Having lived most of my life in Missouri, I still find it amazing how much there is to experience here. I grew up south of Rolla, raised my family in Springfield, visited my cousin and the Gateway Arch in St. Louis, stood in the halls of our state Capitol in Jefferson City, and enjoyed the bar-b-que of Kansas City. But a job transfer to the Southeast area a few years ago led us on a bold new adventure.
In an area filled with tradition and generations of families, one of my first conversations with a local (or so I thought) left me feeling like a definite outsider. “Yep,” she said, “I’m new here.” To which I replied, “Really? When did you move here?” She casually replied, “In 1955.” (“What?? . . . 1955!!!” yelled my inside voice.) She continued, “Yep. If you weren’t born here, you aren’t from here.” Okay . . .
Now seven years later, I can truthfully say I have never had anyone shun me for not being “from here.” Quite the opposite, actually. This rich historical area filled with old French houses dating back to the 1700s, beautiful Catholic and Lutheran churches built in the mid-1800s by German immigrants, and stories of the wild Mississippi River has captivated my heart and made me its own. The folks in this southeast region of Missouri are quick to smile and even quicker to lend a hand.
The beauty of the rolling landscape known as the Mississippi River Hills will leave you giddy with excitement about what might be around the next curve in the road. White steeples pop up through the trees as you leave Interstate 55 and travel along Highway 61. No trip is complete unless you venture on to county roads that take you into towns such as Brazeau, Pocahontas, or Commerce.
The food traditions that include the coveted family recipes of liver dumplings in Sainte Genevieve or the coffee cakes of Perry County are all must-tries, even if you are sure you won’t like them. And bar-b-que has nothing to do with sauce; it’s all about the dry rub, the wood chips, and slow cooking. The region has long-time family recipes of sausages and other smoked meats that can be bought in local shops. Include in your adventure a few artisan goat cheeses, artisan wines and craft beers, and your taste buds are never left wanting.
From Christmas-tree farms to zebras and an abundance of state parks, the six counties in Southeast Missouri known as the Mississippi River Hills will keep you busy for days and call you back for years. From the Strawberry Festival and Apple Butter Days in Kimmswick to the Fall Festival in Frohna, not to forget all the county fairs from Cape Girardeau to Jefferson County, you can eat your way into another size and buy artisan handcrafts for all your friends and family.
Yep, I may not be “from” here, but I am thankful every day that I live here. So come give us a visit sometime, ask about the “great” flood (there’s been several you know), taste our wines, munch on our fresh-made cheeses and sausages, and I’ll guarantee you will leave with many a warm memory of the region where life began for this great State of Missouri.
Written by Lisa J. Palmer, coordinator of the Mississippi River Hills Association.