Tuesday, October 7, 2008

Deconstructing the Mormon Foodie – Part 1: A Genealogy of Food

What makes a foodie? Why do some people find themselves drawn to food in ways that others simply aren't? A lot of people eat. A lot of people eat a lot. Some are fat, some are thin. The act and frequency of eating do not a foodie make. As the people from Gourmet magazine say, the world of food is where we live.

I think of myself as a foodie. I've talked a bit about that, before. I've been thinking a lot about this, lately. It's not just a matter of eating. It's not just a matter of cooking. It's not just a matter of talking or writing. It's all of the above. Interestingly enough, as I contemplated my love and interest in all things food, I found a path leading through my life, my parents, my grandparents, and back to some of the earliest members of the LDS Church. I discovered a genealogy of food.

Now, I'm not sure about some of this history. Mostly I'm piecing it together from my own memory of family and historical records, along with some knowledge of the history of the LDS Church. In some cases I'm making best guesses based on birth and death dates, and locations.

My father's maternal grandparents, and great-grandparents, immigrated from Denmark sometime after 1854. His paternal great-grandparents had come over from England a few years earlier. I suspect that they were among some of the first English and Danish converts to the LDS Church.

My mother's side of the family had similar roots in England and Ireland. Her maternal great grandparents were from Denmark and came across at about the same time as my fathers' Danish ancestors. I'm suspicious that they may have known each other and may have even come across on the same ship. I could be wrong, but the family records are very suspicious. It looks like they were from the same town in Denmark, in any case.

Weird, huh?

Most of the food side of my genealogy can be traced best through my mother's side of the family. My own mother learned a lot about cooking from her mother, Una Nielson, and from her mother's mother, Nora Bjerregard.

If you can pronounce her last name correctly I'll give you a cookie. Pick up only. I don't deliver.

It looks like Nora's parents, Andrew Bjerregard and Caroline Whitlock, may have been among some of the first LDS settlers in central Utah, being sent there by President Brigham Young as part of the early Utah colonization efforts.

At one point, Nora Bjerregard (now Nora Nielson), was the Camp Leader for the local Redmond, Utah Daughters of the Utah Pioneers. They would promote various service projects through “galloping teas,” serving refreshments to those who helped with the work. At one of the more memorable ones, she served aebleskivers, a traditional Danish pancake like pastry, as “round as an apple.” It was recorded that they were quite the hit with the rest of the town. Undoubtedly she learned to make them from her mother. Great-great-grandmother Caroline must have brought the recipe to Utah when she immigrated from Denmark.

My own mother never made aebleskivers, that I can remember. My first memory of the name is linked to my great-grandmother Nora's aebleskiver pan. My mother has it hanging as part of a wall decoration in her kitchen. Needless to say, I asked her about it one day. She told me that great-grandmother Nora was not only a hit of the cooking scene in Redmond, but worked for a time as a cook in the Lion House, a restaurant opened up on the ground floor of the historic Brigham Young home in Salt Lake City.

My only connection to the professional food world is three generations away. Well, I guess it's not my only connection. My mother worked in the elementary school cafeteria when I was a kid. Yes, gentle readers. My mom was a “lunch lady.”

My mother is a great home cook, too. To a lesser degree, so was my late father. So far, I only have two recipes from my fathers' side of the family: a great pie crust recipe (which I have yet to share with you) and the stewed tomatoes my father made for me at a time when my mother was in the hospital. I suspect he was as nervous trying to take care of me that week as I was.

My mother's recipes are another matter, but that brings us to me, the current generation. It's getting late so, we'll talk about that, next time.


tkangaroo said...

As a foodie and a family history buff (well, technically it is my calling, so I have to be), I loved this! Thanks!

tkangaroo said...

P.S. Do you know hot to make aebleskivers without the special pan?

John Newman said...

Hey tkangaroo!

I haven't got a clue how you'd make aebleskivers without an aebleskiver pan. Fortunately, they're readily available at most specialty shops (or online). A good cast iron one should run between $10 and $30. (I paid $25.00 for mine.) I like those that have the solid ring around the outside.

Brock said...

Do you have any recipes that you can tie back to your emigrant pioneer ancestors? I'm working up a book on the subject...

John Newman said...

Hey Brock, did you mean earlier than my Great Grandmother? I don't know. Most of what I've got that was written down is from her, or my Grandmother. For my ancestors, learning to cook was transmitted orally. Some of the recipes I have are simply lists of ingredients. It was assumed you'd know how to put them together.