Uniquely Minnesotan

Joan Donatelle. (submitted photo)
Joan Donatelle. (submitted photo)
B.J. Carpenter. (submitted photo)
B.J. Carpenter. (submitted photo)

Cookbooks showcase Minnesota traditions

The Minnesota Historical Society Press recently released two cookbooks — “Come, You Taste” and “Astonishing Apples” — that are uniquely Minnesotan.

First-time author Joan Donatelle says now that “Astonishing Apples” has been published, she can finally cross writing a cookbook off her bucket list.

“Many family and friends have encouraged me to write a cookbook, and it was always a little bit problematic with having so many recipes.” She remembers thinking “where do I start?” and finding it a bit overwhelming

But the finished product, with its unique, easy-to-follow apple recipes, made the undertaking all worthwhile.

For B.J. Carpenter of Roseville, her new book, “Come, You Taste,” explores her roots on the Iron Range — an area that has a culinary language all its own.

Carpenter, who grew up in Hibbing, says “Come You Taste” is full of the recipes from the different cultures that make up the melting pot known as the Iron Range. In the early 20th century, emigrants from Finland, Sweden, Norway, Italy, England and many other countries descended on the area in pursuit of jobs in the iron ore mines.

Carpenter says this book is one she has wanted to write for many years. She grew up eating all the different foods of the region and being surrounded by the many ethnic groups.

“I learned about how important food was to them. It’s being lost in the subsequent third and fourth generations,” Carpenter says. “I’m hoping [this cookbook] strikes a chord up there.”

Inspiration behind the books

People get stuck on only using apples in desserts such as apple pie and apple crisp, and need to think outside the box, says Donatelle, who lives in Eden Prairie.

In “Astonishing Apples,” she points out that they can be found in great German side-dish recipes. Apples also are delicious in salads, giving them an extra tang and crunch.

Using apples in recipes has been a family tradition. Donatelle says her grandma had a huge apple tree “and when it was time to harvest them, she would have us over and pull apples for us to eat.”

Her grandma made apple butter and mouthwatering pies with the apples from her tree.

Donatelle notes that her English background on her mom’s side inspired some of the recipes in the cookbook, including Apple-Studded Scones.

When working on her book, Donatelle came up with over 100 recipes. The Minnesota Historical Society Press editors asked for 75. Chuckling, she says they compromised at 99.

Some of the recipes were traditional ones she simply tweaked to include apples. While with others, she experimented.

“We kind of played a game; luckily my husband and kids played along with me. It was like: what can I put apples in?”

Mining childhood memories, church cookbooks

Although many of the recipes and accompanying stories in “Come You Taste” are from Carpenter’s early years on the Iron Range, some are from old cookbooks and church cookbooks she found through the Minnesota Historical Society.

She also picked the brains of her elder family members.

Carpenter, a culinary educator, wanted “Come You Taste” to be more than a cookbook. Before almost every recipe is a tale about its origins.

“It’s important. I wanted it to not be viewed as just a cookbook but as a historical document,” Carpenter says. “I’ve been wanting to do this for a long, long time just to preserve the heritage.”

Growing up on the Minnesota Iron Range, Carpenter says she encountered about 40 different ethnic groups.

She vividly recalls the day she went over to a friend’s house and had pizza for the first time.

She was astonished by the jumble of ingredients on top of what looked like thin, baked bread. “I was maybe 7-years-old. I didn’t know what it was. [My friends] couldn’t believe I didn’t know what pizza was.” But pizza simply was not part of her family’s food traditions.

“Come, You Taste” is broken into different sections, starting with breads.

“That is the most basic of foods. Every culture has bread in their history — their collective culinary portfolio,” Carpenter says.

There is also a section with traditional dinner, supper and lunch recipes.

Carpenter says years ago on the Iron Range, the midday meal was called dinner. Supper was eaten in the early evening, and lunch was served mid-evening (around 8 or 9 p.m.) when friends were over.

“I think that comes from perhaps the farming communities where they got up so early in the morning, that by midday that was the main meal. That held true with the early Rangers,” Carpenter says.

The last section of the book is menus. She notes that in cultures where money was tight, “the most prized and expensive foods were reserved for holidays and special occasions.” In this section, Carpenter offers everyday menus, and menus for special occasions.

“Some of the menus are traditional to holidays and celebrations, and I think serve as planning guidelines for people in general.”

The sweet smell of baking apples

In “Astonishing Apples,” Donatelle does not get overly specific about what varieties of apples to use in her recipes. This was by design so the recipes could be made year-round.

There are a few recipes where she offers suggestions on what types of apples to use in the head note.

