50 States of Wedding Food
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A Menu That Boasts State Pride
A wedding is a celebration of the couple of honor, of course — but it's also a nostalgic salute to their roots. As such, many couples see their big day as the perfect opportunity to showcase the best food their state has to offer. From sea to shining sea, we spoke to the country's top caterers to pinpoint each state's quintessential dish, ingredient or flavor. Read on to ensure that you treat guests to a true taste of home.
Alabama: Fried Green Tomatoes
Americans have been enjoying fried green tomatoes since the 1800s, but it was the 1991 release of Fried Green Tomatoes starring Kathy Bates that cemented the fried vegetable in Alabama's culinary identity. For a wedding, give this dish the full Southern treatment by serving them with a classic remoulade sauce and gulf shrimp.
Alaska: Alaskan King Salmon
Behold, the Alaskan King Salmon: monarch of the Pacific coastline and state fish of "the last frontier." Just one of them can weigh 20 to 50 pounds and measure 3 to 4 feet long, and they're revered for their decadent buttery flavor. Smoking is the most-popular way to prepare the prized fish, although it's just as delicious grilled, baked or seared.
Arizona: Prickly Pear
Beneath its spiny exterior, this desert dweller is pure sweetness. The prickly pear cactus has three edible parts: the pad of the cactus, which resembles a vegetable, the petals of the flowers, which are great in salads, and the pear, which can be treated like a fruit. With a similar taste to watermelon, the fruit can be eaten raw and is often served chilled. Consider treating guests to prickly pear margaritas, or send them home with some prickly pear jelly.
"Arkansas is famous for its watermelon — Hope, Ark., is considered the watermelon capital of the world — so we have created ways to incorporate it into our weddings," explains Martha Best of Simply the Best Catering in North Little Rock. Best's cold watermelon soup shooters and watermelon squares filled with balsamic reduction are a delicious way to showcase the local goods that don't involve the mess of spitting out seeds. Save that for a picnic!
"Dishes with fresh avocados and lovely notes of citrus are a great way to represent the sunny state of California," says Laura Fabian of 24 Carrots in Irvine. "One of our popular selections highlighting both ingredients is our Citrus Salad (pictured) with mixed greens, frisee, avocado, hearts of palm, pistachios, orange and grapefruit supremes, and citrus vinaigrette."
A locally sourced red wine-braised bison short rib is about as Colorado as it gets, says Lauren Szymecko of Three Tomatoes Catering. They serve the meat with with herbed risotto, blanched white asparagus, and caramelized beef marrow butter.
Connecticut: Lobster Rolls
Lobster rolls are popular throughout New England, but Connecticut has its own little twist on the Northeast favorite and it's unlike the mayo-based Maine lobster roll. The Constitution State keeps things simple: just fresh lobster, bread and butter. No matter how you choose to prepare it, lobster is always a hit at a Connecticut wedding. "It's especially popular with couples with a lot of out-of-state guests,” says Nicholas Shope of Fitzgerald's Fine Catering in New Haven."This is how we roll in the Northeast! Push up your sleeves and dig in."
Delaware: Blue Crab
Blue crabs are one of the biggest exports from Delaware's neighboring Chesapeake Bay — and they're a local favorite. Even the crustacean's Latin name, Callinectes sapidus, which means "beautiful savory swimmer," reference's its delectable taste. According to Craig Trostle of The Greenery Caterers in Wilmington, blue crab chowder — a hearty soup often containing corn — is a popular choice among Delaware couples.
Florida: Yellowtail Snapper
"Florida and seafood go together like peas and carrots," says Gary Lampner of Eggwhites Special Event Catering in Miami. "Yellowtail snapper is a local, abundant, sweet white-fleshed marvel," he adds. Lampner recommends pairing the snapper with a Key lime beurre blanc, which utilizes another local crop (Key limes). Plus, the acid "cuts through and plays off the sweetness of the fish," he says.
"We have noticed that our guests want the full flavor of the South in one small bite," explains Andrew Brackner of Talk of The Town Catering & Special Events in Atlanta. "We've met this need with our marinated quail breast on mini fried green tomato with red onion marmalade (pictured). Nothing represents Georgia better than local birds, a fried vegetable and a marmalade!"
Hawaii: Local Fish
Vanessa Hollinger of Beaches & Backyards Catering in Oahu says that when it comes to weddings in Hawaii, fish dishes are a must. "Visitors to Hawaii must try one of the many amazing fish that our islands have to offer." There are many fish to choose from (ahi, mahi, ono, opah and more), and there just as many ways to prepare them, she adds. "The way you serve fish can also be sophisticated and sexy, a perfect fit for a Hawaiian wedding."
