Going local in Northern Minnesota – part 1
April 22, 2010 § 1 Comment
In the growing hubbub about eating local, supporting local farms, growing your own food, yada yada yada…basically all the stuff that I feel so passionate about I have to act a little blase or else I might pop…I wouldn’t blame a person for thinking that the folks in places like Northern Minnesota (or Maine, Vermont, New Hampshire, etc.) might be a little screwed. I mean, the long, cold winters, the rocky soil and the general “inhospitableness” to farming, you get the idea. So, it has made me so excited to find when I’ve visited each of these areas that local food movements are actually thriving!… And people are embracing their love of root vegetables! When I was just home to Duluth I was fit to burst with pride seeing all the connections that had recently been made between producers, restaurants, consumers, and so forth, allowing them to support each other and eat darn good food to boot!
Duluth (or D-town as some of us like to call it, pretending we’re all cool or something) has a strong, strong sense of place and community, I think driven by the immensity of Lake Superior on its horizon, the still quite strong Scandinavian immigrant culture (some of us are still pretty new!) and the fact that it’s not exactly a place to springboard your career, so most of the people who land there have chosen it for other reasons. But, because of the community’s strong connection to each other and the area, I guess it makes sense that once people got a whiff of the local potential on the breeze they really dove into it. In fact, a local community supported agriculture program (CSA) cleverly called The Food Farm (because so many Midwestern farms these days produce commodities, not food) just won a prestigious sustainable food award for the butt-kicking energy efficient root cellar they devised!
Even if not all the produce all the year long can be local, supporting the local food co-op and the locally owned restaurants binds people together and to the land even further, so the sentiment stays local. And since my parents’ kitchen was in the process of remodeling the first several days while I was there, we had the unusual opportunity (being at-home eaters usually) to explore these local restaurants, many of which were new or else updating themselves to embrace the zeitgeist.
One new restaurant that I fell in love with because of the way it speaks to the roots of the area while keeping it contemporary is a little café in downtown called Takk for Maten, which is Norwegian for “Thanks for the food.” If you grow up Norwegian, you’re taught to say this to the cook at the end of every meal before you may be excused. The menus at Takk for Maten explain that they hope the name conveys thanks for their immigrant ancestors and their cooking, and that their mission is to celebrate and provide a taste of the area’s Nordic food heritage.
And that they do! They serve some very traditional fare, like Swedish pancakes, meatballs, and flatbreads. They serve some of the best fresh-made Norwegian waffles (delicious, light, heart shaped waffles that are one of the world’s all time great snacks – up there with boller. I’ll share a recipe some time soon) I’ve ever had! Perhaps even better than the ones you buy hot off the griddle in the summer from a street stand. Then they also take some classics and give them a little twist. They use lefse, a traditional Norwegian potato flatbread, for all sorts of things that Norwegians have not yet thought to use them for (at least as far as I’m aware). They make pizzas on lefse!! They also have traditional Scandinavian sandwich fixings but folded into a lefse and griddled like a panini. It’s brilliant! I had to go back twice for the lefse sandwiches and the waffles. And using lefse for a sandwich would be so easy for anyone to do.
In our family, each winter we make our own fresh lefse (which amusingly my mom learned how to do from neighbors – almost no one makes their own lefse in Norway, they buy it ready made. Like most people do with tortillas.) When it’s fresh it is heavenly, best with butter and cinnamon sugar. Or wrapped around a hot dog, mmmm (I just love hot dogs- can’t help it, my dad’s family owns the largest meat-packing/sausage-making plant in Northern Norway!). But, you can also use it for any type of sandwich or roll up you might want. Making your own lefse is a bit of a process, luckily you can often buy ready made (but still hand rolled) lefse at Scandinavian specialty stores. Or, happily, you can order them online from little companies like Lefse Time (another brilliant name!) if your area is sadly lacking in Scandinavian heritage ;). You could roll whatever you want into lefse, but some things I would recommend are: hot dogs (of course!), ham with Jarlesberg and cucumber slices, pieces of Swedish/Norwegian meatballs, lox with scrambled eggs and pieces of chives or dill, or butter and Norwegian goat cheese (the brown stuff). Nummers!