For example, Apple Panna Cotta calls for three medium apples. Donatelle recommends using firm apples like Haralson or Ginger Gold for a textured sauce.

The cookbook also includes a list of different Midwestern apple varieties and each one’s flavor, texture, uses and harvest time.

When cooking with apples, Donatelle says one large apple purchased at a store or farmers market normally equals about two cups. A pound of apples would be about three to four medium apples.

Unlike most other fruits, apples do not ripen significantly after they have been harvested. “Usually, we leave that up to the people at the orchards to tell us when certain ones are ready to be picked,” Donatelle says.

Apples have a nutritional benefit people don’t always think about, she adds. “I tried to make it fun and the recipes tasty. It doesn’t do any good if something is healthy for you if it’s not delicious also.”

Authors’ favorites

When asked what recipe someone reading “Come You Taste” should try, Carpenter says she would steer people toward recipes that are a group effort.

The strudel and cabbage rolls require a few more steps, but they were always done by groups of cooks on the Range.

“I think it’s important to have community involved in cooking. It shouldn’t be a solitary thing,” explains Carpenter, who says she grateful for having grown up around “such hardworking people” in northeastern Minnesota.

“The Range was a very important place in the history of our country,” Carpenter says. “I think it’s a place that’s of very important historical significance that needs to be looked at and paid attention to.”

For her part, Donatelle says it’s difficult to pick just one favorite recipe in “Astonishing Apples.”

Two that quickly came to mind were Applepanzanella and Seared Scallops with Apple Pancetta Chutney.

Ginger Apple Chutney is another favorite. “It is so versatile and is a great way to put aside apples for year-round pleasure.”

Even when Donatelle isn’t working on her cookbook or teaching at Lunds & Byerly’s cooking school, she says it’s hard to get away from food.

“We like to travel and we plan to do more of that, but there is usually some component that is connected to food.”

Both books can be found on the Minnesota Historical Society Press, Amazon and Barnes & Noble’s websites.

Hannah Burlingame can be reached at 651-748-7824 or staffwriter@lillienews.com.

Italian Farmer’s Wife Apple Cake

Serves 8

2 large eggs
1/4 cup whole milk
1 cup granulated sugar
pinch salt
1 teaspoon almond extract
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1 1/2 cups flour
 2 pounds sweet apples, peeled, cored, and sliced thin (see note)
1 Tablespoon apple brandy
1/4 cup honey
2 Tablespoons confectioners’ sugar
1/4 cup blanched almonds, toasted

Preheat oven to 375° F. Grease a 9-inch springform pan.
Beat the eggs and milk with mixer. Add the sugar, salt, almond extract and cinnamon and continue to beat for about 1 minute. With the mixer on low, add the flour, mixing well to combine. In a large bowl, stir together the apples with brandy and honey. Using a wooden spoon or rubber spatula, gently stir the apples into the batter, coating evenly. Pour the batter into the prepared pan, place pan on a baking sheet, and bake for approximately 45-50 minutes, until a wooden pick inserted in the center comes out clean. Let cool for about 20-30 minutes, then remove the sides from the springform pan and cool completely. Loosen cake from the bottom of the pan and transfer to a serving plate. Sprinkle with confectioners’ sugar and almonds.

Note: Sweet apples to try with this recipe include McIntosh, Connell Red and Fireside

Crackling Roast Pork

Serves 6 to 8

1 (5 pound) bone-in pork loin roast with a heavy fat cap
1 to 2 Tablespoons kosher or coarse sea salt
10 to 12 by leaves (choose the long, thin California laurel type)
4 cups or more boiling water

Preheat oven to 450° F. Position rack in the center.
Dry the roast with paper towels. Use the tip of a sharp paring knife to score the fat cap in 1/2-inch-deep incisions that are 1/2 inch apart lengthwise and 1 1/2 to 2 inches apart crosswise. Rub the exterior of the roast with the salt and tuck the bay leaves into the incisions. Put the roast — fat cap up — on a wire rack inside a roasting pan, place in the preheated oven and roast for 30 minutes.
Bring 4 cups water to a boil. Pour the boiling water in to the roasting pan, reduce the heat to 400 degrees, and continue roasting until the internal temperature reaches 160-degrees when tested with an instant-read thermometer, about an hour. Keep an eye on the water and add more boiling water if needed.
After removing the roast from the oven, immediately cut off the crackling fat cap and set aside in a dish; let the roast rest on the rack for 10 minutes before carving.

Note: Serve thinly sliced with the crackling rind, Sugar-Browned Potatoes, and glazed baby carrots.


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