2013-03-28 / Top News

Book on German/Russian food planned

By Francis Materi Wishek Star


The Tri-County Tourism Alliance has been working for months on a special book project. The book, which focuses on the food culture of the Germans from Russia, is expected to be published this summer. The Tri-County Tourism Alliance has been working for months on a special book project. The book, which focuses on the food culture of the Germans from Russia, is expected to be published this summer. (Editor’s note: This story is reprinted with the permission of the Wishek Star.)

If you’re a history buff with an interest in the fascinating food culture developed by the Germans from Russia in McIntosh, Logan and Emmons counties, a delicious treat is coming soon.

The Tri-County Tourism Alliance is nearing completion of a months-long project that will culminate this summer with the publication of a unique book. The book is expected to debut in late June, to coincide with the Ashley Quasquicentennial — the community’s 125th birthday celebration.

Although it will serve up recipes for many ethnic specialties like borscht, German potato salad and fruit soup included, this won’t be a typical cookbook. Rather, it’s an attempt to capture the cultural lifestyle in an area of North Dakota settled largely by Germans from Russia.

“The focus is on the food and why it was so important to our ancestors, who were the early pioneers in the tri-county area,” says Sue Balcom, of Medina, an alliance member who has been doing preproduction work on the book.

Balcom has been kept busy culling submitted recipes, extensive interviews, priceless family photographs and other content into digestible form.

“There’s probably enough material for several books,” Balcom says. “If there seems to be an audience — and we have every indication to believe that there is — this may just be the first in a series.”

German/Russian mothers, grandmothers and greatgrandmothers passed on their knowledge of baking bread, kuchen and pies; the art of strudels or dumplings; gardening techniques and other traditions to the next generation.

The men and the children were involved, too. A promotional brochure for the book points out how chicken-butchering day was an opportunity to work together as a team. Everyone in the family had a job to do. The reward was nutritious food, raised and prepared at home.

Tri-County Tourism Alliance members believe some of that generational connection has been lost over the years. Food has become a matter of convenience over taste. The art of cooking, as well as gardening and canning, is being lost.

But modern families who want to expose their children to “real food” are seeking out information that once was common sense. There is great and growing interest in the Germans from Russia traditions.

“We believe the time is ripe to preserve the food culture of our ancestors and of the family farm,” Balcom says.

Response to the planned book has been overwhelming. Dozens of inquiries and pre-orders have been received. Balcom says the purchase price has been tentatively set at about $50 to make the large book affordable to both visitors and area residents.

The project has the support of The North Dakota State Historical Society, the state Departments of Commerce and Tourism, the Germans from Russia Heritage Collection at the North Dakota State University Libraries, the NDSU Extension Service and many other organizations and agencies.

Area businesses, including Wishek Manufacturing and Security State Bank, also have made generous donations that will help the Tri-County Tourism Alliance defray printing costs.

“Documenting our shared history is very important to us,” says Lorren Henke, president of Security State Bank. “It’s just a given that we would want to help back this project.”

When the book is printed, it will be for sale at many locations throughout the region. Kari Bies, of Wishek, plans to stock it at her Rumpelquiltskin shop.

“It may seem a bit unusual to have a cookbook for sale at a quilt shop, but I think there’s a natural tie-in: just as recipes are handed down amongst families, so are hobbies like quilting and sewing,” says Bies.

“There’s an excellent opportunity for the tri-county area to benefit from the increasing national and worldwide interest in cultural tourism,” Bies adds. “We’ve seen great response to traditions like Sauerkraut Day inWishek and newer events like the annual kuchen contest at the fair. The book fits in well with all of that.”

Carmen Rath-Wald, of Napoleon, is president of the Tri-County TourismAlliance. She says the group aims to preserve ethnic culture, with the primary goal of making the three counties the “go-to” destination for people interested in German/Russian heritage.

The alliance was formed in 2010 after the Dakota Memories Heritage Tour was highly successful. Meetings are held monthly at restaurants, cafes and halls throughout the area.

“A heritage traveler comes in search of history and culture in the local landscape and is most happy to discover (them) not only in the obvious, promoted attractions, but also embedded in the culture of the people,” says Tom Isern, an NDSU distinguished professor and alliance member. “Real things, real places, real people.”

Much more information on the cookbook project, including a blog with production updates and sample recipes, is available at dasgutessen.com on the Internet.

Rath-Wald notes that the alliance also has established a Facebook page, which can be found by searching for “German-Russian Country: Prairie Legacy.”

The alliance welcomes new members. A representative is available to make a presentation about the cookbook or other ongoing projects to service clubs, city councils and county commissions.

For more information, contact Balcom at 701-527-5169, Rath-Wald at 701-754-2504, or send an email to dasguteessen@gmail.com.

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