Swiss Steak: A Geography Lesson

Many years ago at a conference for Southern fiction at Ole Miss, I took umbrage at the inclusion of Bobbie Ann Mason’s splendid novel In Country because the author is from Kentucky, which I do not consider a Southern state. Kentucky was in the middle border during the Civil War, not a member of the Confederacy, and in my book it is not Southern, nor are Missouri, West Virginia, Maryland or Delaware.

When a family from Kentucky moved to my very small rural Mississippi town in the early 60s they were of course welcomed and quietly became members of the community. With them they brought Swiss steak, which my adolescent mind tagged as a Yankee recipe. For some reason the Swiss designation slipped right over my little provincial Southern brain, probably more because for obvious reasons Switzerland held far less significance than THE NORTH. Anything Yankee was automatically suspect, and as such Swiss steak entered the nether category Reserved for Further Observation.

“To swiss” is actually an English verb that has little to do with cooking, meaning “a calendering process for cotton fabrics that produces a smooth compact texture”. Some food writers have taken a leap of faith and declared that because the cooking process renders a tough cut of meat “smooth”, which is why beef cooked this way is “Swiss”.

The ease and appeal of stewed beef with tomatoes is world-wide. Bread and fry thin trimmed cuts of top round until browned, drain and place in a casserole. Add tomato  sauce, and bake until tender. Top with (Swiss) cheese and serve with buttered potatoes.


One Reply to “Swiss Steak: A Geography Lesson”

  1. I agree. Anyone can rationalize something in order to make it suit his or her purpose.
    Never knew what “to swiss” meant, however, until reading your blog. Who says you can’t teach an old dog something new?

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