn’t crunch and nobody ate them. I went simpler and used cornstarch to make a riff on cat’s tongue cookies. My kids loved those, but I found them bland and forgettable. Finally, fresh sweet corn hit the roadside stands and I scraped the kernels off the cobs to mix into dough with cornmeal. Those cookies tasted fine but resembled flat mounds of failed cornbread. I gave up on cookies and turned tin-ward.
This recipe is a twist on lemon bars. I started with a shortbread dough and added chopped corn nuts for extra crunch and flavor. Corn nuts are dry and cooked with corn oil so they added that corn flavor I really wanted, without moisture to gum up the dough. I used a little lemon juice for its bright acidity, but the majority of the liquid came from crushed mulberries straight out of my backyard. I was able to find Nebraska-raised eggs without any difficulty, but I was struggling to find local butter. I bought some local cream and churned my own. I felt like I was finally on the right track.
At long last, I made a Nebraska treat that was gorgeous and tasty! I baked it just right so the filling was luscious but held its shape. The crust was tasty, though big chunks of the corn nuts settled unpleasantly in my molars. They ought to be finely chopped instead of coarsely. Also, I should have scaled back the sugar since mulberries are a bit sweeter than lemons. Alas, I will have to wait until next summer to try again, as the birds and children picked my mulberry tree bare.
2022 Update: The recipe has been perfected, these are amazing. GBR!
Want to experience Nebraska for yourself? Then Teresa recommends ...
I love my home state and I could not boil the recommendations into a single paragraph, so here is a travel itinerary for a wondrous summer road trip! You'll need sunscreen, bug spray, and a NE State Parks Annual Pass.
Begin your journey in Omaha, the biggest city. Spend the day at the Henry Doorly Zoo, one of the best in the world. In the evening head to a hip historic neighborhood like the Old Markest or Blackstone for dinner and drinks. (If you prefer authentic ethnic joints to swanky restaurants, head to south 24th street.) Omaha has a great food scene, so it is hard to go wrong. Go out and enjoy some nightlife with live music, theatre, or my favorite, dancing! Nebraska is home to some passionate dancers.
Pack a picnic, grab some coffee and drive north on the Lewis and Clark Scenic Byway. This route, also called US-75, takes drivers past two reservations. I love seeing bilingual road signs reflecting the Omaha and Winnebago pride. Stop for lunch at Ponca State Park and take a hike in the Loess Hills overlooking the Missouri River. Pack up and head west on the Outlaw Trail (NE-12) to the town of Valentine. Enjoy a steak dinner and then head to the Cowboy Trail bridge to watch the sunset over the Niobrara River.
Paddle or float down the Niobrara River. The scenery is stunning and mostly undeveloped. You'll see more sandstone cliffs than houses. End your journey at Smith Falls State Park home to Nebraska's largest waterfall. Take your time and enjoy this extraordinary adventure. That night tuck in early for a good night's sleep or sneak out into the Sandhills for some stargazing.
Head west once more this time on the Bridges to Buttes Byway (US-20). Stop in Chadron where you can learn a good deal of history and culture at the Mari Sandoz High Plains Heritage Center. For lunch, grab some Runza, a beloved fast-food chain, and head to Chadron State Park for a picnic. Take a horseback ride or lace up your good shoes and explore the Pine Ridge Country. Get back in the car and head south on the Gold Rush Byway (US-385) to Alliance, Nebraska. Cool off in the local pool and enjoy their cute downtown.
Check out Carhenge, a replica of Stonehenge made out of old cars, it's weird but the surrounding countryside does make it rather magical. If you can visit at sunrise or the edge of a thunderstorm, do that. Load up the car and head east on my favorite byway of them all, the Sandhills Journey (NE-2). The song states "There is no place like Nebraska" and in the sandhills, this feels especially true. I can't describe it and my photos have never done the vast and unworldly landscape justice, you have to see it for yourself. On your journey, stop to walk through the National Forest near Halsey. Get lunch in Broken Bow. End your day in Grand Island and if you have time check out the Stuhr Museum of the Prairie Pioneer.
A short drive on Interstate-80 (the opposite of a scenic byway) takes you to Lincoln, the state capitol, and a great college town. Take a free tour of the capitol building and see the lovely mosaics and sculptures honoring the state's history. Walkabout the University's campus and go to Morrill Hall to see Archie, one of the largest mammoth fossils in North America. Get some dinner downtown, my friends own Dish and I can't say enough good things about it. Soak up the nightlife by crawling through the O street bars or checking out the Haymarket district.
Return to Omaha and recover from your adventures. Before flying out, stroll through downtown and along the Missouri River. You can even walk over to Iowa on the pedestrian bridge. I hope you enjoyed this whirlwind tour of Nebraska.
If you're visiting in the fall, make sure to spend a Saturday in Lincoln to tailgate or score tickets to a Cornhusker football or volleyball game. If you're visiting in the spring, head to Kearney and see the cranes. If you're visiting in winter, I'm sorry but you've made the wrong choice.
If you can't make it to Nebraska, transport yourself there with any of these titles: "A Warrior of the People" by Joe Starita, "My Antonia" by Willa Cather, or "Eleanor & Park" by Rainbow Rowell.
Time for the whole truth
Whooping Cranes are extremely endangered and only a few are ever seen on the Central Platte River Valley. Sandhill cranes migrate in spectacular numbers.
(By the way, you can click on any of the 2 truths and a lie statements to visit the source of the trivia)