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Harry's Café in Pittsburg, Kansas, April 2014

Harry’s Café in Pittsburg, Kansas, April 2014

I drove to southeast Kansas on Saturday. I came over the slight rise on I-69 South outside of Fort Scott and there it was: the landscape of my youth. Broad, slightly rolling, with nearly a 360 degree horizon marked by woody fence rows and cultivated fields. I wanted my windows rolled down. I wanted to pull in the April air and feel it raise the hair on my arms.

Coming in to Pittsburg thirty minutes later, it was tangible, this draw. Yet, the houses along the north route into town were the same, the businesses more or less so, the downtown as honest and open as I remembered. Old square facades, decorative on the Fox Theater building, plain on the Bess Hotel, were tidy and quiet. Even after all this time, still, no one walked the sidewalks.

But the restaurants were full: lines waited at Jim’s, at Harry’s. The large mirrored clock on the back wall of Harry’s tells me I have been here for 18 hours. I’ve eaten with good friends that keep up with my wandering taste buds. We leave little time for sleep between feasts: next stop Chicken Annie’s.

Tomorrow, I speak at the splendid Pittsburg Public Library about Biting Through the Skin: An Indian Kitchen in America’s Heartland. The building was constructed with Carnegie funds and, sometime since I have left the area, they have added on to it seamlessly. I remember the wood of the check-out desk, its dark grain. The periodical section, with newspapers hung on dowels, and its flat tables. It seems curious I do not anticipate changes within. I understand, with a nod to Lori and to Debbie, that of course there is a computer lab there now. But I go fearlessly on without worry. My patient friends are the real glory.

Coming home. Nice.


About ninafurstenau

Nina Mukerjee Furstenau teaches a Food and Wine Writing for the University of Missouri Science and Agriculture Journalism program and the MU School of Journalism School. Her book, Biting Through the Skin: An Indian Kitchen in America's Heartland was the winner of the MFK Fisher Book Award and Grand Prize Award for culinary/culture writing and designated as a Kansas Notable Book. She has also written Savor Missouri: River Hill Country Food and Wine, celebrating Missouri foodways. Her essay, "And Then There Was Rum Cake," appears in the 2017 anthology, Pie & Whiskey: Writer's Under the Influence of Butter and Booze. Ms. Furstenau was in the Peace Corps in Tunisia from 1984 to 1986 and then began working life as a journalist and publisher/editor of three construction magazines beginning in 1987. Ms. Furstenau and her husband launched and published these magazines and two others until 2001. She was a month-long resident at the Vermont Studio Center in Johnson, Vermont, in 2008.
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