Today, December 7, is a day that will live in infamy. It was the 9-11 of the Greatest Generation and changed forever the course of history. It is also National Illinois Day.
Illinois is the 6th most popular state, the 25th most expensive and the 21st state to join the Union. December 3, 2018 marked 200 years of statehood. Illinois is thought to be a predominately Blue State, although some consider Illinois to be a swing state. Like California, move outside the major cities or resort communities, and folks tend to be Republican. However; more people live in cities, so when majority rules the vote tends to be Democrat.
In state politics, Illinois is also considered to be one of the most corrupt states in the country. Six of their governors have actually been charged with crimes, and four of those were sent to prison. Len Small (R), was governor from 1921 to 1929. He was indicted for corruption. Small was acquitted. It should be mentioned that eight of the jurors on his case received state jobs following his acquittal. Just saying. William G. Stratton, another Republican who was governor from 1953 to 1961, was acquitted of tax fraud after leaving office. Of those convicted, three were democrats, and one was a Republican. Their crimes ranged from bank fraud to bribes and income tax evasion among other things. Political corruption exists on both sides of the aisle. It’s one of the pitfalls of power and greed.
But Illinois not just about corrupt politics. Illinois has made some interesting contributions we all should be thankful for.
Twinkies were invited in Schiller Park, Illinois on April 6, 1930. James Alexander Dewar, a Canadian-born baker, worked for the Continental Baking Company. Dewar realized that several machines in the bakery sat idle most of the year. These were used to make cream-filled strawberry shortcakes. However; when strawberries were out of season, the equipment sat. Dewar created a snack cake filled with banana cream, which he dubbed the Twinkie. During World War II, bananas were rationed, and the company was forced to switch to vanilla cream. This change proved far more popular, and has remained a Twinkie stable ever since.
Morton, Illinois is known as the Pumpkin Capital of the World. More than 85% of packaged pumpkins come from there. While pumpkins have been in North America long before the arrival of European settlers, farmers in the state produce nearly 95% of the pumpkins grown for processed goods. The majority of those hail from Morton. In 1920, Morton developed a canning plant specifically for their pumpkins. Today that cannery is owned and run by Libby – and the Libby Recipe for Pumpkin Pie is the most used at Thanksgiving. Libby sponsors the Pumpkin Festival in September, with an estimated 35,000 visitors a year, more than twice the town’s population.
While there are some who will argue differently, some believe that the Ice Cream Sundae was invented in Evanston, Illinois. In 1890, a “blue law” was passed for religious reasons banning the sale of Ice Cream Sodas on Sundays. (Don’t ask – something about sinful pleasure on the Lord’s Day of rest). As the claim goes, soda fountains in Evanston began selling Ice Cream Sodas without the soda on Sundays – just a scoop of ice cream in a bowl with the syrup. If that’s true, thanks!
Illinois generates the most electricity from nuclear power than any other state. It seems only fair, since Illinois is the fifth-largest consumer of electricity. So thanks for the bright lights, big city and “clean” energy.
On the streets of Chicago in 1943 a Macedonian immigrant named Jimmy Stefanowicz was making a living operating a hot dog stand. His stand was in Chicago’s old Maxwell Street market district. Served on a poppy seed bun, Jimmy’s Maxwell Street Polish Sausage grew to be one of the Windy City’s most popular local fares. It remains a staple today.
Maxwell Street Polish Sausage Sandwich
1 tablespoon Vegetable Oil
4 Polish Kielbasa Links
1 large Yellow Onion
1 pinch Kosher Salt
Fresh Black Pepper to taste
4 Poppy Seed Hot Dog Buns
12 Pickled Peppers
Note: Can’t find Poppy Seed Buns? No worries. Melt a little butter, brush the tops of the buns, then sprinkle with poppy seeds. This give your Maxwell Street Polish Sausages their authentic look.
Heat the oven to 200 degrees. Place a heavy-bottom skillet over medium heat. Warm vegetable oil.
While the oil warms, pat Kielbasa Links dry with paper towels, set aside. Peel and thinly slice onion, set aside.
Add the kielbasa to the pan; cook until golden brown, about 5 minutes per side, turning often for even cooking. Wrap links in foil, place in an oven-proof baking dish to hold in the warm oven.
To the same skillet, scatter the onion. With a spatula, turn and mix onions into the seasoned oil in the pan to bring in the flavors of the links. Season onions with salt and pepper. Grill slowly over medium-low heat, stirring occasionally, for 30 minutes. Once the onions are golden and soft, set aside.
Place buns on a cutting board, split open. Place 1 Kielbasa Link in each bun, slather with a generous amount of yellow mustard and top with an ample serving of caramelized onion. Top each sandwich with 3 pickled peppers. Wrap the sandwich in deli paper, parchment paper or foil. Let sit for 5 minutes to for the links to steam-soften the buns.