"This is pretty simple: potatoes!" says April Hale of Open Table Boise in Boise. "Guests expect to see this on the menu at a wedding, especially out-of-town guests." Hale recommends potato and goat cheese Napoleons with wild Idaho huckleberry compote (another local favorite).
Illinois: Hot Dogs
"Mini hot dogs are both adorable and the quintessential addition to any Illinois wedding," declares Melissa Chickerneo of Blue Plate Catering in Chicago. Frankfurters were actually introduced to the United States by Austrian immigrants at the Chicago World's Fair in 1893, so the hot dog has deep roots in Illinois. "The traditional 'Chicago Style Dog' is the only way to go," she adds, referring to the classic pile of toppings: yellow mustard, onions, relish, tomato, pickled peppers and a dash of celery salt. "Keep the ketchup for your fries!"
Indiana: Sugar Cream Pie
The Hoosier State is crazy about the sugar cream pie. This sweet dessert was born in Indiana's Amish communities during the 1800s and has since been crowned the state's official pie. Hoosier pie, as it is sometimes called, is a custard-based pie topped off with a hearty dusting of nutty nutmeg. Serve it alongside your wedding cake or on its own — everybody always has room for a slice of pie.
When it comes to corn, Iowans are all ears — and for good reason. Each year Iowa produces about three times as much corn as Mexico. That's a lot of corn! The majority of these crops are used as animal feed, but the Hawkeye State also grows some pretty delicious people food, like sweet corn. Naturally flavorful, Iowa sweet corn needs little in the way of preparation. Serve it grilled and doused in garlic, salt and butter.
"Kansas is Beef Country, and the majority of our couples start with that as a given," explains Bill Rowe of Blue Moon Caterers in Wichita. "It's not that we don't have more adventurous clients who like to get out on the edge, but beef will never be a flop at a Kansas wedding."
Kentucky: Country Ham
Country ham is an undisputed Kentucky classic. "Created before the days of refrigeration as a way to extend the shelf life of pork, country ham has a rich tradition and history in Kentucky," notes Sherry Hurley of Farm to Fork Food in Louisville. "The weather and atmospheric conditions of Kentucky have contributed to the nickname 'the ham belt' and the creation of some of America's best cured hams." Pair it with buttermilk biscuits for the ultimate Kentucky feast.
Even in a state as diverse as Louisiana, nobody could contest gumbo's place as the state's official food — a spot this steaming stew has held since 2004. Gumbo originated in Louisiana in the 1800s and has two variations (Creole and Cajun) both of which are equally mouthwatering. Most meat and seafood gumbos include spicy andouille sausage and are served over rice.
It's not a Maine wedding without lobster, so don't even think about skipping it. "Whether it's in the form of a traditional lobster bake with corn and Maine mussels or within a more subtle approach like our Maine lobster rangoon or lobster tacos, it's definitely the most-popular Maine staple," says Christian Hayes of Dandelion Catering Co. in Yarmouth.
“A seafood bar is the most quintessential food to serve at Massachusetts weddings,” says Ken Barrett of BG Events and Catering in Boston. “We are known for our seafood and we are often able to serve it within hours of it being caught — talk about peak freshness.”
Maryland: Crab Cakes
Few things are more synonymous than Maryland and crab cakes. The secret to a good Maryland crab cake is Old Bay seasoning and fresh, high-quality lump crab. When it comes to crab cakes, the less fuss the better — the delectable local crab should be allowed to take center stage, and boy does it shine.
Michigan: Craft Beer
Be prepared to drink up at a Michigan wedding; this state is known for its local craft beer. Mick Rickerd of Gilmore Catering in Grand Rapids says that with countless amazing breweries across the Great Lakes State, there's a beer for every season and event. From Founder's Kentucky Breakfast Stout to Bell's Oberon Ale and New Holland Brewing's "Hatter series" to the Peanut Butter Porter at B.O.B.'s Brewery, Michigan has a beer to suit any palate. For a more intimate affair, consider pairing a beer with each course to give guests plenty of opportunities to taste them all.
Minnesota: Wild Rice
Minnesota natives go wild for their home state's official grain: wild rice. Naturally abundant in the northern state's cold rivers and lakes, wild rice was first introduced by the area's Native Americans. This nutritious grain — which isn't actually a rice — pairs well with chicken and mushrooms, both of which can be sourced locally.
