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More Official State Foods

Texas has more than a half-dozen, including a state snack (tortilla chips and salsa)

A cinammon apple muffin, courtesy of Flickr user Stu_Spivack

Researching the contentious history of the whoopie pie and its recent enshrinement as the state treat of Maine earlier this week got me wondering about other official state foods. Most states have a whole list of official symbols—state bird, state mineral, state flower—but not all have chosen official foods.

For instance, a lot of Californians know that their state flower is the California poppy and their tree is the California redwood. Fewer know that the state grass is purple needlegrass or that the state rock is serpentine. There’s even a state soil: San Joaquin soil. But the state that grows the majority of the nation’s produce has no official food. Maybe the list of fruits and vegetables grown exclusively or primarily in California—artichokes, almonds, avocados, and that’s just the A’s—is too long to choose from without setting off a food fight.

Another handful of states are also without official foods, including some that sound like shoo-ins. Neither Colorado, Montana nor Wyoming has claimed Rocky Mountain oysters. No Mississippi mud pie for the Magnolia State, either, although milk was designated the official beverage in 1984. Actually, a surprising number of states consider milk the official beverage, including New York and Wisconsin. I suspect it has more to do with supporting the local dairy industry than what citizens actually drink. I don’t recall seeing too many subway riders swigging cow juice.

I also find it odd that my home state of New York hasn’t bothered to officially embrace its many culinary achievements—New York–style cheesecake, pizza by the slice and pastrami sandwiches, not to mention Buffalo wings and Utica chard—but deigned to name the apple muffin the official state muffin. Really?

Pennsylvanians may feel the same about the fact that the cheesesteak has been overlooked. An online petition has so far gathered fewer than 150 signatures. Perhaps being beat to the punch on whoopie pies left them disillusioned. Or maybe, just maybe, they have other priorities.

On the other hand, some states go a little overboard with the official proclamations. Texas has more than a half-dozen, including a state snack (tortilla chips and salsa), a vegetable (sweet onion), two pastries (sopaipilla and strudel), both a pepper (jalapeno) and a native pepper (chiltepin), a bread (pan de campo) and, of course, a state dish (chili con carne).

Oklahoma, having already named strawberries the state fruit, deemed watermelon the state vegetable—yes, vegetable—in 2007. They also designated an entire state meal in 1988, and it’s a doozy: fried okra, squash, cornbread, barbecue pork, biscuits, sausage and gravy, grits, corn, strawberries, chicken fried steak, pecan pie, and black-eyed peas. I’d guess the official state pharmaceutical is Lipitor.

What should your state’s official food be?

About Lisa Bramen
Lisa Bramen

Lisa Bramen was a frequent contributor to Smithsonian.com's Food and Think blog. She is based in northern New York and is also an associate editor at Adirondack Life magazine.

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