Pickles, Wonder Food of the Future; or all about carflickles

I thought pickles were a nothing food, no value, no calories, not really food, just salt. I thought they were just there on my plate in a restaurant for the crunch and the pucker, you know? Something sorta green on the plate to make it look like there’s more variety? Turns out I was wrong.

According to an old book my mom sent me called All About Pickling (Ortho Books, 1975): “The art of pickling predates recorded history. It’s roots probably go deep into Chinese culture. We know that laborers on the Great Wall of China ate lunches of salted vegetables…. Cleopatra valued pickles as a secret of beauty and health. She introduced them to Julius Caesar and soon he added pickles to the daily diets of the Roman legions and gladiators, thinking pickles would help keep the men in top physical condition…. The ‘new world’ was even named after a Spanish pickle dealer ‘Americus Vespucius.’… Early Puritan settlers believed that pickles should be served daily as a ‘sour’ reminder to be thankful for the ‘sweet’ gifts of the land.”

I had no idea America was named after a pickle dude. How weird is that?

So I just had to make some!!

I made a few other food items this weekend, too, actually. From left to right: six cups of cooked down strawberry puree sweetened with maple syrup to use as flavoring for homemade yogurt (I bought a yogurt maker to start cookin that treat myself!), eight pints of strawberry jam (only three left from the first batch I made in late June), a jar full of apricot fruit leather (yummo!!), a half-filled jar of dried blueberries (eight cups of fresh berries made only THAT much? SOOOO not worth the effort), three quarts of a pickled vegetable medley which I like to call carflickle (carrots and cauliflower, in a pickling brine with purple onions, garlic, and dill), and dilly beans (pickled green beans). Whew! And if you think I’m tuckered out…yup, you’d be guessin right!

But all the produce is local and mostly organic, and I’m trying hard to do what I can within my current means (financial and time) to preserve some of this summer bounty for the long winter ahead when the cool, crisp crunch of pickled cauliflower might bring us back to that lovely Saturday in August when we spent the day at J and S’s house puttin’ up our veggies. (J and S went to Peru in Jan. on the same trip as I did — they are good people, those two.) Ah, but do pickled veggies really have any food value?

On this count the book shared some interesting nutritional facts that surprised me. For instance, the brining solution is high in potassium. The “vitamin A content of fresh produce is actually increased through the pickling process. Even though some of the vitamin C is decreased, pickles still retain richer deposits of the vitamin than other processed foods. … Vinegar prevents oxidation which allows the vitamin to escape from cut surfaces.”

Who knew? Well, other than my grandma, and pretty much all the immigrants who came to our country and homesteaded, and well, most people throughout the world. Ah, yes, well, okay, so I’m late in coming to this but at least I’m gettin there! I’ll be sure to report how they came out when we crack ’em open in November or December. Hope it’s worth the wait. 🙂

And Then She Died

Two years ago on this day, Grandma died. She had a massive stroke the day before and let go on July 3, 2006. She was 92.

As fate would have it, this date is important to our family for another reason. On July 3, 1879, also a Thursday like this year, my grandmother’s grandparents left Norway for America. I know this because last week I finally found the information for which I have been searching for the last several months. (Thanks to Norway Heritage: Hands Across the Sea.) All passenger lists of ships sailing from Norway have been destroyed from the time period through which I was searching, but I just learned that the police in Norway kept records of emigrants. The Norwegians passed a law dictating that emigrants had to sign contracts with shipping companies in front of the police. This was to help prevent scams! The further benefit is that these records remain and fill the gap.

Here is what I discovered:

Rikard (Richard) Skaug, though he had changed his name at twenty years old, registered for emigration by his birth name, Hanson. His wife, who went by her middle name, Maria, registered with her first name, Hannah. They sailed from Trondheim, which is the biggest city south of their hometown of Bodø, far above the Arctic Circle. Out of Trondheim, they sailed on the Wilson line’s steamer, S/S Tasso (1).

A total of 48 passengers boarded that ship in Trondheim, including another young family from Bodø, headed for Minnesota. Their ship stopped in two cities in Norway before heading across the open North Sea to Hull, England. The journey took 3 or 4 days, so they probably arrived in England by Sunday.

