I simply cannot do an adventure without a food issue. RAGBRAI is about the cycling across Iowa — the challenge of the miles, the wind, camping, and much more — but it is also about the food. The Midwest has not traditionally been known for the cuisine it provides, but I am here to report from the road, that Iowa shucks more than corn.
That said, corn has its place. First and foremost, it has its place on most every expanse of land across this beautiful state. However, very few of the stalks that we rode past were for human enjoyment. 99.9% — or so we were told by the hobby farmer on the carbon fiber bike next to us — is feed corn. One third for fuel, one third for export, and one third for
livestock. But when you find the sweet corn, which is easy enough, it is sweet and juicy and melts in your mouth along with the butter it’s been bathed in.
We heard most about the pork, as in pork chops, pork on a stick, and pork ribs. You can smell the smokers from a mile away. Since I’m not a pig consumer, I can only appreciate the various comical pig characters which are rather creative.
Like most any trip I have taken, I came on this one in search of the pie. I know Iowa to grow two of the best vegetables: corn and rhubarb. Yes, rhubarb is a vegetable. Mixed with sugar or tossed with strawberries and most people tend to forget this. But in Iowa it does not matter if you call it a fruit or vegetable, because it grows like a weed.
We consumed pie every day. That pretty much sums up a successful trip! But it was all done in the vein of research. There was the rhubarb strawberry from the Lutheran Women’s Group in Manning and that was good and if you have a decent dental plan to replace your sugared teeth that is even better. Bless their hearts. There were other ‘good looking’ pies from the pass through towns and the various home bakers, but once we discovered the Amish Pies (yep, that P gets a capital) it was hands down a favorite. Of course, you cannot judge on one slice alone, so the research was a part of each day’s route.
There was the raspberry with seeds dotting the oozing red river of fruit. The straight up rhubarb was tart and complimented by the oat crust. The gooseberry was a new one for me — super tart with the plump golden berries pushing up the well-trimmed flour crust. There was also the dutch apple which just melted in your mouth like a sun laden fourth of July afternoon. However, it was the strawberry rhubarb that was my blue ribbon favorite. Maybe a measure of nostalgia goes into my decision. Regardless, it was the best. And, the Amish are the best at it in this part of the country.
Each day, they set up their mobil oven and the matriarch gets busy rolling out the dough, filling the pies, and extracting them to be placed in the handcrafted, cherry wood pie safe. There the pies cool and then cut into lovely slices of heavenly goodness for the mass of cyclists to consume.
The only way to top this slice is by adding a scoop of Amish vanilla CREAM ice cream. It is churned on site by the one cylinder tractor engine.
Of course, it has not been all about sweet pie. There has been other pie: Pizza Pie. We discovered Dang Brothers Fire Roasted Pizza at the expo in Onawa. That’s where it all began for us. From there we enjoyed our daily intake of pie x 2: One sweet and one savory. The savory creation from Dang Brothers comes Kevin and his wonderful crew out of San Diego, CA. Kevin has Iowa ties and has come to RAGBRAI for several years and has ridden it a few years. After a career in the Marines, he went to architecture school. When he saw an old fire truck for sale, he bought it. To justify the rather curious purchase of a retired fire truck to his wife, he designed and built a wood fire oven in the back of the fire truck. Ingenious really!
Our daily routine became coffee by camp stove with a dish of yogurt and fruit. That reignited our ever-growing tired cycling legs to pedal strong to our first pie. A breakfast of a delicious margarita pizza with fire roasted tomatoes was complimented by a cup of java which refueled us just right. After that satiation, we pedaled on until we caught sight of the Amish Pie folks. A sit, a chat with fellow cyclists, and then a sweet smile.
That is some kind of living!
And, living on the Iowa cyclist’s diet of pies, pies, pies with a few ears of corns, a couple of light beers is as good a way to spend a summer week as I can think.