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Snapshot: Iowa Summer Means Sausage and Beer

To Summer

By Jim Duncan

Due to lack of interest, the Chicago Mercantile Exchange ended the selling of pork bellies futures in summer 2011. Those contracts had been heavily traded from 1962 until the end of the 20th century because of seasonal price fluctuations driven by huge demand for bacon in summer, when tomatoes ripened. In the third millennium, routine interhemispheric deliveries created endless seasons for tomatoes and other fruits. Bacon demand leveled out.

Yet summer still influences our diets more than other seasons do. In the warm months we move our fires outdoors, just as our ancestors did. Three-fourths of the charcoal bought in the Midwest is used in summer, when half of our annual consumption of hot dogs takes place, and beer sales increase 12 to 20 percent compared to winter months.

Because of something old and something new, Iowa is blessed ground for the divine summer duality of sausage and beer.

Every ethnic group that has come to the state has preserved unique sausage recipes. Because Iowa has been welcoming different waves of immigrants for 160 years, one can eat a magnificent diversity of sausages here. While traveling around the state the last ten years, I have enjoyed:

Danish medisterpølse in a convenience store in Elk Horn; locally raised Norwegian potato sausage at a co-op in Decorah; jitrnice and klobása in the Czech Village of Cedar Rapids; cevapis at half a dozen Bosnian cafes in greater Des Moines; bockwurst, weisswurst, knackwurst, rope sausage, brats, and kielbasa at Haun’s Specialty Meats in Dubuque; chorizo at carnicerías in Perry, West Liberty, Columbus Junction, Sioux City, Des Moines, Denison, and Storm Lake; buffalo sausage in Tama and St. Donatus; elk sausage in multiple places in Mount Pleasant; English bangers at The Royal Mile in Des Moines; Swedish sausage at Susie’s in Stanton; Alsatian blood sausage at Baru 66 in Windsor Heights; homemade Italian sausages at half a dozen Calabrese restaurants in Des Moines and Graziano’s Italian sausage at several dozen others there; Vietnamese bò bía at the annual CelebrAsian in Des Moines; homemade merguez (lamb sausage) at Phoenix Cafe & Inn (now Relish) in Grinnell and at Proof in Des Moines; old-fashioned coarse-ground wieners at Lewright Meats & Deli in Eagle Grove; and wurst platters at multiple restaurants in the Amana Colonies and Manning.

At Django in Des Moines the humble hot dog gets dressed up for a gala. Homemade boudin blanc is served on homemade challah rolls with caramelized onions and foie gras. 

Now, to wash it all down. In 2010, Governor Chet Culver signed legislation that included the Iowa Beer Equality Bill, which allowed Iowa breweries to produce beer containing up 15 percent alcohol by volume. Another section of the bill allowed Iowa’s beer wholesalers to buy and sell beers of similar strength. Previously, beer in Iowa could be no stronger than 6 percent alcohol, limiting beer styles to about one-third of the available repertoire.

The legislation loosed a new beer era in the state. Fourteen brand-new breweries opened. Established breweries and brew pubs expanded their styles. Some now blend ales and beers. Others age them in charred-oak barrels. Suddenly Iowa beers are as ethnically diverse as Iowa sausage. Here’s to summer.

Photo © Can Stock Photo Inc./Stockphoto

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