Prairie Fare: Exploring Recipes from Many Lands
“How do I get a copy of ‘Recipes from Many Lands, furnished by the North Dakota Homemaker's Club’?” the email said. “It was published by Agricultural Extension NDAC in July 1927.”
I’ve been around at North Dakota State University (NDSU) quite a while, but not that long.
NDSU was known as the NDAC (North Dakota Agricultural College) in 1927. The Cooperative Extension system had only been in existence for 13 years when the cookbook was printed. In fact, North Dakota had been a state for only 38 years.
Now I wanted to see this cookbook compiled by Dorothy Ayers Loudon. However, I was quite doubtful that I would be able to track down a 95-year-old cookbook.
I like a good mystery, though. I emailed a couple colleagues on campus at NDSU, including the library.
Within a day, I received a scan from the library of the entire cookbook in my email. I nearly fell out of my chair.
I could read it easily on my computer screen, but I went “old school.” I downloaded it and printed a copy of the 136-page document. I was intrigued as I paged through the document while watching a cooking show on the Food Network at home and perusing the internet on my phone.
In the 1920s, computers, TVs and cell phones didn’t exist. Many of the modern conveniences that we take for granted were just beginning to appear. According to one source, 80% of rural populations did not have indoor plumbing in the 1920s.
Depending on access to electricity and financial resources, some people had labor-saving innovations such as washing machines, refrigerators, radios, vacuum cleaners and phonographs in the 1920s. These innovations expedited food preparation and cleaning, while others provided home entertainment. Travel was becoming more sophisticated with the refinements in automobiles and airplanes.
Homemaker groups led community lessons for Extension nationwide. The volunteers helped home demonstration agents (now Extension “agents” or “educators”) bring innovations from the land-grant colleges to the communities. In fact, some modern-day homemaker groups (now “Family and Community Education” groups) continue to meet in North Dakota and other states.
The women who put together the cookbook probably never imagined it being explored nearly a century later. The book featured Chinese, English, French, German, Italian, Spanish, Mexican, New England, Scandinavian, Scottish and Southern recipes.
Of course, none of the recipes had photos, serving sizes or nutrition information, as we strive to do now. Many recipes assumed you were not a “beginner” in the kitchen.
In most cases, the recipes called for simple ingredients without a lot of spices. Most people had a cow or two plus chickens back then. Butter, cream, milk and eggs were plentiful ingredients.
I could see the personality of some of the contributors shine through the photocopied pages.
A recipe contributor commented that a large fruit cake recipe could provide dessert for Thanksgiving, Christmas and New Year’s plus all the Sundays in between.
I think that same fruit cake is still making the rounds.
Although most recipes used conventional measurements such as teaspoons and cups, sometimes measurements were vague: “Add butter the size of a duck egg.” Other recipes were sophisticated and specified temperatures and the use of a candy thermometer.
Some households did not have electric stoves. They regulated the temperature of their wood stove by adding more wood. Then they would determine the temperature of the oven by inserting their hand for a couple of seconds.
So, what’s the point of my history lesson inspired by an old cookbook? Old recipes are an amazing connector across time. We all need food to survive, but food is a source of enjoyment that goes beyond nutrition.
The unique aroma, flavor and textures of foods bind generations to each other. You can keep your heritage alive with future generations by sharing “Grandpa’s favorite bread.” Try sharing your own family stories by creating videos or scanning favorite recipe cards to create a book.
You can appreciate other cultures by learning to make their food. The dozens of North Dakota recipe contributors were promoting cultural diversity and cooking skills when they created the “Foods from Many Lands” cookbook nearly a century ago.
If you want to peruse the 1927 cookbook for yourself, you can access it through the NDSU institutional repository at library.ndsu.edu/ir/handle/10365/32257.
In recent times, we are keeping the food and culture tradition alive. So far, we at NDSU Extension have created “Exploring North Dakota’s Food Ways: Germans from Russia” and “Scandinavian Cuisine (Past and Present)” with some nutrition and health updates. Search online for those titles and NDSU Extension.
On a cold, snowy day, I prepared this comfort food recipe contributed by Mrs. Norin from Sheyenne, North Dakota. I felt as though I was cooking with her. We enjoyed this recipe on my husband’s grandma’s cream-colored china from about the same era near his great-grandmother’s 1870’s era buffet. I snapped a photo with my cell phone.
Swedish Meat Balls (adapted from a 1927 North Dakota cookbook)
1 pound extra lean ground beef
1/2 pound lean ground pork (I used pork sausage.)
1/2 cup mashed potatoes
1/2 cup dry bread crumbs
1 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon pepper
1/8 teaspoon ground nutmeg (a “pinch”)
1/8 teaspoon ground ginger (a “pinch”)
3/4 teaspoon sugar
1 tablespoon milk
1 egg, slightly beaten
Flour (to roll meat balls)
2 tablespoons oil (as needed for frying)
2 cups whole milk (I added more milk.)
Mix together and form into small balls. Roll in flour and fry until brown. Put on cover and let fry slowly for 15 minutes. Pour milk over and let cook slowly until slightly brown and thickened. Salt and pepper gravy to taste.
Makes six servings. Each serving has 330 calories, 22 grams (g) fat, 26 g protein, 7 g carbohydrate, 0 g fiber and 530 milligrams sodium.