Monday, November 7, 2011

Senator Mike Lee Serves Up Funeral Potatoes and Green Jell-O

Senator Mike Lee is serving up iconic Utah foods at  this week's Republican Lunch Group in Washington, D.C.  A different Senator hosts the event each week, sharing signature foods from his or her home state. 

According to his press secretary Emily Bennion, Senator Lee has decided on the following menu to share with his colleagues:

Sanpete BBQ turkey steaks from Moroni
Funeral potatoes
Green Salad
Honey glazed carrots
Green Jell-O
Lion House rolls
Kneader's raspberry bread pudding with vanilla sauce and ice cream

"Senator Lee is proud to showcase these Utah-specific foods as some of his  favorites," Bennion said in an email. (What, no fry sauce?)

I'm all for the turkey steaks, the Lion House rolls, the Kneader's dessert,  and the honey-glazed carrots since this is the Beehive state with producers such as Cox's and Slide Ridge Honey. I'm even OK with Funeral Potatoes (although they are called Heartstopper Hash Browns in other parts of the country for all their artery-clogging sour cream, butter and cheese).
But I'm still embarrassed about that green Jell-O, although aren't we supposed to embrace those kinds of quirky things about our home state? 

I am partly to blame by the .  In 1994, while I was food editor at the Standard-Examiner,  I interviewed a Jell-O marketing executive who told me that Utah consumed the most lime-flavoared Jell-O per capita of any state. (Most places preferred red.)

My story was picked up by the AP wire, and it didn't take long for everyone else to jump on the green, jiggly bandwagon. And those Green Jell-O pins during the Olympics only added to our reputation.

At least, Senator Lee isn't serving fry sauce on those Funeral Potatoes. 

When out-of-state friends ask me about "uniquely Utah" foods, I choose to tell them about some of the following:

Award-winning artisan cheeses, chocolate, and sausage (such as Beehive cheese, Amano chocolate, and Creminelli sausage, to name a few).
Green River melons.
Sanpete County turkey.
Cache Valley cheese and berries.
Box Elder County's Fruitway and Peach Days.
Bear Lake raspberries.
Onion production, which ranks 10th highest in the nation.
Southern Utah's pomegranates and pecans in the local "Dixie Salad."
Dutch oven cooking, a tribute to pioneers and early settlers who used them to cook everything from bread to buffalo stew.
Large families and the spirit of self-reliance and thrift. Home cooking and canning and backyard gardens never really went out of style.
Food storage. Where else would you find basements stacked with 5-gallon buckets of wheat, or where people share recipes for using powdered milk? (Not that I'm suggesting that a Senator serve wheat and powdered milk at some legislative function!)
The huge Hispanic influence, with the family-run Red Iguana and lots of other Mexican eateries and tacquerias.
Italian settlers from the late 1800s, and markets such as Granato's, which helped restaurants and home cooks get good olive oil, Parmesan, pasta, etc.
The Greek immigrants in the early 1900s, giving us the annual Greek Festival and longtime restaurants like Lamb's, Crown Burgers and The Mandarin.
The Japanese-Americans who were interned at Topaz during World War II. Many stayed in Utah and started farms and restaurants.
The Pacific Islander and Asian population in West Valley City.
The ski resorts in Park City/Sundance that helped develop a sophisticated dining scene.
The Navajo taco (also known as Indian tacos) served on "fry bread."
The first Kentucky Fried Chicken franchise.
The thousands of LDS missionaries who go to all areas of the globe and come home with a love of the culture and cuisine. They seek out — or even open — restaurants to serve these dishes.
Can you think of more uniquely Utah foods? 

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