Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Can't Fight That Foreign Feeling

So the question was asked about how much foreign "old world" influences made it to Utah with the 1st and 2nd generation pioneers. I would say, a lot.

Next question?

Just kidding. Here are a few examples. The little town of Mantua (funny Italian name) was settled by Danish folks, just as Swedetown on the north end of Salt Lake City was settled by Swedes. Many of Utah's early towns were settled as ethnic enclaves, keeping integrity to their original European homelands. This followed from wagon trains which were organized by country of origin. The Mantua Danes carried on having worship services in Danish into the 20th century. Similarly, the little community of Providence in Cache Valley, settled by Swiss emigrants, carried on with a Swiss choir, a Swiss-German newspaper, and Swiss folk festivals to the turn of the century. In the Swiss settlement of Midway, Utah (100 miles and a mountain range away from Providence), Swiss cows wore traditional Swiss bells and head yokes into the 1970s.

As folklorists study evolution of cultures in transplanted situations, ethnic clothing is the first thing to disappear, except for ritualized expressions of identity in folk festivals. Language disappears next, but folk foods sticks on persistently for generations as a marker of cultural identity. With ethnic language and clothing markers holding on so persistently, it should come as no surprise that food traditions carried on similarly.

Mary Ann Hafen migrated from Switzerland to Utah with the handcart emigrations of the late 1850s. Soon after she arrived, she and her husband were called to move to southern Utah and settle on the Virgin river. Though the desert sands were quite foreign from her European alps, she brought and planted seeds from Switzerland. Many other emigrants did the same, ensuring that they would have the grains, vegetables and flowers they knew from a different world.

Food patterns from the pioneers have not died out completely. To the contrary, the Swiss descendants of Providence continue to host an annual Sauerkraut dinner each fall, inviting thousands of people to share their homemade foodways. Swiss days in Midway follow similarly. Cheesemakers in Star Valley, Wyoming carry on the Swiss traditions of their ancestors. If you look for it, you can find food traditions that go back a half-dozen generations. Certainly, the handful of recipes each family safeguards are just a fraction of the dietary patterns that once defined our ancestors. The 1st and 2nd generation settlers necessarily made minor alterations to their diet based on what was immediately at hand, but still maintained a strong connection to their ancestral homelands.

As an example, English sausage and German sausage both used the same pork and beef, but with different seasonings and curing processes. English and European baking processes used the same wheat and yeast as American baking traditions, but a different approach to how the yeast was cultured. English and German brewing traditions both use malted barley and hops, but employ different fermenting processes. Swiss settlers in Utah's Dixie were familiar with European wine making traditions, but utilized grapes adapted to the arid climate.

In the end, if food traditions had dropped off after just one generation, we wouldn't have such a rich food culture today. Since we have Danish recipes with their Danish names intact (julekage, aebleskiver, etc.), this suggests we have safeguarded a rich tradition with integrity.

So how bout it? What food traditions and recipes have made it down through the generations in YOUR family?


Tawna said...

Love it. I would love it if you included a recipe with each entry. Do I have to buy the book for that?

roger and nancy said...

We still eat Yorkshire Pudding and homemade candy canes (English family emigrated 1901), "frikadillars", skorpor, fruit soup and chive potatoes via Swedish ancestry, emigrated later than the era you are discussing, but still over 100 years and 5 generations later. These families lived in northern Utah.

Brock said...

Hey Roger and Nancy, thanks for the comment. Do you have much by way of documentation on the recipes you mentioned?

roger and nancy said...

The Swedish stuff is pretty much word of mouth. The English stuff is mentioned in family histories. I have traced the candy canes back about 200 years in England. They also mention the puddings, which in England were made at home on Sundays and taken to the village bake oven to bake. My mother isn't sure of the spelling of the Swedish things which her grandmother made. She called the chive potatoes something like 'grassloick'...but maybe she was just trying to say 'grass-like' in her Swedish accent. Her husband spoke German, so English had to be their common language. I'm sure frikadillars were spelled differently, too. In German they are Frikadellen. They are a flattened, fried sort of swedish meatball I think...without any sauce. Mom remembers going to her grandmother's house to eat skorpor that her grandma made for the kids. I have made them and they are strangely delicious. It was a great treat. I do have recipes for all this stuff.

Brock said...

I have two recipe books (actually, more than 50, but two relevant here): one swedish and one danish, so I think I have a good base for formulas. What I don't have is a lot of actual ties of particular dishes to particular dates and people. I just love it when I find a diary that says, "November 2, 1863: today we ate frickadillars for dinner." The trouble is, such a diary would most likely be in a foreign language. There is a Danish diary that documented the Willie Company experience, and it was translated by someone at BYU, but not published, so I haven't been able to get a hold of it yet. Thanks for all the great information!