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.


nali said...

It looks like a pretty standard soup recipe to me. Indications of more modern elements that probably would have been changed since 1850 would be the chicken and beef soup base, which was probably some sort of broth originally, as well as the canned tomato sauce and MSG which really didn't start to appear in recipes until the 1940s.

Curtis said...

I like the detective type posts... keep em coming.

Valerie said...

I don't know anything about Danish food, but that is so fun. I love old, handwritten recipes.