A couple of days ago, I dropped my cousin from Down Under off at Omaha’s Eppley Airport. For three and a half days, the house became filled with the euphonious sounds of Australian accented conversations and the mornings, scented with the delicious aroma of Vegemite on hot buttered toast. Matt had treated himself to a four week holiday in the US. He was heading to New York after spending a few days visiting an expatriate Aussie mate of his in Texas and had detoured to Omaha to share some time with us. Before Matt arrived, we spent a fair bit of time thinking about how to entertain a boy from Down Under, in Omaha, on his way to The Big Apple and its collection of tourist attractions. We put together an Omaha sightseeing tour to rival visiting Times Square, the Empire State Building, Central Park, the Staten Island Ferry and views of the Statue of Liberty, and the Rockefeller Center with its Christmas tree and ice skating rink in the Sunken Plaza. When Matt got back to Australia, there’s no doubt he’d regale friends and families in Melbourne and Echuca with stories of visiting the Henry Doorly Zoo and Aquarium, Durham Museum, and the SAC Museum. And he would tell about chucking back a few ice colds at most of Omaha craft breweries, wanting to buy a tricked out Chevy pick up at an Omaha auto dealership, and savouring the delicious iconic foods of Nebraska.
There wouldn’t be a better place than the Crescent Moon Ale House to taste the delicious iconic Nebraskan Reuben; it’s across the street from the hotel where it’s claimed to have been invented. It’s hard to think of a sandwich as being invented. I think of the Wheel, the Steam Engine, the Computer, and the Flush Toilet as inventions; not a sandwich. As Matt and I sat nursing a couple of IPA’s waiting for our Blackstone Reuben, I shared the following story of the Reuben. Reuben Kulakofsky was known for playing poker with his mates at the Blackstone. As the night wore on they’d get hungry and call down to the closed hotel kitchen to see what they could scrounge to eat. It’s said that Kulakofsky dreamed up the Reuben Sandwich the night there was a lettuce shortage. On the fateful no lettuce night Kulakofsky substituted sauerkraut on the corned beef, cheese and lettuce sandwiches. He grilled the sandwiches to hide the cured cabbage flavour; thus melting the cheese. The sandwich was a hit with the poker players; Schimmel, the owner of the Blackstone, and one of the poker players put it on the menu of the hotel restaurant. He named it the Reuben after his mate Reuben Kulakofsky. Thirty years after it was created the Reuben became famous by winning a national recipe contest. Today, the Reuben Sandwich is made up of corned beef, Swiss cheese, sauerkraut, and Thousand Island dressing between slices of grilled rye bread. Matt took three long swigs and finished his IPA; he reached with both hands for his just served Nebraskan Reuben. He declared the Reuben delicious.
Matt’s taste buds were severely teased by the Reuben and the only other delicious iconic Nebraskan taste sensation that would satisfy them was the Runza. Matt listened attentively as I started to talk about the Runza. It’s a warm bread pocket stuffed with peppery beef, wilted cabbage or sauerkraut, onions, and seasonings; you know like a pasty without potatoes, swedes, or carrots. Seeing I have German ancestors I thought I’d better tie the Nebraskan Runza to our family genealogy. Matt listened with fascination as I told him how in the seventeen hundreds Bierocks and Runsas were the go-to lunch for German-Russian field workers; and that immigrants bought these traditional lunches to America. It was back in the early nineteen hundreds when a daughter of German immigrants who settled in Nebraska, mucked around with the family Bierock recipe and came up with the Runza. There are now eighty Runza restaurants in Nebraska that serve Runza’s made from Sally Brening Everett’s recipe.
Me: How about that Runza Matt?
According to any Aussie, a fair dinkum burger has to have a few slices of canned beetroot on it, and the bread has to be stained by beetroot juice. A burger, stained by the purple hue of beetroot is as Australian as football, meat pies and Holden cars; some would say it comes a close second to the Vegemite sandwich. The burger with the lot is an iconic Aussie burger; it’s filled with lettuce, tomato, beef patty, cheese, onion, bacon, pineapple, a fried egg, and beetroot. And you’ll never want for one with the lot; you can get them at pubs, restaurants, take away shops, and fish and chip shops.
