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Lidia Celebrates America: A Heartland Holiday Feast

Lidia Celebrates America: A Heartland Holiday Feast 

SDPB1: Sunday, December 12, at 6pm (5 MT) 

Lidia Bastianich is a celebrated chef and restaurateur who has published 13 cookbooks, co-authored with daughter Tanya, and companion books to her Emmy-winning television series Lidia’s Kitchen, Lidia’s Italy in America and Lidia’s Italy. 

In her series Lidia Celebrates America, Bastianich travels across the United States in a celebration of culture through food. Bastianich says she is on a cross-country journey to explore the heartland of America, connecting with people and finding how small American towns preserve their deliciously diverse culinary traditions. 

“Small towns are the heart of our nation, rich in traditions that have been handed down generation after generation. I feel honored for the opportunity to gain access to people’s long-held cultural traditions.” ~ Lidia Bastianich 

In small, rural towns across the country, Americans are preserving their cultures through food and traditions. In Lidia Celebrates America: A Heartland Feast, Bastianich travels to some of these communities, sharing the stories of the people she meets and giving us a lens into their world. “I really respect rural America because that is what holds America together,” says Bastianich. “It’s those people that really are the heartbeat of America.” 

Shoofly Pie in Bethlehem, PA

Not long after Bastianich’s arrival in the U.S. from Pola, Occupied Italy (now Croatia), she lived in a small town called Sunbury in central Pennsylvania, located on the Susquehanna River.  

Sunbury was Bastianich’s first exposure to small town America, and she loved the rolling hills, mountains, vast open spaces and river views which reminded her of her homeland in Istria. In Sunbury, Bastianich learned how to cook Pennsylvania Dutch specialties including shoofly pie and succotash made with peppers, potatoes and dumplings. Bastianich also visits Lancaster County in rural Pennsylvania, home to the Pennsylvania Dutch and Amish people. In Bethlehem, known for its holiday celebrations and decorations, Bastianich meets Bonnie Boyer, locally renowned for her Pennsylvania Dutch recipe and the best shoofly pie in the area. Bonnie and her grandson Adam show Bastianich how to make the regional dessert. 

Christmas in Natchitoches, Creole Country, Louisiana

Under magnolia trees draped in Spanish moss, Bastianich enters the heart of Louisiana Creole Country. Here the culture derives from its early inhabitants, individuals known as gens de couleur libres (free people of color), who descended from a combination of French and African roots. 

Homegrown vegetables and fruit, wild game, fish, gumbo and étouffée, combined with spices like red cayenne pepper and filé (dried, ground sassafras leaves) provide the basics of Creole cuisine. Other Creole dishes include smoked bacon, ham and sausage, boudin, andouille, and zandouille. Strong Spanish influences are reflected in meat pies, dirty rice and tamales. 

Pigs & Tamales in Denton, Texas

As in South Dakota, fairs are a rich part of Texas life, preserving agricultural traditions and introducing new technology. For many, fairs are a family affair. Bastianich joins Kate Swan, age 12, who raises pigs to show at the state fair. Kate’s father shows her the ropes, and even makes the whips that help steer the pigs. Kate is proud to have taken over most of the responsibilities herself and shows Bastianich how to wash, feed and pamper the pigs.  In Denton, Bastianich also visits Jorge Landeros who owns Milpa’s Kitchen, an award-winning Tex-Mex restaurant, and a center for the community. Landeros discusses the tradition of making tamales and how special they are to the Mexican culture at Christmas time. 

Buffalo Soldiers in Lawton, Oklahoma

On the streets of Lawton, Oklahoma, Bastianich encounters more than a dozen soul food and barbecue restaurants. Many are owned by African-Americans, a testament to the growing economic power and vitality of a city recently named one of the most livable cities for African-Americans. Lawton is by the Fort Sill Army base, which in the mid-1800s was home to the famed Buffalo Soldiers. In the 1800s, these soldiers often ate beans, bacon, hard bread, potatoes, onions and stews. They also relied on a good bean soup served with dried apples, peaches and biscuits. Bastianich and Wallace Moore share cornbread, dumplings, baked beans, and coffee – all cooked over an open fire. 

