In LIDIA CELEBRATES AMERICA: A Heartland Holiday Feast, a new television special co-produced with public media powerhouse WGBH, Lidia Bastianich journeys across the country to visit towns in Pennsylvania, Louisiana, Texas, Oklahoma, Wisconsin and Minnesota to explore how tiny towns and charming hamlets in America's rural regions celebrate diverse culinary traditions and how the food itself helps to shape and preserve the identities of the people and places. Inspired by her travels, Lidia then prepares a sumptuous holiday meal for a gathering of friends, family and people she has met along the way.
In the U.S. nearly three-quarters of the land is rural, with over 50 million Americans living in small towns and farmlands. Many have been here for centuries, while others are recent arrivals. As an immigrant who moved to America with her family at the age of 12 after fleeing Communist Europe, Lidia feels connected to the people and families she meets in the special.
In Sunbury, Pennsylvania, Lidia returns to the small town where she went to high school and first learned what it meant to be an American teenager while she lived for a year with relatives shortly after arriving in the U.S. She visits family and friends and retraces her rural roots in Pennsylvania Dutch country, with its traditions of succotash and shoo-fly pie, and cooks pizza in an outdoor brick oven, reminiscent of her childhood in Istria.
The special also explores the influences of growing immigrant communities. In Denton, Texas, near Dallas, a restaurant family brings its Mexican heritage to the local food culture and shows Lidia how to make tamales, a traditional and classic Christmas dish. In Wausau, Wisconsin home to a thriving Hmong community--a group of refugees who escaped Laos after the Vietnam War--a family prepares for Lidia a favorite Hmong ceremonial dish of pork and greens.
Up north, we get a taste of the Scandinavian culture, food traditions and ice house fishing when Lidia travels with her grandson to the tiny town of Walker, Minnesota--gamely setting out on a snowmobile for the annual Eelpout Festival. Fishermen all over flock to compete for the freshwater cod that hides at the bottom of Minnesota lakes and drill deep holes through 30 inches of frozen water for a chance to catch the strange eel-like fish. Lidia kisses the fish for good luck and fries eelpout nuggets in oil on an open fire out on the ice. She also learns an old family recipe for leftse, a Scandinavian dish similar to crepes.