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Swedish Toffee Shortbread Slices (Skurna Knäckkakor)

Posted byAlison Aten on 17 Nov 2017 | Tagged as: Authors, Food, Scandinavian Studies

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Patrice Johnson is a Nordic food geek and meatball historian who loves to give old Scandinavian recipes a modern spin. Her new book is  Jul: Swedish American Holiday Traditions.

In exploring these holiday customs, Patrice begins with her own family’s Christmas Eve gathering, which involves a combination of culinary traditions: allspice-scented meatballs, Norwegian lefse served Swedish style (warm with butter), and the American interloper, macaroni and cheese. Just as she tracks down the meanings behind why her family celebrates as it does, she reaches into the lives and histories of other Swedish Americans with their own stories, their own versions of traditional recipes, their own joys of the season. The result is a fascinating exploration of the Swedish holiday calendar and its American translation.

Here’s her recipe for Skurna Knäckkakor or Swedish Toffee Shortbread Slices:

When I tested this recipe, I ate half of the batch before it was completely cooled. It was important to rid the house of the remaining cookies immediately so that I didn’t finish them all. These are the best cookies I’ve ever tasted. They have a dense texture with a hint of toffee. You have been warned.


¼ cup raw, unpeeled almonds

½ cup (1 stick) butter, softened

½ cup sugar

1 tablespoon light or dark corn syrup

1 ½ teaspoons vanilla extract

1 teaspoon baking powder

1 ½ cups pastry flour

¼ teaspoon salt

Preheat oven to 350 degrees and line baking sheets with parchment paper. Process nuts in food processor or use nut grater to create a medium- to fine-textured meal. Blend all ingredients together, first using electric mixer at low speed for 1 to 2 minutes and then finishing by hand to form a dough. Divide into 2 to 3 equal parts. Using hands, roll each into a log 10 to 12 inches long, place on prepared baking sheets, and flatten into a rectangle. Bake for 12 minutes. While still warm, use a dough scraper to cut each rectangle diagonally into thin slices.


Fractured Land: The Price of Inheriting Oil

Posted byAlison Aten on 07 Oct 2014 | Tagged as: Authors, Book Excerpt, Event, Nature/Enviroment, Scandinavian Studies

Photo by Lisa Peters

Photo by Lisa Peters

Fractured Land: The Price of Inheriting Oil by Lisa Westberg Peters begins with the passing of the author’s father and the questions his estate will raise:

“When my father dies, my mother will inherit his mineral rights. Eventually my siblings and I will inherit hers. At that point, I will benefit from drilling techniques that require millions of gallons of water, dozens of chemicals, some of them unknown even to regulators, and the safe disposal of toxic wastes.

It would make quite a headline:

Environmentalist Rakes in ND Oil Profits

And so I sit on an uncomfortable fence. On one side is a sea of oil that fouls beaches and birds and contributes to climate mayhem. On the other side is a sea of oil—my family’s oil!—that provides jobs for thousands of people, financial breathing room for my parents, and wealth for the long-suffering state of North Dakota.

Nope. You can see, I’m sure, how a hospice room is not exactly the place for that kind of discussion.

My dad sees the picture of an old North Dakota oil well—or it’s going to be an oil well as soon as they hit pay dirt—and does a thumbs-up.” –from Fractured Land

Join us this Thursday, October 9, at 7 pm at Common Good Books to hear Lisa Westberg Peters talk about the dilemma we all face–how our personal lives intersect with the energy industry and the environment–and her new book, Fractured Land.

Spring 2014 Titles

Posted byAlison Aten on 10 Jan 2014 | Tagged as: Authors, Children, Cooking, Fiction, Food, History, Literary, MHS press, Native American, Scandinavian Studies, Travel

Augie\'s Secrets by Neal Karlen The Brides of Midsummer When I Was a Child Her Honor Keystones of the Stone Arch Bridge Curiosity\'s Cats

Conflicted Mission Hungry Johnny Toys of the \'50s, \'60s, and \'70s Scoop Smitten with Squash

Minnesota Historical Society Press Spring 2014 Titles

Augie’s Secrets: The Minneapolis Mob and the King of the Hennepin Strip (Paperback, February 2014)
Neal Karlen

The Brides of Midsummer (First English Translation, February 2014)
Vilhelm Moberg

When I Was a Child: An Autobiographical Novel (February 2014)
Vilhelm Moberg

Her Honor: Rosalie Wahl and the Minnesota Women’s Movement (March 2014)
Lori Sturdevant

Keystones of the Stone Arch Bridge (April 2014)
Carolyn Ruff

Curiosity’s Cats: Writers on Research (April 2014)
Edited by Bruce Joshua Miller

Conflicted Mission: Faith, Disputes, and Deception on the Dakota Frontier (April 2014)
Linda M. Clemmons

Hungry Johnny (May 2014)
Cheryl Minnema, Illustrations by Wesley Ballinger

Toys of the ’50s, ’60s, and ’70s (May 2014)
Kate Roberts and Adam Scher

Scoop: Notes from a Small Ice Cream Shop (May 2014)
Jeff Miller

Smitten with Squash (July 2014)
Amanda Paa

Fireside Reading Series at Hamline Midway Library

Posted byAlison Aten on 10 Jan 2012 | Tagged as: Asian American, Event, Fiction, Literary, MHS press, Native American, Scandinavian Studies

Fireside Reading SeriesTomorrow night begins the eighteenth annual Fireside Reading Series hosted by the Friends of the St. Paul Public Library at the Hamline Midway Library. The series features six weeks of readings by acclaimed Minnesota authors.