Mississippi: Shrimp and Grits
"Our Mississippi brides love shrimp and grits!" says Wendy Putt of Fresh Cut Catering & Floral in Flowood. "Since it features our Mississippi corn grits and gulf shrimp, it makes for a delicious comfort food that can be served even at the most-upscale event. And it can be served anytime of the day: brunch, dinner or a late-night wedding with other heavy hors d'oeuvres."
Missouri: Macaroni and Cheese
Like a lot of Southern and Midwestern states, Missouri is all about comfort food. Cecily Hoffius of Ces & Judy’s Catering in St. Louis recommends a macaroni and cheese bar with a whole host of Missouri favorites as toppings. "We offer brisket burnt ends, Buffalo chicken, bacon, tobacco onions, jalapenos, roasted Brussel sprouts and hot sauce."
"Nothing signifies Montana better than local-grazed, grass-fed meats and handpicked mountain berries shared amongst family, friends and loved ones, says Emily Ryan of Food For Thought Catering in Bozeman. Ryan suggests a dish like Food For Thought's locally raised bison tenderloin served with a huckleberry balsamic gastrique, as it highlights the two most unique and native ingredients found in the state. "Not to mention that it is delicious!" she adds.
Nebraska: Beef and Corn
"Here in the heartland, Nebraska is synonymous with beef and corn crops," notes Nathan Newhouse of Attitude on Food in Omaha."At Attitude on Food we put our twist on this staple with our most-popular wedding dish: the Cabernet-braised beef short ribs served with a corn succotash."
Nevada may not have invented the buffet, but they certainly perfected it. Pay homage to the one-and-only Las Vegas by treating guests to an endless supply of food. Make sure your buffet is better than the one at their hotels by sourcing only the best quality ingredients and ensuring that everything is prepared fresh. At the end of the day, who doesn't love a good buffet?
New Hampshire: Raw Bar
Due to New Hampshire's close proximity to the North Atlantic and the cold coastal waters, a raw bar is the best way to showcase the state's best culinary assets, says Jay Curcio of The White Apron in Dover. A good New Hampshire raw bar typically includes local lobsters, local oysters and shrimp.
New Jersey: Tomatoes
There's just something about the tomatoes in New Jersey. In fact, these rosy little guys are so beloved that they're the state's official vegetable — or fruit, depending on whom you ask. Tomato season in New Jersey spans from mid-July through mid-September, so if your wedding happens to fall in this magical period, it's your civic duty to feature tomatoes on your menu. Whether you pair thick slices with fresh mozzarella and balsamic vinegar during cocktail hour or include them in your entree, the juicy produce won't let you down.
New Mexico: Green Chile
"Yes, it's true: New Mexicans put green chile in everything!" admits Marci Dickerson of Dickerson Catering in Las Cruces. Dickerson's popular take on the hot pepper is to add it to mashed potatoes. "We take Idaho potatoes, boil and mix them with green chile, heavy cream lots of butter and spices," she says. "They're to die for."
New York: Apples
When people think of this state, the bustling streets of New York City might come to mind first. But when it comes to food, the sprawling state is actually best known for something much milder than pizza and heaping deli sandwiches: apples. New York grows more apples than any other state, making them a fixture in local weddings. McIntosh, Empire and Red Delicious apples are three of the most-popular varieties grown in the Empire State. Incorporate them into your dessert and send guests home on a sweet note.
North Carolina: Pulled Pork
When it comes to pulled pork, North Carolina reigns supreme. This finger-licking food is created by barbecuing a whole pig and then mixing it all together with a thin vinegar sauce and spices. The delicious sloppy mess is then piled into a bun along with homemade coleslaw and gobbled up with the help of a napkin — or two. Mess and all, pulled pork sandwiches are the perfect food for a laid-back North Carolina wedding. For a more formal affair, opt to serve pulled pork sliders during cocktail hour for the same great taste without the fuss.
North Dakota: Swedish Meatballs
North Dakota is all about Swedish meatballs. "It sounds pretty old school, but North Dakotans want what North Dakotans want," explains Eric Watson of Mosaic Foods in Fargo. "With the large Scandinavian population in our region, these meatballs will never get old."
It's simply not an Ohio party without buckeyes. These cute confections are made out of peanut butter fudge balls partially dipped in chocolate fudge to resemble the nut of Ohio's state tree, the Ohio buckeye. Although these little treats are usually made and enjoyed at home, Ohio couples like to incorporate them into their weddings (often during dessert or as edible favors) to show their state pride.
Oklahoma: Fried Okra
Fried okra is so popular in Oklahoma that it became a component of the state's official meal in 1998 — right beside the cornbread and black-eyed peas. Traditionally battered in buttermilk and seasoned cornmeal and deep-fried, these tasty bites are perfect on their own or as part of a meal. Just don't forget the dipping sauce.
