by Frances Edstrom
Diversity is great. Acceptance and assimilation are easy, especially for those cultures with great cuisine. Who doesn't love Italian food, or Chinese, or Thai or Mexican? Love my food, love me.
But sometimes it is hard to see the old ethnic dishes of the last century go the way of the Nash Rambler, to be replaced by the Smart car.
Cynthia DeLano gave me a copy of the newest St. John Lutheran Church cookbook from Hatton, North Dakota.
John's maternal great-uncle, Dr. Kjelland, was a beloved general practitioner in Hatton for a bazillion years, and managed to deliver three generations of babies. His wife was on the 1947 cookbook committee. I have a copy of the 1977 cookbook, which still includes recipes from Mrs. A. A. Kjelland, most notably her Norwegian Meat Balls and Perfect Fluffy Omelet.
In that cookbook was a recipe from a Mrs. Anton Soliah for pie crust. Mrs. Soliah was presumably a relative of Kathleen Soliah, who grew up near Hatton "” hardly the background and recipe offering you'd expect of a relative of a Symbionese Liberation Army terrorist. However, upon further scrutiny, it seems Mrs. Soliah also submitted a recipe for "Raviolas," which in that bastion of Norwegian Lutheranism in 1977 may have predicted the roots of wildness sprouting in the family.
In the 1977 book there is a section devoted to "Foreign Foods," in which could be found such delights as Faar I Kaal, a lamb dish I am fond of, Fiske Boller (Fish Balls), Blood Sausage, Lutefisk, Lefse and such. Inexplicably, there is also a recipe for pea soup, which hardly seems foreign to me. But maybe that's the point, since in Hatton, I would be a foreigner.
Curiously, the recipe for Lutefisk Pudding is not in the "Foreign Foods" section at all, but right there in "Meats, Fish and Poultry" next to Meat Loaf and Jungle Bum Stew.
In the new cookbook, foreign foods have been modernized and homogenized to become "Ethnic." Faar I Kaal is nowhere to be found. Instead there is a recipe for Biscotti, and one for 7-Up Lefse. There's even a recipe for Microwave Rommegrot (as if a self-respecting Norwegian cook would be so lazy as to have to resort to such a thing).
There isn't a fish section, so no recipe for Lutefisk; not even Lutefisk Pudding. Instead in the "Meats, Vegetables, Sandwiches" section are such things as Mom's Lasagna, and No-Peek Chicken, Crock Pot Dressing and Canned Hot Dish. The words Enchiladas, Alfredo, Barbecue, Feta, Burritos, Pizza, Chimichangas, Cannelloni, Taco, Tostada, Teriyaki, Stroganoff and Thai are all over the place. There are only three recipes for jams or jellies. There were 25 in the old one.
The twenty-first century must really be here. The world gets smaller and smaller, and the differences between us more insignificant as the old pot just keeps melting away at us and our food.
It won't be long before there won't be anyone left who could follow Mrs. Nettie Thompson's 1977 recipe for "Buns."
"In the evening soak 1 cake yeast in 1 qt. potato water, adding 1 tsp. salt and flour to make sponge. In the morning add 1 cup lard and 1 cup sugar and flour enough to make a soft dough easily handled. Knead down once, let rise and shape into buns. Let rise and bake."