Now if you are wondering what the heck I am talking about you are obviously new to Minnesota! This time of year when the weather cools down and we are seeking comfort food rather than food on a stick the Scandinavian culture kicks in and we have our staples. Most of these unique MN dishes come from the Lutheran church cookbooks where the recipes have been passed along over the years. Nothing can beat a good potluck supper with a variety of hotdishes (translated casseroles) down at the church! Not to be confused many of us refer to the evening meal as supper rather than dinner.
Our real mainstays over the winter months are the hotdishes and the bars. It is truly amazing what ingredients a Minnesotan can mix together in a casserole dish, bake it and create a truly edible hotdish! You can take a lot of things away from us but if you value your life don’t mess with our Cream of Mushroom soup – the main and most important ingredient in most of our hotdish recipes. See photo for some MN pantry staples! I would bet that the most Cream of Mushroom soup is sold here in Minnesota but we use pretty much all the cream soups for different hotdishes. We have some favorites like tater tot hotdish, tuna hotdish is another real winner, hamburger hotdish, mashed potatoe hotdish, green bean hotdish and those are just a few of the more popular ones. If they sound rather simple and bland they usually are (normally just seasoned with salt and pepper) so you may want to bring some tabasco or something else to spice them up a bit. Minnesotans are learning to spice it up when it comes to food but traditionally we tend to stick towards more bland dishes. Many of our more current recipes also call for Bisquick – it is not just for pancakes anymore! For a typical MN desert, the bars come out. Bars have a firm cake texture but we can take just about any cookie and make it in a 9×13 pan, slice them up and call them bars and darn are they tasty and easy to transport. You can usually pick up a wide assortment at bake sales in Minnesota – bake sales are another popular event. Just keep in mind – brownies are brownies, NOT bars, but rice crispie treats ARE bars!
Then we have the diehard Scandinavians that still enjoy their lefse and lutefisk. These items are usually found at Scandinavian events, church suppers, specialty restaurants or some families still make them at home with old family recipes. Lutefisk is not a food for everyone. It is normally made from dried Cod fish that has been treated with lye and it has a very strong odor. Lefse is kind of the Scandinavian version of a tortilla made out of potatoes, milk and flour and grilled flat on a griddle. Many families make lefse around the holidays and serve it with butter, cinnamon, sugar, jelly, peanut butter or just about any spread you like. You can cut it up or roll it up to eat it.
Another food we enjoy cooking with here in the northland is wild rice which comes from the Indians and is actually not really rice at all! If you are looking for a good gift for a visitor wild rice from MN with some recipes is usually a hit. The practical thing is that you can also use your stock of Cream of Mushroom soup to make many wild rice dishes and, of course, wild rice hotdish! Byerlys, one of our gourmet grocery stores makes a mean wild rice soup, we have wild rice salads (more in the warmer months), wild rice as a side dish, in pudding and that is just a start. Wild rice can be a bit pricey but it is a nice treat – get the real pure wild rice not the mixed packaged stuff.
One other note about our food/beverage differences – drinks such as Coke or 7 up have been renamed here. We just ask for a pop, not a soda, not a soft drink, but a pop. Ask for a soda and you will most likely get the old fashioned ice cream soda type beverage! We also have pop machines, pop cans and so on. If we go out of state the pop thing is a dead giveaway as to where we come from. About 85% of us ask for pop.
Make sure to get your Minnesota cookbooks so you will be ready when someone asks you to bring some bars or a hotdish to the next social event!