Renowned Chef Journeys To Small-Town America To Learn Food Traditions & Celebrations

Renowned Chef Journeys To Small-Town America To Learn Food Traditions & CelebrationsThis holiday season, renowned chef, author and food ambassador Lidia Bastianich travels to rural communities across the U.S. to explore the patchwork of traditions that make up America's diverse cuisine, in a holiday celebration of big meals from small towns.

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.

LIDIA CELEBRATES AMERICA: A Heartland Holiday Feast, premieres on Tuesday, December 18 at 9:00 p.m. ET on PBS (check local listings).

"Small towns are the heart of our nation -- rich in traditions that are brought here and then handed down generation after generation," says Bastianich. "In LIDIA CELEBRATES AMERICA: A Heartland Holiday Feast, we take people on an intimate journey to see how food bonds people and places together."

"Lidia Bastianich knows better than anyone that food is a universal language creating bonds between friends, families and communities, and LIDIA CELEBRATES AMERICA brings that language to life," says Laurie Donnelly, WGBH Executive Producer.

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.

She then heads south to the land of gumbo and crawfish, where many cultural influences and ethnicities collide to form the Creole cooking traditions. In Natchitoches, Louisiana Lidia learns how to make file, an herb made from the sassafras tree, used for seasoning gumbo, and enjoys some downhome cooking among locals who have been there for generations.

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.

Lidia also visits Lawton, Oklahoma, home to some of the best BBQ around--including hotspot Sam's Soul Food. It was once home to the famed Buffalo soldiers in the 1800s, the African American troops who served on the western frontier after the Civil War and later helped the US expand westward. Lidia cooks a dinner on the open fire in their tradition--salted pork, cornbread, BAKED beans, dumplings and coffee.

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.

LIDIA CELEBRATES AMERICA: A Heartland Holiday Feast culminates in a festive celebration with families joining Lidia as she returns to rural Pennsylvania for a large family-style dinner--including antipasto, risotto with leeks, Arborio rice, carnaroli, a main course of braised porkchops, red onion and pears, polenta, winter caponata, acorn SQUASH salad and braised broccoli rabe. The dishes are inspired by her travels and experiences across the country.

LIDIA CELEBRATES AMERICA is a lively exploration of the rich diversity of cultures across the United States, and the vibrant ethnic and religious customs and traditions observed by various groups--in which food is a common denominator that connects all human beings. Previous programs have focused on the different ways Americans celebrate weddings, holiday traditions, independence, and life's milestones. The prior two specials, which have honored our troops and celebrated the ways in which veteran farmers continue to give back to the country, have each won the prestigious James Beard Award. For more program information, visit the website pbs.org/lidiacelebratesamerica. To view recipes featured in the series, go to PBS Food:

pbs.org/food. LIDIA CELEBRATES AMERICA series DVDs, Best of Lidia: Pastas DVD, Mastering the Art of Italian Cuisine cookbook and more are available at shoppbs.org. Every purchase supports PBS.

To download recipes, watch video previews, and view behind-the-scenes images and stories, go to pbs.org/lidiacelebratesamerica.

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