In England, Maria stayed on the ship until the emigrant train was ready to leave the station at Hull on Monday morning. Women and children were not allowed on the docks. Richard may have stretched his legs and strolled by the Minerva Hotel where many emigrants congregated. In any case, on Monday they took the train to Liverpool, a few hours journey across the industrial midlands. One more leg of the journey over and a welcome stopover in a strange land before braving the trans-Atlantic crossing.

After a couple of days in a rooming house in Liverpool, they boarded one of the Inman line ships, most likely The City of Brussels, bound for New York City. The ship left on July 10th, and it took eight days to cross the oceam in the steam liner. They took their passage in steerage, at about $30 a person. There were 363 passengers. Inman was known as a middle-class liner, with more comfort than some of the most notorious shipping companies, but Richard and Maria would not have been able to afford more than the basic fare.

Once in the United States, they made their way from New York to Decorah, Iowa, where they wintered with friends. The following spring, they headed north to Beltrami, Minnesota, where Richard’s sister Caroline and her husband had already settled. They homesteaded land that is still in our family four generations later.

What must it have been like to leave Norway and all their family and friends, the familiar sights of mountain and harbor, and head thousands of miles away to a land where they did not speak the language, where they would never see the ocean again?

Turns out I found another source, a diary that I didn’t know that I had, written by Grandma’s uncle, who visited Norway in the summer of 1939. He met several people in Bodø and the surrounding villages who knew his parents and grandparents. They told him of the night before the family left and how all the people of the little town of Skaug gathered at the Hanson home crying and singing hymns in unison long into the night. Sounds like a wake. I guess it was.

On this anniversary of my beloved grandmother’s passing from this world, my tears mix with those of my ancestors, mourning and celebrating. Loss and love. On Monday I will “return” to the land of Richard and Maria, my great-great-grandparents. I will walk in their village, pray in their church, sit and face the sea they left behind forever, a beautiful but dangerous companion. Life in this frontier was beyond difficult. I have no romatic notions of how lovely it would have been like to live like that. But, still, it was home to their families as long as anyone could remember. I can’t, as an American, imagine feeling so rooted. How painful, physically excruciating, it must have been to be ripped out of the soil and transplanted into the American Midwest.

I will honor their sacrifice, a sacrifice for the child Maria was carrying inside her during that dangerous journey that began this day one hundred and twenty-nine years ago. The sacrifice they made for me. They braved it all to try to make a better life for us. My grandmother appreciated their sacrifice and wanted to convey its enormity to the younger generations through her book. I have taken up that challenge with her death. I am writing grandma’s book; I am finishing what she started.

Great-Grandma Watching Over Me and My Laundry

The weekend before last, my superstar husband painted the laundry room.  Does this seem frivolous to you?  I guess in the scheme of things, it isn’t exactly at the top of the list of the world’s most important things to do, but it has made my life brighter.

You see, I do the laundry in our family, and the state of the laundry room has been a drag on my mood for some time.  My biggest complaint was that I couldn’t clean it properly because it had never been painted beyond the builder’s white sprayed on in a thin coat after construction.  Have you ever tried to wash such walls?  The so-called paint just comes off, leaving bare wallboard that can’t be cleaned either.  Ugh.

Anyway, we’ve been using the laundry room as a sort of mudroom, and my son’s winter coats and snowpants, etc. have been mucking the place up.  And, well, when you have a room dedicated basically to making things clean, it’s hard to swallow that the room itself looks so dirty.

So my dear spouse painted, and I bought some lovely bins to organize everything on the shelves.  Oh, my, it looks so good now!  I admit that I’m still so in love with the room that when I walk by, I open the door and just look at it.  I’m doing more laundry, too, an improvement which is, no doubt, not lost on my family. (It hasn’t been unheard of for someone in the house to buy new underwear because the laundry had been piled up for so long….)

So, the funny thing is that now that I am spending more time in the laundry room and am newly attuned to my surroundings (instead of blocking them out in disgust), I have discovered that I am being watched as I perform my duties!  In the hallway, directly across from the door, hangs my great-grandparents’ wedding photo.  Now, as I emerge from the laundry room carrying a load of clean clothes in a basket, I meet eyes with my grandmother’s mother and feel somehow as if she approves.