The official nut of the Beaver State can be a hard one to crack, but it's more than worth the effort. Although most people think of it as a dessert ingredient, this versatile nut (best known for its delicious role in Nutella) is well-suited to a number of foods. It's a welcome addition to bruschetta, pasta dishes and more.
The Philly cheesesteak is a Pennsylvania institution. Whether you order yours "wit" or "wit-out," or from Pat's or Geno's, there's no denying the impact this iconic sandwich has had on the state's culinary landscape. Pay homage to the beloved cheesesteak by serving it as a late-night snack. A greasy mix of meat and cheese is an ideal way to end a night of dancing.
Rhode Island: Quahogs
A quahog is what locals call the big hard-shelled clams that are found along the state's southern beaches. "Rhode Island is home to the best seafood in the country, so we really like to highlight that in our events," Katie I. Iadarola of Blue Rocks Catering in Newport says. A clam cake and chowder station is a great way to highlight this Rhode Island favorite, she adds.
South Carolina: Shrimp and Grits
Shrimp and grits is such a popular Southern staple that we had no choice but to mention it twice on this list. "Whether it's served as a passed hors d'oeuvre in the form of a grit cake topped with an herb roasted shrimp and lemon dill cream, shrimp and grits is a must for a South Carolina wedding!" says Brooke M. Bishop of B. Gourmet Catering in Charleston. "With locally sourced shrimp and grits made in state, the two have been 'happily married' for hundreds years."
South Dakota: Chislic
Chislic may not be the most-attractive dish, but South Dakotans swear that it's the most delicious. The no-nonsense food, which is considered to be a distant relative of shish kebabs, is simply cubed meat (wild game, mutton or beef) deep-fried and salted, then served with toothpicks and a side of crackers.
Tennessee: Dry Rub Ribs
Few foods can inspire a cult following like Memphis-style pork ribs. Some styles of barbecue call for sauces, but Tennessee barbecue purists firmly believe in the beauty of the dry rub. Although no two rub recipes are the same, most include garlic, paprika and other spices. The mixture is rubbed onto the meat both the night before it's grilled and then reapplied during cooking to maximize the flavor.
Dan Stacy of Royal Fig Catering in Austin says it like it is. "Texas is beef country — our couples love it all— anything beef, steak, brisket, pot roast, etc."
Utah is known for its love of gelatin, and Camille Troutner of Brown Brothers Catering in Provo says that most couples are smart enough not to resist serving it at their wedding. Instead of offering up plain old Jell-O, consider more unique (and mature) ways to feature it, like in pretty individual molds.
"Vermont has many world-class cheese makers," says Kevin Lasko of Vermont Farms Catering in Pittsfield. "From Jasper Hills Cellars and Consider Bardwell Farm to Vermont Creamery, the list goes on and on." Pair your selection of local cheeses with local quince paste and pickled ramps for the perfect representation of Vermont at your cocktail hour.
Virginia: Country Ham
Another proud member of the "ham belt," Virginia loves its country ham just as much as Kentucky. In fact, within state lines it's even referred to as Virginia ham. Here the beloved ham is often given a sweeter glaze and cooked with pineapple for a hint of tang.
Not far south from Alaska sits this other salmon-loving state. "If you are having a destination wedding in Washington, salmon is definitely something you'll need to have on the menu!" advises Jaffrey Bagge of Twelve Baskets Catering in Kirkland. "We love mixing it up with various preparations depending on what is in season. In the summer, blackened salmon served with a Rainier cherry compote would be divine, while an apple ginger whiskey glazed salmon with mashed sweet potatoes would be perfect for a fall wedding."
West Virginia: Pepperoni Roll
Karen Nottingham of Fab Affairs Wedding and Event Planning says she can't help but notice how popular pepperoni rolls have become as a late-night snack at West Virginia weddings. The pepperoni-filled baked good may have its roots in convenience stores, but that doesn't make it any less popular (or delicious) at a big party.
With a population packed with descendants of German immigrants, it's no surprise that Wisconsin loves its bratwurst. Wisconsin is the home of the "beer brat," a regional favorite that involves simmering the brats in beer before grilling.
Native to the area, elk is just about as Wyoming as it gets — and it's also an incredibly tasty and versatile game meat. "Many couples choose to serve elk at their wedding to offer a Wyoming-inspired alternative to the traditional red meat," explains Kendra Alessandro, of Bistro Catering in Jackson Hole. "Because of its versatility, elk can be served in a variety of ways, however, one of our most-popular dishes is a roasted rack of elk with gratin dauphinoise and red wine pepper corn gastrique."