Pork & Mustard Greens with the Hmong Community in Wausau, Wisconsin

Driving north from Madison, Wisconsin, to the small town of Wausau, Bastianich visits Hmong vegetable gardens. Every June families gather here to plant seeds for the next year – new rows of corn, beans, melons, eggplant, greens, and herbs. Many of these plant varieties have no English names. Hmong immigrants brought the plants and seeds from the mountains of Laos, old flavors they now grow in their adopted homeland. Bastianich joins an extended Hmong family for family stories and a traditional feast, including pork with mustard greens and beef mincemeat, or laaj.  

Eelpout Festival in Walker, Minnesota

Walker, Minnesota, has a population which tips just slightly over 1,000. And while it was inhabited for thousands of years by Indigenous peoples, it is now largely a melting pot of European cultures, from Finland, to Norway and Germany. Walker is located on the southwest corner of Leech Lake, Minnesota’s third largest, which hosts the annual International Eelpout Festival. For three days in February, Walker grows by ten-fold as fishers  come from hundreds of miles away to ice fish for eelpout, a freshwater cod and one of the ugliest-bottom-dwelling fish. Bastaniach visits local chef Maxwell Mraz. Well-versed in cooking eelpout, Mraz demonstrates how to prepare salted eelpout cakes. They also make lefse from a recipe from Mraz’s Scandinavian grandmother. 


Pork Tamales (yields 4-6 dozen tamales) 



• 2 ½ lbs. Boneless pork butt 

• 1 Tbsp. Garlic powder 

• 1 Tsp. Salt 

• 1 Tsp. Black pepper 


• 10 lbs. Masa (cornmeal flour) 

• 4 cups Pork lard 

• ¼ cup Water 

• 3 Tbsp. Baking powder 

• 2 oz. Chile Ancho to color masa 


• 6 Dozen dried corn husks 


• ½ lb. Chile ancho 

• 1 Tsp. Garlic powder 

• ½ Tsp. Ground cumin 

• 2 cups Water (stock  saved from boiling the Chile Ancho) 

• 2 Tbsp. Pork lard 

• 2 Tbsp. Salt 


1. PORK: Place pork butt in medium-size stock pot. Add garlic, salt and pepper. Add cold water to cover. On high heat, bring to boil, then reduce heat to medium-low and simmer partly covered for 1½ to 2 hours. Remove pork from stock and cool at room temperature. When cooled, shred meat into fine threads. 

2. CHILE SAUCE: In large saucepan, boil the chile ancho for 10–12 minutes until softened. Drain chiles and reserve water. Rinse seeds from boiled chiles. Blend chiles, garlic and cumin. Add the 2 cups of reserved water. In heavy, large saucepan, heat 2 tablespoons pork lard over medium-high heat. Add drained chile puree carefully to avoid splatter. Reduce heat to low. Cook over low heat for 10-15 minutes. Remove sauce from heat. (Reserve 2 ounces of sauce to color masa). Combine pork with chile sauce. 

3. MASA: Place 10 pounds of masa in large mixing bowl. Pour water and add baking powder over masa evenly. Add salt and mix masa by hand. Add pork lard and two ounces of chile ancho sauce (this adds color to the masa) and knead masa again. Masa is ready when it feels thick and compact. Pad masa down in bowl and set aside.  

4. TAMALE ASSEMBLY: Soak dried husks in warm water for 1-1 ½ hours or until soft. Drain husks well; pat dry with paper towels. For each tamale, spread 2 tablespoons of masa mixture on each husk. Spoon 2 tablespoons of filling lengthwise down center. Fold husk and secure with strips of cornhusk. Steam for 1 hour. 

5. STEAM TAMALES: Use stock pot with wire lining or steamer insert. Steamer should not set in water. Add a few husks to liner/steamer prevent tamales from getting wet. Tamales must be placed open-side up around perimeter of stock pot. Place extra husks over tamales and cover pot. Steam for  hour or until husk peels easily from masa. 

6. Serve warm or freeze after cooling.