Plains Folk

Recipes from Many Lands

Come fall I commence cooking all those wonderful and heavy foods that seem out of place during summer barbeque season—foods full of cream and lard and flour glop. The seasonal urge led me one autumn to Recipes from Many Lands, a circular published by the NDAC Extension Division in 1927. I found what I was looking for, and then some.

“North Dakota is famous for its good cooks,” the author begins, many of them members of local homemakers’ clubs. Reasoning that many nationalities, and thus many cuisines, were represented in the population of the state, the compiler of recipes from the homemakers’ clubs of North Dakota put together this circular of foods from “many lands.”

Now, some of this headed off into strange directions. For instance, there are quite a few Chinese recipes. Collected from the proprietors of Chinese cafes in our railroad towns, you think? No, these recipes all come from women with names like Schneider, Brockmeyer, or Mickelson. Likewise, the “Mexican” recipes come from women with names like Luigk, Williams, and Hoover. I don’t find any American Indian recipes.

But there is a section of English recipes. Why, you ask? After looking over the recipes for dried beef stew and meat pies, I honestly can’t answer. Moreover, it looks like the collection of French recipes relies heavily on McCall’s Magazine.

The real cooks are in the German recipe section. Here are your dumplings, your liver dumplings, your Bohemian dumplings, your potato dumplings. Here is your buttermilk soup, your red borscht, your liver sausage, your hot potato salad, your hot slaw, your fried cabbage, your Zwiebelkuchen, your potato pancakes, your Hassenpfeffer. I’m going to have to quit now and eat, but I’ll finish this column after I finish my dumplings.

All right, now I can think clearly again, and looking back over this German section, I notice some things are missing. There are no entries from the hard-core German-Russian zones of the state—none from Wishek or Ashley or Strasburg. I can’t find recipes among the soups for Rivvelsuppe or Knoepflesuppe.

I know that the Extension Division program fared poorly in the German-Russian districts during those days, which may account for the German-Russian absence from the circular. In addition, though, there seems to have been an effort by the compiler to blur the ethnic diversity of the state, to assimilate the immigrants into acceptable categories.

For instance, we find no Norwegian, Swedish, Danish, or Icelandic sections, but rather a “Scandinavian” section, which seems dedicated to the cause of tooth decay. How many recipes for Sandbakkelse are there out there?

The question all this leads me to is, when the homemakers of North Dakota wanted to cook something exotic—something outside their own tradition—where did they turn? From the internal evidence of the recipes, I would say they did not turn to Chinese or Mexican cooks to learn Chinese or Mexican cooking. They turned instead to magazines or other middle-class sources. Sure, food can break down barriers, but in this case I don’t think it did.

There’s one exception, in the “Miscellaneous” section. Nellie Carey of Lidgerwood contributes a recipe for Armenian Zarma (cabbage rolls) she says she learned from “Sumayeh Attiyeh, a Syrian at Chautauqua, Viking, Alberta”—probably a former neighbor.

I can probably sell the rest of my household on the Zarma. Response to the fried sauerkraut, however, is tepid.


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