I met my husband, Brian, 25 years ago when we both lived in Southern California, he in San Diego and me in Los Angeles. I had been raised in between the two, in Orange County, and while I was not a California native, I definitely considered myself to be a Californian.
Brian had been raised in the Midwest, in eastern Iowa. He was literally a “farm boy” in his upbringing.
As often happens, there was that very first time I traveled to visit his family in Iowa. In both our cases, our parents had divorced and remarried, so we had two separate households to visit, and one of those was his mother’s farm house in Traer Iowa. If you imagine the quintessential Midwest farm house—with barn and outbuildings and what I swear is actually called a “corn crib”—you wouldn’t be far off from the home that Brian’s mom and stepdad lived in. It could easily have been chosen for the film Field of Dreams farm house without affecting the plot of that movie one bit.
Now, I was not a stranger to the Midwest. Quite the contrary, I had gone to college in Decatur, Illinois. However, my experience there was almost entirely contained within the city of Decatur itself, and there, almost entirely on the campus of Millikin University. So I was in the Midwest, but also in an academic bubble there.
So I really didn’t get a feel for what it would really be like to live—or to grow up—in the Midwest.
And so, on my first trip to visit Brian’s mom and stepdad at their home in Iowa, I learned a few new things that I never learned in school.
One lesson that I learned—and I won’t even go into the lecture about how there is no such thing as a “baby cow”—was that the Midwest has a much broader definition of what qualifies as “salad”.
In Southern California, a salad’s ingredient list almost universally starts with some kind of leafy green: a variety of lettuce, usually, or spinach, kale, or so forth. The few accepted exceptions to this would be tuna or chicken salad, potato salad, or pasta salad. But in those cases, one would never describe those food items as being just “salad”.
Then there is the Midwest. In the Midwest, an entire universe exists of things that are called “salad”. The necessary traits of a salad in the Midwest seem to be that the food is served “refrigerator” cold and that its ingredients include at least one fruit or vegetable. (It does appears that recipes with just a fruit- or vegetable-flavored ingredient sometimes can qualify as well.)
And thus it was that I was at the farmhouse kitchen table with Brian, his mom, Joann, and his stepdad, Steve, when someone asked if I wanted some salad. I looked around the table, eagerly seeking out leafy greens in a large bowl, but came up empty. Brian, by now well aware of the myopic food vision of Californians, chuckled and pointed out what they had meant—did I want some pretzel salad, and handed me a bowl with small twist pretzels and strawberry slices suspended in ruby-colored strawberry Jell-O. (And it was delicious.)