The events kick off with historian Larry Millet and the latest in his renowned mystery series, The Magic Bullet: A Locked Room Mystery Featuring Shadwell Rafferty and Sherlock Holmes, and conclude on February 18 with Diane Wilson, author of Beloved Child: A Dakota Way of Life.

History e-book sale!

Posted byAlison Aten on 29 Dec 2011 | Tagged as: African American, History, MHS press, Native American, Scandinavian Studies

Was there an e-reader under your tree this week? Amazon announced that over 4 million Kindles were sold in December, and analysts predicted high sales of the iPad 2 over the holidays. Whether you’re a brand-new or veteran e-reader, we have a deal to help you load up your device and get reading.

We are offering 10 of our popular history e-books for just $4.99 from now until the end of January!

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The Talent of Eating Lutefisk

Posted byMary Poggione on 01 Dec 2010 | Tagged as: Scandinavian Studies

Lou T. FiskPerhaps because I’m not from Minnesota, I am a bit obsessed by people’s willingness to eat lutefisk in an age when refrigeration is available, and so I was very happy to see this new video posted by MPR about the Norsefest in Madison, Minnesota, Lutefisk Capital of the USA. While I love fish, shellfish, raw fish, oysters, and clams, I have not been able to get myself to try lutefisk.

As one woman preparing the Norsefest meal says in the video,

“A good piece of fish is flakey like when you get really good walleye after it’s been cooked … A bad piece of fish would be if it’s like jelly or, excuse the expression, like snot.”

According to the book Keeping Christmas: Yuletide Traditions in Norway and the New Land by Kathleen Stokker, the widespread eating of lutefisk grew out of Norway’s adherence to Advent fasting, which continued even after Lutheranism was adopted as the official state religion.

Legend  credits the origin of the recipe to the Vikings (from Keeping Christmas):

“Why lye? Legend attributes this to the Vikings. What is no doubt an apocryphal account reports that while raiding a certain fishing village, the Vikings burned down some wooden racks on which cod was drying. When one of the inhabitants poured water over the fire to douse it, the fish was left soaking in a solution of ashes and water–that is, lye. Poking through the ashes days later, villagers noticed that the once dried and hardened fish now appeared fresh. Rinsing and boiling it, they discovered that–at least by some accounts–it was edible.”

One of the highlights of Norsefest is the lutefisk eating contest, also deemed a “talent competition,” which makes perfect sense to me.

You can read more about the Norwegian history of eating lutefisk in this Keeping Christmas excerpt.

Saint Lucia’s Day

Posted bypennefesm on 11 Dec 2009 | Tagged as: Authors, History, MHS press, Scandinavian Studies

phpLldDk4Sunday, December 13, is Saint Lucia’s Day, the day that oldest daughters in Swedish and Swedish American homes don a crown of burning candles and deliver saffron buns known as lussekatter to the family while singing the beautiful Santa Lucia.

Phebe Hanson remembers her family’s Minnesota celebration in the 1930s in a lovely poem published in Where One Voice Ends Another Begins, edited by Robert Hedin.

The original Lucia, patron saint of the blind whose name means “light,” was martyred in Sicily in AD 304 when she refused to marry a pagan. Medieval accounts hold that her eyes were gouged out with a fork before she was burned at the stake, and she is often depicted holding her eyes on a golden plate. The day is the longest night of the year on the old Julian calendar.

Battery-powered electric crowns are now available.

St Lucia Day

Healing the People: Winter Remedies

Posted bypennefesm on 04 Dec 2009 | Tagged as: Authors, History, MHS press, Scandinavian Studies

 Remedies and Rituals

 To keep with the theme of “there’s a chill in the air,” we turn to the MHS Press book by Kathleen Stokker, Remedies and Rituals: Folk Medicine in Norway and the New Land, which is filled with fascinating folk-healing rituals and natural home remedies remembered fondly by midwestern Norwegian Americans.  Which cure for winter’s common cold and sore throat would you choose?

 “For a chest cold Mom rubbed my chest with goose grease and would place wool or flannel over it.” (Ester Hegg, born 1913)


“A home remedy for a cough or sore throat was to rub your neck with camphor oil and fasten a man’s woolen sock around your neck.” (Ella Grunewald, born 1916)


“I remember the standard remedy for a serious chest cold or chills and fever. Two extra quilts were added to your bed. Then the potion was mixed: the juice of a half lemon, a generous amount of brandy; then the mug was filled with boiling water. A little sugar and a sprinkling of nutmeg smoothed out the flavor. It was best drunk when already dressed in flannel pajamas. The warm coziness set in almost immediately, and the sweat began to ooze out of your pores. Invariably you felt much better in the morning.” (Judeen Johnson, born 1925)


Beret Hagebak outside her sod house Beret Hagebak outside her sod house in western Minnesota. MHS Collections, photo by Hugh J. Chalmers, from Remedies and Rituals by Kathleen Stokker.