Ethnic foods and their place in the Upper Midwest have always been a fascination for me - in fact, you could probably create a tangled web to show how my interest in ethnic foods led to me creating the Historical Food Fortnightly. Minnesota and Wisconsin are a stereotypical melting pots of European immigrants from all over, pockets of Polish, German, Bohemian, Slavic, and Scandinavian immigrants. These ethnic groups were very distinctive in the mid- to late-19th century, and their foodways contributed to the culinary make-up of the Upper Midwest. This is evident at every church basement potluck or family holiday dinner, with lefse, lutefisk, krumkake, abelskiver and hot potato salads.
In 2010 I attended a conference at Old World Wisconsin. If you haven't ever been, and you live within five hours, I am not being facetious when I say that you must go. It's one of my favorite sites in the Midwest, with over 60 original buildings and acres and acres of gardens, all arranged according to the ethnic groups found in Wisconsin in the 19th century. There is a Norwegian area, a German area, a Polish area, and so on. The interpreters there harvest food straight from these gardens (which have been well-researched and documented) and prepare them according to the ethnic foodways of that area. For historical foodies, it's like Disneyland.
One of the sessions at the conference was, naturally, about foodways, presented by the director of foodways at Old World Wisconsin. I went home with a packet of well-researched and well-documented recipes from their files. I knew that when it came to ethnic foodways, I could trust this treasure trove, and there was one particular recipe I wanted to try out.
The Challenge: Ethnic Foods
The Recipe: Creamed bratwurst, from the recipe files at Old World Wisconsin
The Date/Year and Region: mid- to late-19th century. The recipe itself is Pomeranian (northern Germany/Poland, pre-unification), documented to Wisconsin.
How Did You Make It: It was a very simple recipe: brown sliced bratwurst in a pan, then add cream. Cook together until the bratwurst is cooked through. I used locally butchered, uncooked bratwurst (this is Minnesota, people - we take our brats serious). I took the liberty of adding some black pepper for seasoning. As recommended by the recipe, I served it with some mashed potatoes.
Time to Complete: Half an hour, max.
Total Cost: About $6.50, and would serve about three.
How Successful Was It?: Delicious! It was like bratwurst's answer to Swedish meatballs - the sausage was flavorful and added to the cream gravy. The cream was a little thin, and in the future I might add a roux to make it a little thicker, but it certainly wasn't bad. With the potatoes, it was delicious, even if it doesn't necessarily look appetizing.
How Accurate Was It?: As always, I used an electric stove, and I did not use heritage ingredients. I don't usually rely on others' research for my recipes, but I feel very confident using the recipes from Old World Wisconsin.