Kathleen Murphy column: Scandinavian food rarely leaves the home kitchen

Kathleen Murphy looks into the history of Scandinavian restaurants in Duluth. (Background photo courtesy of Beatrice Ojakangas)

Numerous of us grew up attending potlucks, usually held in the community church basement. There, we had been exposed to not only a vast assortment of hotdishes and Jell-O salads, we also savored standard Scandinavian meals. Lefse, limpa bread, Swedish pancakes, and of course, the dish that everyone enjoys to loathe: lutefisk.

These dishes have been generally prepared from the very same recipe that someone’s grandparents applied, lovingly composed on an index card and saved in a tin recipe box. In my residence, the most prominently passed-down recipe is a person for hardtack, an unleavened cracker-form bread. We usually make it close to Christmas, but no make any difference when I enjoy that to start with chunk of hardtack, I am transported to a nostalgic area. Meals will do that to a individual. It is section of who we are and can be an integral part of our identities.

So why aren’t there any Scandinavian eating places in the Twin Ports? This is a issue that has been on my mind the previous couple decades. I am three-quarters Scandinavian and have attended my honest share of church potlucks. I know these men and women like to cook dinner.

Our region has a thriving meals scene, loaded with mouth-watering ethnic foods from throughout the globe. Are you hungry? The Twin Ports has several locations of the much more frequent ethnic fares, these kinds of as Italian, Mexican, Greek and Indian, as nicely as quite a few versions of Asian foodstuff. With the current increase of foods vans and pop-ups to our location, we’re now in a position to take pleasure in ethnic eats that were after really hard to come across, such as Caribbean, Cajun and southern soul meals.

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But nary a Scandinavian restaurant can be noticed. In all fairness, the German heritage is also very prevalent in our location and also lacking a flourishing foods scene. But there are German dining places obtainable, mostly in the Twin Towns, and German dishes are commonly served at rural dinner clubs. I’m not certain I can say the very same for most Scandinavian fare.

Why is this? I turned to our community pro on all factors pertaining to Scandinavian food stuff, Beatrice Ojakangas. Given that she has a lot more than 30 cookbooks to her title, many focusing on Scandinavian meals, I figured she’d be the particular person to check with. “The finest Scandinavian cooking is carried out at household,” Ojakangas claimed.

A absence of Scandinavian dining places is a common incidence. Ojakangas informed me of a time she and her spouse had been in Helsinki searching for a put to consume. They requested a single of the locals where they could discover superior Finnish food, and the particular person told them the only put they could get that was at dwelling. Even in Scandinavia, it turns out, it is hard to discover reliable Scandinavian fare in a cafe. For some motive, people of Scandinavian heritage have constantly been much less inclined to start a cafe. “They’d relatively make a sandwich from yesterday’s meal,” Ojakangas mentioned.

The former Duluth restaurant Somebody’s House wasn't a Scandinavian place, but it did have some such influences in its food and design, as this menu cover shows. (Photo courtesy of Beatrice Ojakangas)

The former Duluth restaurant Somebody’s Home wasn’t a Scandinavian area, but it did have some this sort of influences in its food items and style, as this menu cover reveals. (Photograph courtesy of Beatrice Ojakangas)

Not that a couple of pioneers have not tried out. Ojakangas herself wanted to open a Scandinavian restaurant when she moved again to Duluth in the 1960s. For a variety of causes, it didn’t occur. As a substitute she opened Somebody’s Dwelling, the cozy very little hamburger position that when resided up in the vicinity of Mount Royal, just off Woodland Avenue. The restaurant specialised in hamburgers with a huge variety of toppings, offering every burger a whimsical name, such as the Duluth Blizzardburger, or the HHH burger, named after Minnesota’s very own Hubert H. Humphrey. Prior to the opening of Somebody’s Property, hamburgers served in the Twin Ports ended up all served with the identical toppings: ketchup, mustard and some sort of pickle or relish. In a nod to her Scandinavian heritage, Ojakangas integrated on the menu a number of burgers that featured Scandinavian toppings, this sort of as lingonberries or pickled beets.

Somebody’s House was a Duluth restaurant near Mount Royal off Woodland Avenue. Its menu shows some of the creative ingredients used on its hamburgers. (Photo courtesy of Beatrice Ojakangas)

Somebody’s Household was a Duluth cafe around Mount Royal off Woodland Avenue. Its menu shows some of the resourceful components employed on its hamburgers. (Photo courtesy of Beatrice Ojakangas)

Did any Scandinavian restaurants discover a area in Duluth? Incredibly couple of. People may well recall The Sweden Household, but that was Scandinavian in name only, mainly serving conventional American buffet food items. There have been a couple of bakeries that served reliable Scandinavian breads. Gustafson’s Bakery, which resided in downtown Duluth all through the 1950s and 60s, was the most memorable to Ojakangas. “They experienced quite superior Danish pastries,” she mentioned.

Tak for Matten — which usually means “Thanks for the food” in Norwegian — operated in downtown Duluth from 2008 till 2013. It was possible the only authentic Scandinavian cafe ever observed in the Twin Ports, at the very least in new memory. It specialized in lefse, open-confronted sandwiches, soups and salads.

If one would like genuine Scandinavian fare currently, they’d have to travel to the Twin Cities and head to the FIKA Cafe, positioned in the American Swedish Institute. There, a single can take pleasure in Scandinavian favorites this kind of as smoked salmon on rye bread, cardamom bread pudding, and, of course, Swedish meatballs served with lingonberries. Additional regionally, Ojakangas indicates the Scenic Cafe on Hwy 61. Although they are not Scandinavian-focused, they often generate a tasty authentic dish.

Normally? “Churches continue to have the ideal authentic Scandinavian foods,” she mentioned. The earlier year apart, church buildings are even now offering locals with access to standard meals that hit that nostalgia aspect. Some church buildings have yearly profits, where by they make and offer standard meals things these kinds of as lutefisk, lefse, fish cakes or Swedish meatballs. Other church buildings are continue to in the pattern of providing a superior Wednesday night time Lenten food jointly in the basement, offering fresh new soup, salads and hotdishes, fresh new from the property kitchen.

I however would like to see one more Scandinavian restaurant make a go of it in Duluth. Until then, as the earth begins to at the time all over again open up, I’m likely to maintain an eye out for those people events at the coronary heart of the Scandinavian foodstuff scene: household cooks and church potlucks.

Kathleen Murphy

Kathleen Murphy

Kathleen Murphy is a freelance author who lives and functions in Duluth. Compose to her at [email protected]