Thursday, March 31, 2011

Detective Work, part deux

Pretty sophisticated huh? Deux?

Anyway, last time we saw a recipe card from Alice Hafen. Alice's recipes are often referenced as being from the pioneer tradition, and as an example of the Sanpete Valley's Danish food tradition. PLEASE CLICK HERE if you'd like to participate in a survey about your family's Scandinavian food traditions. Alice's recipe is transcribed as follows:

"Quick Danish Soup
1 lb. ground beef
1 qt. water
2 tb chicken soup base
1 tb. beef soup base
1 qt. water [error?]
6 carrots, diced
4 potatoes diced
1 onion chopped
2 stalks celerey sliced
1 8 0z can tomato sauce
2 tb parsely minced
1 ts salt
1 ts. M.S.G. accent
1/4 ts. pepper

Drop crumbled raw meat into 1 qt. lightly boiling water, seasoned with chicken base & beef base. Cook 10 minutes (or until meat is brown). Cool skim off fat. Add 1 more qt water, vegetables, tomatoe sauce & seasonings. Cook just until vegetables are tender. (still firm) Add water to taste. Reheat yield 12 servings."

Some of the questions I had after seeing this were, "How much does this recipe reflect the foods of Alice's Danish pioneer ancestors? How much has this recipe changed over four generations removed from Denmark?" My friend Stephen Shepherd took one look at the recipe and said, "Not pioneer, not Danish." After all, MSG, canned tomato sauce, instant processed soup base?

I first turned to The Internet (DUN Dun dun!), that definitive source of all things authoratative, and found a modern recipe for a Danish soup called "gronkaal." Gronkaal (green kale?) apparently means "green & curly things" like cabbage, kale, or spinach. The recipe I found is for a kale soup, and the recipe called for tomato sauce. Maybe modern Danish cooking has embraced a few foreign ingredients. I have a different recipe for gronkall from 1973 which doesn't call for tomato sauce or hamburger, but does call for a ham bone or ham hocks.

My oldest gronkall recipe comes from a second generation Danish immigrant, whose mother came to Utah from Denmark in 1868. I believe the recipe was transcribed in the 1930s. This one calls for 8 different kinds of greens beyond spinach as the base. It also calls for 2 quarts beef stock and pre-cooked meatballs (frickadeller)dropped into the broth. No tomato sauce, no MSG.

It looks like some elements of Alice's Danish soup maintained integrity to the original Danish tradition, and she adapted other elements to meet her tastes and needs. It seems that integrity to the original Danish formula was not the highest priority. Instead, the value was Danish identity. For whatever reason, Alice considered this dish as a reinforcement of her Danish heritage. I think that's the important idea.

As modern Mormons we don't follow the same religious behaviors as our pioneer ancestors. We place emphasis on different parts of the religion today to reinforce our identity as Mormons. And we adapt the theology to fit our needs. I don't think anyone would expect anything different. I think this is the same approach Alice Hafen took to her identity as a daughter of Danish pioneers.

Sunday, March 27, 2011

Detective Work

Last weekend I went down to the Sanpete Valley to do research for the upcoming radio show (StoryRoad Utah for KSL). While I was there I learned about a blog called Pioneer Recipes. The blog is a sister to another Sanpete history blog, Mt. Pleasant Pioneer Relic Hall. Both are orchestrated by a nice woman named Kathy, who also helps to run the Mount Pleasant Pioneer Relic Hall.

When I first found the Pioneer Recipes blog, I couldn't make heads or tails of it. Some of the recipes seemed to have the hallmarks of pioneer foodways, but I couldn't be sure since there wasn't any identified provenance. Without identifiers for dates, people, or places, how can we know that the recipe really is... Pioneer. However, in talking with Kathy over the weekend, she told me that many of the recipes come from Alice Hafen. That was a lead.

It turns out that Alice (1912-2010) wrote a cookbook that documented her Danish foodways as she inherited them from her mother, Margaret Peel (1880-1967). The Peel family was part of the original Danish settlement of the Sanpete Valley, going back to the first blacksmith in Mount Pleasant, Peter Madsen Peel. My friend Dale Peel is from this clan. He makes traditional Mormon pioneer-styled furniture in Mount Pleasant.

Back to Alice Peel Hafen then. Alice wrote a cookbook to preserve some of her Danish foodways. I have not seen this cookbook, and I don't know the title. Kathy tells me that it has been through two sold-out editions. It wasn't available in the Relic Hall, or in the Ephraim public library, and wasn't on sale at the Ephraim co-op. It would be quite a valuable document I think, but it wasn't available anywhere I looked.

Alice would have been at least four generations removed from Denmark (or Norway), as it was her great-grandparents who came to Utah in the 1850's. Her grandfather Christian Peel (or Pihl) was born in Independence, Missouri, 1854, as the family was enroute to Utah. Yet, Alice still held firmly to her Danish heritage and Danish foodways. The following image, a recipe card from Alice's files, comes to us from Mt. Pleasant Pioneer Relic Hall:

So the questions remaining for me are: How much does this recipe reflect the contemporary Danish foodways of the 1850s? How did this recipe change over four generations? Why did Alice hold onto this one particularly? Are there other Danish-influenced chefs and recipes in Mount Pleasant and the Sanpete Valley, or was Alice the last of the breed? In other words, what is the context?

