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Should fate and circumstance collide in a most cerebral manner, and should you find yourself smack-dab in the middle of America, then take a moment, won’t you, to survey your surroundings, breathe deeply, and if you’re not en route to a business meeting or a wedding or some other engagement that demands decorum, stick your hand in some Midwestern soil. Plant your fingers in there firmly and clench. Feel the minerals and the loess grip your digits as you slowly squeeze. Let the moist, black, nourishing components engulf your hand until you extract it. Close your eyes. Save for the dirt under your fingernails — a symbolic nod to generations of agrarians who lived their lives and plied their trades on these hallowed grounds — your hand will feel rejuvenated.

Collectively, these parts constitute nothing less than the cradle of American civilization. Were it not for the Midwestern farmer and the crops and livestock he purveys, our lifestyles would be decidedly different and our food decidedly more expensive. Which is why it’s no wonder that these parts have a profound — almost enchanting — impact on those who have called Middle America home.

It is why Abraham Lincoln, upon boarding his preinauguration train bound for Washington, D.C., in 1861, spoke longingly about the land he was leaving. “My friends,” he began, “no one, not in my situation, can appreciate my feeling of sadness at this parting. To this place, and the kindness of its people, I owe everything.”

Somehow, in the 21st-century land grab, certain sections of America have remained untouched. A drive through Union County in southern Illinois winds you around the same prairies and farms that were tilled in Lincoln’s day. To that end, some of these roads are the original horse-and-buggy routes traversed by the beaver trappers and fur traders as they made their way out west. The antebellum county courthouse in Jonesboro, Ill., although remodeled and restored since its cornerstone was laid in 1857, remains a constant reminder that roots in these parts run deep. Deep like a radish , which is a prominent cash crop in the Land of Lincoln .

While radishes and wheat and corn and soybeans are all staples of Illinois’ farming communities (and have been since Reconstruction), another cash crop is making a surge of late. For although Jonesboro and neighboring Alto Pass are more than 2,000 miles away from Napa, Calif., and America’s famous and burgeoning wine industry, southern Illinois has emerged as a winemaker’s haven. Writer Roland Klose takes us down these old, meandering Midwestern roads as the newfangled tradition of Illinois-crafted wine compels us to rethink what this region of the country is capable of. We get a thorough profile of the proprietors who threw caution to the wind and gambled on themselves and this land (click here). We also learn about the craft of antiquing as we follow two pros into the nation’s backcountry in search of the perfect (and most valuable) finds (click here).

When fate and circumstance collide in a most cerebral manner, and when you find yourself smack-dab in the middle of America, then take a moment, won’t you, to survey your surroundings, breathe deeply, and regardless of your plans and your final destination, consider the soil under your feet. Consider the visage of this land, the passing of time, and buy a bottle of contemporary Midwestern wine.

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Adam Pitluk
Editor