Minnesota Centenial Cookbook: 100 Years of Good Cooking by Virginia Huck & Ann H. Andersen Paging through this cookbook to assess whether it would be worthwhile to review for this column, I found something of interest, a forgotten scrap of paper on page 132. It was a bank statement from November 1997, and it had a note written on the back: “So, Nicole. Only 2 vegans, I say we barely worry about them. Lets do steak!!” I guess it’s a reminder that the more things change —these dinner party planners actually went to the library to plan a meal among friends — the more they stay the same.
But like the internet, where many a dish is planned these days, this book has a ton of recipes whose quality and authenticity are unknown, especially by today’s standards (Ex. Seafood Supreme, p. 124). That being said, I think this book deserves praise, as do the women who crafted the recipes on these pages. If nothing else, they created a record of one facet of the culinary traditions of home cooking in Minnesota that lives on to this day, even if the book needs to be taped back up again.
The book is organized by county, each having 3 or 4 recipes. At first this seemed inconvenient, as the county in which the dish comes from has no bearing whatsoever on the type of foods listed. For example, our own Ramsey County has recipes for French Salad Dressing, Hot Crab Salad, Dill Soup Delicious, French Layer Cake, and Lamb With String Beans (Lebanese). Not only does this bring up the question of why these foods are juxtaposed together, but it also makes me wonder what relationship these recipes even have to the counties. I mean, I understand there is French colonial history in St. Paul, but I doubt that Joseph Crétin, the French-born First Catholic archbishop of St. Paul was putting condensed tomato soup in his salad dressing.
I did say I was going to praise this book though, and the best part about it hands down is that each section has a little historical blurb about a county. It gives each one a little extra flavor, and it makes the otherwise awful organization of the book entirely worthwhile. For example, did you know that “Yellow Medicine County’s official records once resided in a haystack”? Or that Waseca county in 1958 still had the “Anti-Horse Thief Detective Society”? Or that Scott County is known as the “Truck Garden to the Twin Cities”? I guess the last example isn’t particularly flattering (sorry Shakopee!), but is nonetheless entertaining!
And then there are the recipes, which run the gamut from the bombastically named Best Brownies in America (133), to numerous Swedish, Finnish, and German specialties, all the way down to simple, prairie delights like Beef Chunks in Sour Cream (38). The book includes six different hotdish recipes. In order of appearance: Heavenly Delight Hotdish, Quantity Hotdish (serves 50!), Chili Rice Hotdish, Lickin’ Good Hotdish (recipe below), Corn and Dried Beef Hotdish, Zesty Hotdish, and Steak Hotdish, not to mention the other 20 or so Casseroles and Noodle Bakes. Thankfully, it balances these with a total of nine dishes categorized as vegetables, including the recipe for Beet Greens (European Style) listed below.
If its not clear to you now that this book doesn’t really cater to people who are vegetarian, gluten-free, lactose intolerant, or vegan, it will be once you see that the recipe for beet greens includes bacon. But I think that just like our forbearers in the late 90’s said, sometimes you just have to say “Only 2 vegans, I say we barely worry about them. Lets do Steak Hot Dish!!”
Not entirely sure how many people this will feed, or what makes it zesty exactly, but it seems to be a solid hotdish. Note: a no. 2 can is about 20 ounces.
1 ½ pounds of ground beef
2 large potatoes, sliced thin
1 large onion, sliced thin
1 cup uncooked rice
1 No. 2 can kidney beans
Salt and pepper
1 can tomato soup
1 can water
Take half of the above and arrange in layers in the order above. Season with salt and pepper. Repeat the process, using remainder of ingredients. Mix soup and water, pour liquid over meat and vegetables and bake covered at 350 degrees for two hours. Remove cover for the last 20 minutes.
Beet Greens (European Style)
I chose this recipe because whenever I buy beets I am honestly at a loss for what to do with the beet greens: I don’t really like them raw and I never had a great way to cook them. This seems like a delicious and protein- packed way to use them!
Cook the greens in slightly-salted water until the stems are tender. Drain until very dry. Measure two cups of cooked beet greens, allow two slices of bacon and one egg.
Fry the bacon until crisp and crumble. Add the greens, heat through.
Break the egg over the greens, distribute through the greens by stirring and folding; when the egg becomes solid, remove from heat. Serve at once.
Among all the sweets in this book, I chose this because they sounded delicious, and because rhubarb will be in season soon (assuming spring ever stays for more than 2 days). The book also has a large repertoire of cookies that would be worth checking out, like the Pride of Minnesota Cookies on page 97, the Famous Boom Cookies on page 176, or the Old-fashioned Sour Cream Cookies on page 84 if you’re feeling adventurous.
1 cup sifted flour
¾ cup uncooked oatmeal
1 cup brown sugar
½ cup melted butter
1 teaspoon cinnamon
4 cups rhubarb, diced
1 cup sugar
2 tablespoons cornstarch
1 cup water
1 teaspoon vanilla
Cook white sugar, cornstarch, water until thick; add vanilla. Mix dry ingredients [and butter] until crumbly, press half into a greased 9” pan, cover with rhubarb, then the cooked sauce and balance with crumbs.
Bake at 350 degrees for 1 hour. Makes about 12 servings. Serve with whipped cream or ice cream.