I hope to explore some of these questions in the next blog post.

Thursday, March 24, 2011

First Fire

Not much to say but...

Looks like pizza tonight!

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Pie Night

No pioneers here today. Just wanted to let you know tonight was Lip Synch & Pie Night for the ward party. I entered a banoffe pie, wife entered a pecan pie. I won "Best Most Unusual Pie" and she got second place overall. I got a certificate suitable for framing, she got a nice faberware stainless steel pie server. So there.

Thursday, March 10, 2011

Nothing to see here...

No new research to report. I've been working on the oven. Today I finished the main baking chamber. The firebrick was extremely dense and hard, and wouldn't cut even with a diamond masonry blade. Mostly I used the bricks in the shapes they came in. However, as you see the entry is turned on 45 degrees (due to space limitations and the pre-established location of the flue) I did have to make some cuts on the last course of the roof to accommodate. At any rate, here are some poor quality pictures.

Here is the interior. You might have to click to open the picture to see it. I had a shop light shining into the oven, but it turned out dark.

Here is the oven door. You may notice I used a steel lintel instead of an arch. Don't worry, there will be functional arches aplenty. Again, the 45 angle on the entry complicated the merger of roof to wall so that an arch was impractical, given my bricks that would not cut. The entry is 9x18, and too small for me to fit into. Fortunately my children are still small.

Here is the front elevation, such as it is. I think there's about 7,000 pounds of bricks and mortar sitting there. So far the floor hasn't cracked.

Next chore is to put some sort of sealing stucco over the whole thing, and then figure out how the chimney will work. Gosh this is taking forever.

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Towards a Pioneer Food Ethic

Yesterday I made a vegetable soup for dinner, which started with me heading out to the garden to dig some carrots. We left most of the carrots in the ground through the winter, and every time the ground thawed a little I went out and dug a few. They've lasted all the way through till now, with pretty good flavor too.

We also did well with our onions last year. Our basement stays cool, so the onions kept just fine in a cardboard box. We haven't bought carrots or onions in more than six months. We haven't bought jam or jelly in more than a year.

As I was making dinner I got to thinking about how I might define a modern pioneer food ethic. It might be similar to a Slow Food ethic, but it would find greater context from our pioneer ancestors. I imagine that any two people might implement it differently, but there would be common fundamental values. Here's a trial stab at one description of what it means to follow a pioneer food ethic.

Agriculture: Our pioneer ancestors lived in an agricultural economy. Their daily meals came from their relationship with agriculture. A pioneer food ethic would have a personal agricultural connection. For some this would mean growing a garden or keeping chickens. For others this would mean a first-hand relationship with the farmers who grow their food. A personal agricultural effort allows us to access a diverse range of food beyond the grocery store.

Seasonality: Direct relationships with agriculture imply seasonal patterns. Summer meals emphasize fresh produce; winter meals utilize root vegetables and preserved foods. Pioneer food systems cycled with the seasons; we follow this pattern.

Preserves: Pioneers preserved foods for winter to optimize the harvest and nutrtitional value. We might put up preserves for similar reasons. Additionally, we preserve foods to access a diversity of possibilities that aren't available at the grocery store, and to emphasize a providential attitude.

Home Cooking: It goes without saying that pioneer foods are home-prepared, not eaten out.

Social Meaning: Food served as a social vehicle for pioneers, and continues to do so for us today. We seek to amplify the social connections facilitated by pioneer foodways. We value food exchanges, whether garden seeds and produce; one jar of preserves for another; meals shared with friends; or a warm dish given to an under-the-weather friend. We value the exchange of ideas and information that comes with the exchange of food, as we share garden tips and cooking tips when we share those foods.

Do you have any suggestions for things I haven't considered?

Thursday, March 3, 2011

Wood Fired Oven Photos

A week or two ago I got some explicit direction from the Press about what I need to do to make my manuscript acceptible, but I haven't done any of it because I'm working to finish the oven. Here are some photos of the latest progression of work on the oven.

Here you see the understructure. The center wall provides support for the concrete slab that will sit above it. The two arched openings are simply access to the area under the oven. The purpose to this point was to elevate the slab to a standing work level.

Here you see the hearth bricks after the slab has been poured. I put a couple of inches of sand on top of the slab and then leveled the bricks into the sand.

Here you see the arch of the roof beginning to take shape over the oven floor. The bricks for the roof came cut as keystone shapes, which made the arch a little easier to fit.

Here you see the facade, and the sidewalls of the oven door opening. The darker colored bricks and mortar are todays work. The work below has been coated with the same fine layer of brick dust that pervades everything in the basement, much to my wife's chagrin.

Here you see the bubble in my level. Though it looks pretty good in this photo, I can assure you that the actual brick work is not nearly so uniform. I am constantly vexed by this little bubble.

There you have it. Maybe I'll finish soon and be ready to get back to revising and editing the manuscript. Or maybe when the oven is done I'll spend all my time baking and never finish the manuscript. Only heaven knows...