“Great!  You’re doing a fine job fulfilling your duties,” I can almost hear her say. Not that I hear her say this with any rancor in her voice.  She was a gentle and kind woman, so I am told, and I imagine her more pleased than smug, happy to see my world ordered.

Then comes the difficulty.  I am a feminist.  (And I am not afraid to say it — equal pay for equal work, fair treatment — I mean, honesty, who ISN’T a feminist if you look at it in such terms?)  Honestly, though, all of what I am writing in this post feels a bit awkward.  I mean, I’m fitting into the stereotype … and liking it.  Then again, my husband and I did decide to split things up this way — he has his chores and I have mine.  We could have had him do the laundry, but I’m home more often, so it makes more sense for me to take this on.  Nevertheless, I feel a little uncomfortable with the whole wifely duty thing.

Yet, I love my laundry room.  And I love cleaning things up and having everything look fresh and tidy.  And I feel a sense of satisfaction when I look at my great-grandma’s photo and feel as if she approves, as if she is telling me I’m on the right track and never mind with worrying about all that philosophical stuff.  And I think she would be thrilled for me that I have a husband who paints the laundry room because he knows it will make my world more cheerful.  Er, and the automated washer and dryer … well, that sure beats a hand-crank mangler any day. She did live to see mechanized machines but for most of her life did things the old-fashioned way.

I can just see her on the homestead in Minnesota in 1906 with her washing on the line.  Oh, and in the northern winter — imagine that!  No, I’m lucky.

Gotta go put another load in the wash now.  There must be something else I can wash… curtains? bathroom rugs?

Grandma’s House; or, The Fine Art of Decorating

I used to love touring Grandma’s house. It was filled to the brim with all manner of bizzare items accumulated over the years. The glass eyes of the dead deer head on a panelled wall of the family room commanded me to pet the carcass. Sick, I know, but I found it necessary to oblige.

Then there was the old-fashioned crank phone on the wall by the stairs — it didn’t work but provided all manner of good fun winding it up and pretending. “One ringey-dingey,” we intoned with a nasally voice. Yes, I’m old enough to remember Laugh In!

By the window in the music room, a glass church with steeple and movable doors caught the light. Grandma had taken up the art of stained glass making after retirement, and this piece was her crowning achievement.

On the wall across from the bar, hung a massive crocheted tapestry of an English hunting scene, complete with jumping dogs with tongues hanging out. I never quite got the point of that one. My Scandanavian Grandma was not the English hunting party type. It was executed well, but never seemed to fit.

In the front foyer sat a deeply carved chest with an old military uniform in it (WWI, I think?) and on top rested a velvet-covered photo album, with garishly painted plate on the front … of cherubs, was it? Or a plump beauty? Behind the chest sat a large vase filled with peacock feathers. The mail would fall through the slit in the front door and land next to the chest. Whenever I went to pick it up for Grandma, I had to touch the carved trunk, velvet book, and luminescent feathers.

In the kitchen above the counter hung a “kitchen witch” doll. And slid into the space between the stove and the dishwashing machine, hid the lefse griddle and formica rolling board. Catching a glimpse of these from time to time could evoke all the wonderful emotions associated with our annual lefse-making marathon. Mom sent me the griddle a while back. It hides in my pantry now.

Dear sweet Grandma. Such a mountain of stuff left behind in that house and yet so utterly empty it feels. How difficult it is to part with the things she made so patiently with her own hands. Yet we do not have room in our homes for such things, and we don’t really want them. Honestly, the charm of these objects was entirely depenedent on Grandma imbuing them with meaning.

