I’m not sure what it says about us that much of what makes us think of home is food, but it’s hard to imagine life in Wisconsin without some of these staples. Missing Wisconsin is all about nostalgia and memories – it’s certain smells or sounds or tastes that take you back to your childhood or a specific place and time. We don’t always have a choice when we lave the Dairy State, but no matter where we are, Wisconsin will always be home.
1. Fish Fry
Sure, we have them year round, but especially in the Spring while folks out east are boiling lobsters and down south are boiling crawfish, up here we're frying our fish. Nothing signals impending spring and summer quite like a Friday Fish Fry. But even if you're having one up north on a summer holiday or at your favorite spot in mid-winter, the Friday Fish Fry is iconic in Wisconsin.
No one celebrates their few months of warmth quite like we do. From Summerfest and the weekly ethnic festivals on Milwaukee's lakefront to Bayfield AppleFest and literally everywhere in between, no one throws a festival quite like Wisconsin. We all have our favorites and being out of state on those weekends makes missing Wisconsin especially poignant.
3. The smell of beer.
Ok, this one isn't quite as prominent anymore, but there's used to be a permeating smell of yeast across the Milller valley in Milwaukee. Near every big brewery you can catch a whiff of the grains and fermentation and it smells like home.
4. The lakes.
Here in Wisconsin, we live life on the water. Whether you're enjoying a Great Lake-front or time on your favorite small lake up north, folks who move to drier states report missing all that open water.
5. Wisconsin-made products
Turns out, quite a few things that we see and use everyday are made right here in state. You can find bits of Wisconsin wherever you are and when you're far from home, those connections are priceless.
You know you're from Wisconsin when you head to the baseball park with your grill at the ready. You know you're not in Wisconsin anymore when they turn you around at the gate and tell you there's no tailgating allowed. The smell of the grill is as integral to Opening Day as the game itself. A few college teams have tailgating culture, but for the most part, our desire to stand around and socialize over grilled meats before sporting events is rather unique.
Folks who've moved away report a fondness for those evening flashers. All our waterfront makes for a humid state and people that move away say they didn't realize that mosquitoes weren't just an accepted part of summer in other parts of the country. They'd put up with the mosquitoes for the wonder of dusk and a yard full of fireflies, they say.
8. Cream puffs
There's missing the actual cream puff itself and then there's missing what it represents - early August and the Wisconsin State Fair. I was in Alaska recently and they had a cream puff hut at their State Fair - the small pastry was covered in fruit and all I wanted was the light, fluffy goodness of a Wisconsin puff.
Ever gone to a wedding that doesn't even play the Chicken Dance? It's a jarring experience. From small bands at bars and beer gardens to Rolling out the Barrel during the seventh inning stretch, Polka's a pretty big part of the background noise to life in Wisconsin. You never know you'll miss it until it's gone.
10. Cheese curds
More folks across the midwest have discovered fried cheese curds and if you're lucky you can get a decent taste of home that way, but it's access to fresh, squeaky curds that you really, really miss.
11. Heading Up North
I've said before that "up north" is a state of mind. Folks who've had to leave Wisconsin say they miss not only what "up north" represents, but also just the ability to travel a few hours by car and be in a totally different environment, physically and mentally. The ability to head to a cabin for a day or two to relax and unwind is something you really miss when you're gone.
When I lived in Louisiana, there was one specialty grocery store that would occasionally stock Usigner's brats. I had to borrow a car to get there and they were way overpriced, but I blew part of my budget to procure those beauties whenever I knew they were in stock. Some of the bigger companies have a pretty wide distribution, but we all have our favorites and they're not always easy to procure. The smell of them grilling, the snap of the casing as you bite through and that unique taste are quintessential Wisconsin.
This is just a short list – there’s plenty of sensory memories that make folks nostalgic for Wisconsin. What are yours? We want to hear about them in the comments!