Fig+Bleu Elsewhere: Baking Society

It has been a hot summer, a suffocating heat.  I did my best to escape it and I think it broke sometime this week.  I went to Denver and Los Angeles, Dallas and Seattle.  Today was my birthday, and I want to celebrate the year how I did for my 23rd:  by continuing to do what I love and remember those who have loved me.

I haven't been baking much, even something as precious as creation has its limits in 110* heat.  It doesn't mean I'm not creating.  I am writing, I am growing, developing and connecting.  I was given the opportunity to work on a series of posts for Baked on their blog, Baking Society.  It's a series focusing on Midwest baking, Heartland recipes.  I share the story with you below, but you can find the rest of the recipe here.

New England Corn Cake

There is a pulse in the Midwest on American cooking that beats like nowhere else. It’s called the Heartland for this reason. Food piled high on the fold out tables of church basements and on the worn farm tables, as smooth as river rock. I remember it from my childhood, from when I visited my relatives in small towns that followed creek beds, where a pale blue water tower stood like the Colossus of Rhodes. Where my great-grandmother’s house was bulldozed and we picked up stones from the rubble like souvenirs. Where the roads stretched out like promises, but you only ever went as far as the Dairy Queen down the street.

I come from a town of Versailles, Indiana and it’s pronounced, plainly and unapologetically, how it’s spelled.  My mother lived humbly and her father was a truck driver. My dad’s family were farmers, decades of farming that formed callouses on their lifelines. My dad often describes the golden light of the sunsets on the farm. He also describes how he nearly drowned in a creek one summer. His mother never cooked vegetables, so they never ate vegetables. He left and joined the military when he graduated high school.

He had a brother that stayed behind and we’d visit his house on the farm in the summer. Blackberries twisted around the porch lattice and stained the white fence purple. A sun-bleached two-liter soda bottle was filled with water and you’d wash the juices off your hands before dinner with it. We’d pick the blackberries and make baskets from our shirts. My siblings and I grew up in Pennsylvania, on a plot of land covered with shale. All that grew were twisted peach trees, rotten on the ground, the pits crunching beneath our feet. We weren’t used to foraging, to fresh fruit. We were greedy and the bleeding juices dripped off our teeth when we smiled. We would go home that night, asleep in the backseat while our parents counted the mile markers instead of talking to one another. We were covered in mosquito bites and thorns stuck in our hair.

The Midwest to me has that sort of dichotomy. It’s a foil to itself. A place of dreamers who speak in idioms. A place where your teeth ache from sweet cakes at a church potluck and your feet ache from running as fast as you can in a race with your cousins. A place where the light hits every acre of your family’s farm except the plot called Tanglewood, where the Baptist church was. The church that buried women with heirloom names—Bernice, Eunice, and Ruth. The church that produced a cookbook one summer to highlight the women of the community that surrounded my family’s farm.

Over the next few weeks, I will be sharing recipes from this cookbook. Recipes that follow the seasons and are classically American, unapologetically Midwestern. Some are written by relatives, some are written by strangers, but all are a part of me. They tell a story that I cannot tell; creating an autobiography of a town that has 2,000 people and a lot of heart. They map a genealogy of those who baked before me and explain the reason I cook my cornbread in cast iron and understand that the thorns are worth the reward. I am excited to share my personal portrait of American baking with you, and I start with what this little cookbook of mine calls a “New England Corn Cake”, which I topped with a sour cream icing and blackberries.

Find the recipe here.

The Hoosier in Me

There is a toothache in my soul and I've lassoed string around it, tied the rest to a doorknob.  I'm afraid the door of my past will slam shut soon.  I'm tugged, pulled to the flatlands of my childhood.  To the cornfields we'd drive through and the outlet malls we'd stop at on the way to visit relatives.  For a funeral, for a birthday.  I can still smell the plastic of the Happy Meal toy.  I can still see the flowers that were stepped on the last time we visited my grandmother's grave.

I come from the Heartland and if you feel it closely, my pulse still beats there.  Somewhere on the Ohio-Indiana border, where they put spaghetti in their chili and can hold a grudge for 20 years.  Houses that sit on cinder blocks and gas stations where you can buy jerky from tupperware.  My pulse still beats somewhere between 1991 and 1995, the last remnants of my childhood.  When the porch swing creaked, when the hot tub leaked, when my sister hit her head and my uncle swore he could see her brains falling out.

Small-town hyperbole.  Myths that become repeated and we become disreputable.  We fulfill our own prophecies and then don't speak for 20 years.  i thought about all of the snowstorms, all of the feet that crunched the ice beneath them.  All of the cups of coffee that sat going stale, acidic and boiling in the pot.  How no one bothered to pick up the phone and how my pulse would still beat, however faint and arrhythmic, to pull at the umbilicus of the Heartland.

Food has a culture in the Midwest. the economy of it all.  Where I come from, meat is sometimes bought at the Dollar Store and when everyone drink black coffee, there's always extra half 'n half. You get creative, you cut corners.  You can eat from the land and farm stands that line the roads, signs written in cardboard, others on wood.  Sometimes your mother feeds you a peach slice when you walk into the room, saying it's the best peach she's ever eaten. And sometimes you have cereal for dinner when the electricity goes out and you hide under a mattress.  Other times you try to recreate the desserts from spiral-bound cookbooks with scratches in the margins, from your childhood, before you forgot where you came from.

And it is a world that's bookended in coasts and often forgotten.  A frontier that's explored, tilled, left to its own devices.  Between plateau and plain, there is the Midwest.  Between the mountains and the ocean, there is the Midwest.  Between promise and pilgrimage, there is the Midwest.  The Great Lakes extend and the fingertips bleed into the backdrop of my bloodline.  And I am Midwestern in all ways but location.  I taste the salt of the earth when I bite my tongue.

Mini Hoosier Pie

A basic sugar and cream pie, eponymous of my home state's nickname.  The pie makes either 6 mini-tartlets or one 10-inch pie, using Ina Garten's pie crust (recipe cut in half). 


  • One 10-inch pie crust (see link above, made in advance)
  • 1/4 cup white sugar
  • 1/3 cup brown sugar, packed
  • 3 tablespoon flour
  • 2 cup heavy cream
  • 1/2 teaspoon vanilla


  1. Preheat oven to 400*F
  2. Roll out pie dough on a heavily-floured surface and fit into one 10-inch pie plate or ~6 small tartlet pans.  Poke holes with a fork and weigh with pie weights
  3. Bake for 15 minutes or until slightly crisp.  Allow to cool while you prepare filling.
  4. In a medium bowl, measure all remaining ingredients and whisk vigorously until well combined
  5. Sift ingredients into a measuring cup (for easier pouring) to create a smooth batter
  6. Pour filling into prepared pie crusts and bake again for 30 minutes or until thickened and browned. (note: watch the small tartlets.  If browning or burning at such a high temperature, fit loosely with aluminum foil
  7. Allow to cool, garnish with confectioner's sugar before serving