Yesterday a box arrived for me with Grandma’s beautifully framed photographs of her family (my first request when asked what I wanted from Grandma’s house was these photos): her parents’ wedding picture, two enlarged candids of kids with wiggling toes sitting on a porch and mounds of children piling into an old Ford, and Great-Grandma’s sewing school graduation picture with ten women solemly sewing for the photographer. Plus Mom sent me the photo of Grandma that I had brought to the funeral, an enlarged photo in black and white that I had taken on our last trip to Minnesota. Grandma is looking out into the distance with her back to the corner of the barn her dad built on the homestead. In fact, this is the photo I use on this blog for my avatar. I had matted and framed the photo for the service and given it to Mom to keep. But she gave it back to me. The corner of the frame was crushed from shipping, so I’ll need to get a new frame if I want to hang it. But I didn’t ask for that picture and didn’t really want it on my wall. It’s one thing to have the long dead and gone hanging there, but Grandma lives too much in my heart still to hang her up in the hall of the dead.

I don’t mind posting the photo here, though, so you can get a better look!


“Our group will be traveling to the most remote villages”: Peru update

The plane tickets have been purchased. It’s a done deal. What, am I crazy? I’ve been having mega-second thoughts this week. But it’s over. Finito. I have to go now.

So, what’s the big deal, you ask?

Itinerary: Day one we attend a wedding of a former participant in the project. That’ll be interesting, I’m sure. The next day we head north and buy equipment in Huarmey. Then all four mini-groups split up. I am in group one, with the project director, a woman who has been on these trips before, and a history prof who has joined the project and who will be helping to create a documentary film about our trip. Our director, John, has scheduled two weeks filled with long trips up into the Andes mountains (most villages at about 12,000 feet), some of which have never been visited by North Americans. Cool, right?

Yes, but…

I’m a big ole fat chicken, it seems. No electricity (except for places where we worked with them previously to install solor panels — but that electricity is precious and only used for things like vaccine fridges and such). No running water, and certainly no clean water (except for places where we have helped install water systems). No way to get help in a hurry if there is a problem (except for in villages where the project has been able to help with installing emergency radios).

I can do without internet and t.v. Who cares, really, about that? But traveling during Peru’s rainy season into extremely high altitudes to work with villagers whose Quechuan language none of us in the group speaks, to places where there is no water, electricity, or emergency facilities beyond rudimentary medical posts? We will sleep where we can, sometimes inside a home (dirt floors, of course) and sometimes, perhaps, outside. We will eat what we can get through the hospitality of Peruvian partners (goodbye Weight Watchers, hello cuy??!) We will face disappointing setbacks that mean we must leave a village (that it took us hours to get to) without achieving our objective.

And yet…

Won’t it be wonderful? I mean, part of why I decided to participate is that I have always been someone to avoid risk-taking, always very cautious. I am trying to push myself out of what’s comfortable and into new spaces. The more I learn of my immigrant ancestors, the more I feel terribly spoiled and sheltered, completely unprepared to imagine in my writing what life was like for those folks crossing the sea and moving to a new land where they did not speak the language and where they would have to live by their wits and their sweat and their insistence on not failing. I can’t spend this sabbatical year homesteading a farm, and I already speak English. But I CAN go on this service trip to Peru and hopefully not only help out the project but also gain a clearer vision of what my ancestors might have felt like when they immigrated to America.

Odds are, I won’t get arrested for some crime I didn’t commit. Odds are, there won’t be some massive, bloddy uprising that we get caught in the middle of. Odds are, I won’t become violently ill and die because there’s no hospital nearby, thus leaving my son motherless.

More likely…Peru will be amazingly beautiful, the people will be welcoming and warm, I will be healthy and helpful, and I’ll decide to return to Peru in the future to continue our good work.


In any case, the tickets are bought. They are non-refundable. I am going to Peru, for real.

Back on the Homestead: Grand Tour part 4

On our mega road trip this summer we spent a total of nine days in Minnesota. Out of seven weeks traveling through twenty-two states, that’s a big chunk of time. But it felt like we could have stayed there much longer. For one thing, I had no idea how interesting and enjoyable the state would be from a purely recreational standpoint. The plentiful lakes are not just some butter company slogan — they (the lakes not the butter — though there was a lot of that, too) are everywhere and are lovely little waystations for wildlife. Driving to Itasca State Park we saw a bald eagle dipping towards a little gem of blue water and two deer leaping across the tall cement barriers on the divided highway to cross to a shaded glen by another little pond.