Aussies add beetroot to just about anything you can think of; we love our beetroot Down Under. You’ll soon forget about cuddly koalas and lovable kangaroos when you try some of these beauties.
Dips: You’ll load up your supermarket trolley with some of these bottlers: baby beetroot & feta dip, creamed beetroot dip, and sweet beetroot hummus dip
Every Sunday night back when nanna and granddad would walk down the street from their place to have tea at our house. We always had cold leftover roast lamb with salad. In the afternoon mum began soaking pulled apart iceberg lettuce leaves and celery in the kitchen sink; she wanted to make sure they were washed properly. The salad was made up of iceberg lettuce, slices of hard-boiled egg, sliced tomato, chopped celery, and sliced Golden Circle beetroot; served on the same plate as the cold lamb. The beetroot juice turned the Heinz salad dressing a beautiful pink colour, which in turn turned the salad and cold roast lamb an elegant fuchsia rose colour.
When granddad was working he ate beetroot six days a week; Sunday night at our place and five days a week for his lunch. I think Nanna grew beetroots in the backyard. She would have boiled them on her wood-burning kitchen stove; in due course, a gas stove with an oven took over from the woodstove. Nanna or granddad would have made beetroot sandwiches every workday morning; cutting two slices from a loaf of white bread, spreading some butter or dripping on the bread, and then slicing some cooked beetroot for the sandwich. Granddad’s beetroot sandwich was wrapped in greaseproof paper and the bread was soon stained with beetroot juice; he carried it to work in his kit bag with a thermos of hot tea. His kit bag was similar to a doctor’s leather Gladstone bag. Nobody confused granddad with being a doctor; he was a tinsmith. He caught the train to North Melbourne every morning at Newport station and then walked to John Buncle and Sons in Wreckyn Street. The bread in his beetroot sandwich would have become a deep ruby red by lunchtime.
To a young secondary schoolboy, the concept of being able to buy your lunch at the school canteen was mind-blowing. Buying my lunch was a rare exception rather than the rule, and when I did I walked a little taller in the schoolyard. By today’s standards, the lunch choices were meagre, but we toiled over them; sandwiches or rolls, pies, pasties, sausage rolls, and a coffee scroll or raisin bun. I’d always choose a salad roll; a bread roll filled with shredded lettuce, grated carrots, sliced tomato, grated cheese, sliced cucumber, and sliced beetroot. At the start of the second class period, you wrote your name and form on a lunch bag and ticked off what you had painstakingly chosen for lunch. You’d put your money into the lunch bag and the lunch monitor would take all the lunch bags to the canteen. Ten minutes before the end of the before lunch class period the lunch monitor would go to the canteen and bring back a wire basket with all of the lunches. The bread in every salad roll was a delicate shade of pink. And it would become a challenge game in the boys dunny at recess to see who was producing the reddest stream.
I grew up with canned sliced beetroot. The Golden Circle company began in Queensland, Australia, in 1947 and over the years expanded to produce juice and drinks, cordials, fruits, and vegetables. If you’re buying beetroot Down Under you’ll be buying a can of Golden Circle. You can buy it sliced, diced, crinkle cut, pickled sliced, pickled baby, wedges, and whole baby beetroots; ready to plop on a dish, into a recipe, on a burger, salad, or sandwich. And if you want that little something to see you through the day, or substitute for a missed beetroot lunch, you can always throw into your shopping trolley a box of beetroot latte powder, wholegrain beetroot chips, sweet potato and beetroot chips, or a bag of mixed nuts coated with beetroot. It’s hard to find anything as yummy and moreish.
I keep a jar of sliced pickled beets in the fridge for whenever I have a salad for lunch. But I think I need to return to where I came from. Granddad was a role model to beetroot lovers; my lunch will become six days a week beetroot inspired. It will be built upon beetroot, cheese, and Vegemite sandwiches, beetroot and asparagus salad, and diced beetroot, feta, and roasted pumpkin pizza; lunch will become pure pink ambrosia in my mouth.