Thursday, October 8, 2009

"Little Denmark"

Last week as we drove down through the San Pete Valley, we picked up a map published by some sort of tourism commission. The map showed three different tourism "zones" in southern Utah, including one called "Little Denmark." This was essentially the San Pete Valley, including Mount Pleasant, Spring City and Ephraim and Manti. It reminded me of a folklore conference I once attended where they discussed cultural expressions that occurred spontaneously, versus consciously manipulated tourism features. Another example would be "Bridgerland" versus Cache Valley. Cache Valley extends beyond Utah's border, but "Bridgerland" (i.e. Utah's portion of the Cache Valley cultural tourism zone) ends neatly at the border.

So when we passed the sign proclaiming we had entered "Little Denmark," we started looking for expressions of Danish culture. Certainly, a hundred years ago the area was heavily influenced by Scandinavian culture. Swedish and Danish surnames marked most local businesses. When I asked locals about their heritage, most were clear that they descended from Danish pioneers. But when I looked for contemporary expressions of Danish heritage, I couldn't find any. PLEASE CLICK HERE if you'd like to participate in a survey about your family's Scandinavian food traditions.

I specifically asked several people if they had eaten Danish food recently. Some with Danish family heritage couldn't recall any Danish food items at all. Others noted that they had eaten an apple dumpling at the Scandinavian festival held each Memorial Day weekend. It appeared that the Scandinavian festival had become the repository for Danish heritage. It holds the heritage so securely that there is none to be found during the remainder of the year.

Ephraim and Manti both have their Co-operative Merchantile building still standing. Both now house touristy little crafty shops. When I asked about Danish food, many people directed me to the Co-op as a possible source for a Mormon Danish cookbook. The Manti Co-op had nothing, but the Ephraim Co-op had several cookbooks. Some had Danish recipes, and there was one that was the production of the local women's Relief Society. This local cookbook was filled with recipes for lasagna, chile verde and hamburger/macaroni stew. This cookbook also had several recipes bearing Danish-language names, but no provenance.

All in all, I came away thinking that the "Little Denmark" moniker was all tourism and no actual Danish culture. There is a body of culture there that I believe holds Scandinavian heritage intact, but it is not evidenced in daily life.

Do you have any multi-generational ethnic heritage that you express at least once a month?


J Rock said...

We have French and Vietnamese heritage in my family. We used to eat French food all the time (quiche, French onion soup, tarts, pissaladiere, etc.), but now my family is gluten-free, so we eat a lot more Vietnamese food. The family favorites are Vietnamese-style spring rolls and curry.

Tawna said...

We have quite a bit of English heritage, and I understand that they eat very few vegetables other than potatoes in England. It seems that our Sunday dinners follow that theme each week: Roast beef, mashed potatoes and gravy, and rolls. Sometimes we have a salad or a vegetable, but many times we forget and it's just a bunch of meat and starch, just like "merry old England".

Brock said...

In our family, we eat a lot of Japanese food because I spent some time in Japan. But as for multi-generational food, I think it might be more infrequent. Abelskivers are about two or three times a year; danish dumplings in the soup might be six times a year; steamed puddings a couple of times a year, and so on. So maybe it amounts to once a month for us. But I'm a guy who really digs food. Maybe with the McDonalds culture, most people are lucky to get something once a year.

Cafe Johnsonia said...

We do. My husband was born in Brazil and lived there as a small child. His mother is Brazilian via a German mother and Portuguese father. German cooking was big in his house even when he moved back to the states. For him, I try to cook foods he likes from his childhood. We eat a lot of Brazilian rice and beans and German food--pancakes (also called Dutch baby pancakes), potato pancakes with pork and braised red cabbage, etc.

Then we have the English and Norwegian heritage that is mostly my own. We eat a lot of English type food--roasted meat and veggies, Yorkshire pudding, scones, toad-in-the-hole, Shepherd's pie. Norwegian food is harder because we don't have fabulous fish here in UT, but we do have some. My husband loves pickled herring (I don't) and smoked salmon.

It's too bad there isn't more to Little Denmark. My husband's family has a lot of ties to that part of Utah, but I've never spent more than a few days there.

Anonymous said...

Hi! Thanks for this little blog...I live in Spring City..and I think you have brought up a very valid point. We live in this Heritage Area and prominent Artist area, but when traveler's come there is very little to "see" or experience in that regard (unless it is once or 2ce a year during festivals. Certainly in Spring City, (did you happen to venture through?) there is much architecture preserved and privately owned, but the little museums are only open occasionally...and true there is not one ethnic/traditional restaurant from the heritage from which we "claim". I am a small biz owner here in SC perhaps we can work on that. any ideas?

Brock said...

Yes, I was just down in Spring City! What a cool little town. I want to move there, if I can invent a job for myself. We stopped and talked to the guy who made Windsor chairs. He was very gracious. We tried to go to the antiques shop, but it was closed. We'll come visit again, definitely.