I felt an interest in Minnesota for its own sake (not just as a research site) that I had not anticipated. “Let’s come back here some other time and do some exploring, ” I suggested to my son, who was, at the time, dutifully working on his scrapbook pages for Crookston, Beltrami, Itasca, and Bemidji that morning that we left for Grandma’s hometown of Thief River Falls.

“Yeh. Let’s come back and fish!”

Fish. Fish. Fish. That’s all this boy can think about now. A smile lifted the corners of my mouth. He was so happy.

On the drive up to TRF, a fairly short one, I plopped a taperecording of Grandma into the car stereo and listened to her voice telling about her grammar school years at the Busy Bee School in Smiley township, Hazel, Minnesota. Soon my son set aside his scrapbook and began to listen, too. He got particularly quiet when she talked about how the neighbor boy, Leonard, stole the honey from a bee hive and was stung all over by the angry bees. My child, for years, had an almost paralyzing fear of bees. (That phobia had pretty much gone away except — wouldn’tcha know it — he just got stung at school on Thurs.! Time will tell what fallout there’ll be from that one.)

Next Grandma launched into the story of the old haunted house in the woods by the school house. The kids explored the building one day during lunch hour and were frightened by a banging noise and what they thought to be a figure in the upstairs window.

It felt so normal to hear Grandma’s voice as we drove along closer and closer to her birthplace.

We met my mom’s cousin and her husband for lunch in TRF near our hotel and they accompanied us to the local museum/archives. Thank goodness, too, because cousin Melba was a wealth of information. We found some needed facts at the archives and then decided to head out to the house in town where Grandma lived for a year, working for her room and board so she could attend high school (there was no HS in Hazel, so she had to wait to attend 9th grade until she was strong enough and mature enough to go to hire as a maid/nanny). We walked the few blocks from that house to the school, and I could see how easy it would have been for Grandma to come home at lunchtime and make lunch for the kids and then return to school. I mean easy in the sense of do-able, though clearly this duty would be tiring and inconvenient. But when the alternative is to stop your education at grade eight…?

The next day Melba took us out to Grandma’s birthplace, the homestead her parents claimed and developed in the early 20th century. The current residents are so kind and were very happy to extend hospitality to us. We got a tour of the barn (original) and granary (original) and I walked around taking pictures. The original house had burned down a number of years ago but sat on the same site. I decided to walk the LONG drive from the house down to the mailbox because Grandma includes a story about doing this in the book. Her younger brother and her cousin (same age as her brother) joined her one day when she had to go get the mail. It was about a six or seven minute walk to the box. When it was time to return to the house, the four-year-olds refused to return with Grandma (six yrs.) But when she got back to the house sans kids, Aunt Hanna beat Grandma with a stick (she was carrying firewood into the house at the time). Grandma ran like crazy back to the kids and brought them home again. Wow!

After we left the homestead, I asked Melba to take me to the remains of the town of Hazel, thinking there would be a footprint of sorts, despite being told that there was nothing left there.

There was nothing left there.

Shoulder-high grass, a deeply rutted road looping through the area, an old mattress dumped off to the side. Nothing discernable. I was so intensely saddened by this erasure. All that those immigrants had tried to create here was utterly gone. Not even a foundation left. All had crumbled. I guess I thought that Minnesota would be more tame than out west and thus more would remain. But this wasn’t really true. A town can disappear in green Minnesota just as easily as in bleak Montana, perhaps even more completely. On the dry, rolling hills of Montana, remains were exposed to the elements, yes, but whatever was left could be viewed from far away.

But Hazel had utterly disappeared and a great sadness came over me. Grandma was gone. Her town was gone. The family farm was all carved up and gone to highest bidders. An Indian gambling casino bustled not a half mile from her parent’s homestead. And as we drove back to town through a driving thunderstorm, I discovered that one of Grandma’s tapes had been ruined. Nothing remained of the recording of her discussing her high school years and last Christmas at home before they lost the farm in 1929.

For the first time on the trip, I cried.

What the book is about…

My grandmother’s family story is the story of American history, at least the part of our country’s history that is generally printed in public school textbooks (and, yes, I realize that there is a lot left out in such cases!) Nevertheless, her family lived through many of the hallmark events of the last 150 years, and luckily, my grandmother had a terrific memory and was, as she described herself, “a pretty nosey kid,” observing what others did and said and tucking away those memories for later use.

Her story begins in Norway and Sweden, where the first characters in the book, her great-grandparents and grandparents, were born. I marvel that she could relate stories of life in the “old country” in the mid-nineteenth century! The Norwegian relatives (her mother’s side of the family) immigrated to the US in 1879, with the entire extended family leaving their small village north of the Arctic Circle. This group eventually settled in Beltrami, Minnesota, where they homesteaded and where my grandma’s mother, Emma, was born. My grandma’s Swedish relatives immigrated to America in 1880, but that was a smaller group: my grandma’s father, Oscar (6 years old), his sister Gerda, and their parents, John and Charlotta. They settled in Alexandria, Minnesota, about 150 miles from Beltrami.

It wasn’t until 1897 that the stories of these two families became intertwined. Oscar’s aunt, who lived in Beltrami, asked Oscar to come help her farm after the sudden death of her husband. While in the neighborhood, Oscar met Emma, but it was many years before they married. In the intervening time, he was called into military service to fight in the Spanish-American war. Before seeing action, he caught Typhoid in the training camp in Georgia and almost died. Once home and after a long recovery, he and Emma married in June of 1903 and within a couple of months headed west to Mullan, Idaho, to try mining. While pay for silver and lead miners was good, the work was very dangerous, and the town was a seedbed of lawlessness and immorality – no place to raise children (their first child was born while they were living there). After a devastating house fire in which they lost everything, they decided to return to Minnesota to farm.

In spring of 1907, Oscar filed a claim on some land in Pennington County in northern Minnesota. By the time the family moved into the house that Oscar built, they had three children. Eight more were to come. My grandma was the middle child, born in 1914, baptized on the 4th of July, wrapped in an American flag. Through hard work and persistence, Oscar and Emma created a beautiful little farm. Though money was always tight, they enjoyed the nicest farmhouse in the area, and Oscar achieved a good standing in the community, serving as County Commissioner (even though his formal education had ended at grade eight) and as the local School Board Chairman. Unfortunately, Oscar had taken out loans to improve his land, and with the agricultural slump of 1928 and the crash in ’29, he and his family lost everything.

Friends sent a good report of farming in northern Montana, and Oscar decided to move the family west in 1930 to give it a go there. But as with the calamity that cost them their farm, timing was bad, and they moved into the area just as the Dust Bowl began. After two years of struggle, they gave up and headed further west to Rio Linda, California, where Emma’s sister lived. With the promise that although there was little chance of making heaps of money in the “golden land,” at least there was food, Oscar and Emma made the journey west, following the newly opened route 2 skirting the southern edge of Glacier National Park. The Depression certainly did hit California, but there was, as they had been told, food there and better opportunities to make a living. In Montana, my grandmother had literally been starving to death because she kept giving her allotted morsels to her younger siblings. Her parents had sent her away to a family in North Dakota to work for her board, in fear that she would succumb to tuberculosis and die as her friend had in 1931. When Grandma heard the following year that her family was heading west, she rejoined them.

In California, she finished high school and worked at many jobs, including a pencil factory and a peach processing plant. She met and married my grandfather in 1934, and they had one child, my mother, in 1936. Her father died in 1947 of heart complications caused by his earlier bout of typhoid, and her mother died in 1966. The morning she died she was putting up peaches, working industriously. She had a peaceful, painless end. And so ends Grandma’s book, with Emma’s death.

Of course, there’s a lot more to the story! But I thought that if anyone wanted to know what grandma’s book is about, this would at least give you an overview. I do not plan to post any of the book. I do, however, plan to discuss the writing and research process. I’ve been working on this project for quite some time and have hit a few snags before as well as had some success. But I’m out of practice. I have not written a word since Grandma died over a year ago. However, this summer I retraced her family’s migration, visiting all of the family sites and going to historical societies and archives. What a whirlwind trip: 10,000 miles, twenty-two states, and over 2,000 photos and hours of recordings! I will post about this trip soon.