Appetites: Preserving Iron Range recipes

Making pasties
Making pasties.
Courtesy of Andy DuCett
'Family Recipes from the Iron Range'
Culinary educator and second-generation Iron Ranger B.J. Carpenter is the author of "Come, You Taste: Family Recipes from the Iron Range." The book was published by the Minnesota Historical Society Press.
Courtesy Minnesota Department of Natural ResourcesCourtesy of the Minnesota Historical Society Press

They came to Minnesota's Iron Range from Finland, Slovenia, Italy, Sweden and many other places in the late 19th and early 20th centuries — and brought with them the foods they grew up preparing and eating. Finnish môjakka. Italian castagnole. Cornish pasties.

Then culinary educator and second-generation Iron Ranger B.J. Carpenter noticed that as time passed, the residents of the Iron Range were becoming more removed from their immigrant roots. "We're in the third and fourth generations now and I talk to my niece and nephews, other children in their age group, and they don't know what some of these foods are," she said.

Carpenter wrote "Come, You Taste: Family Recipes from the Iron Range" to capture those traditions. "I'd wanted to work on this for about 30 years," Carpenter said. "And finally, with the loss of the first generation, I thought it was important to get on the subject quickly."

Recipes from "Come, You Taste"

Reprinted with permission from "Come, You Taste: Family Recipes from the Iron Range" by B.J. Carpenter, published by the Minnesota Historical Society Press.


Makes three loaves.

"When I asked the children how many eat potica, every hand went up," said Mr. Scott, Ironworld Discovery Center director, recalling a visit to a sociology class at Hibbing High School. "When I asked how many of their mothers made potica, a handful of hands went up. When I asked how many [of their] grandmothers make it, all the hands went up." Thus, one of Ironworld's goals, he said, is to preserve the culinary traditions of the grandmothers' generation.

Potica (pronounced po-tee-zah) might just be the best example of a cross-cultural culinary exchange. Rare is the Iron Range wedding, funeral, or holiday buffet that doesn't include this sweet Slovenian bread. Potica experts-and there are many-recommend pulling the dough out on a table that you can access from all sides, especially if you have people to help with the stretching. Having two or even four sets of hands makes this step go faster while lessening the chance of tearing, and usually results in an even, thin sheet of dough. The professional potica makers say it must be "thin enough to read the newspaper through."

1/4 cup warm water
(105-110 degrees)
1 packet (2 teaspoons) quickrise yeast
1/4 cup white sugar, divided
3/4 cup whole milk, heated almost to boiling, then cooled slightly
1/2 teaspoon vanilla
dash salt
1 medium egg, lightly beaten
3 - 3-1/2 cups bread flour or unbleached all-purpose flour
4 tablespoons (½ stick) salted butter, melted

1/3 cup heavy cream
1-1/4 pounds walnuts, finely ground
4 tablespoons (1/2 stick) salted butter, melted
3/4 cup white sugar
1 cup brown sugar
1/4 cup light honey
2 large eggs plus 1 large egg yolk

1. Place warm water in a large bowl and sprinkle in the yeast along with 1 teaspoon of the sugar; stir to dissolve. In a separate bowl, combine the milk, vanilla, salt, egg, and remaining sugar; whisk together and add to the yeast, stirring to combine. Stir in the flour 1 cup at a time until dough gets too stiff; then add 4 tablespoons melted butter and work in by hand. Add remaining flour, and knead until the mixture forms a smooth ball, 8 to 10 minutes. Place in a large greased bowl, cover, and let rise in a warm place for about 1½ hours. Do not punch down.

2. Reserve 1 tablespoon cream. Combine the ground walnuts, 4 tablespoons melted butter, both sugars, honey, and 2 whole eggs, mixing well. Gradually beat in remaining cream until the mixture is the consistency of spun honey.

3. On a table or other flat surface that is at least 4 x 6 feet, spread a clean sheet so that the edges hang slightly over the sides; lightly flour the surface. Roll out the dough to form a 9 x 13-inch rectangle. Place your hands under the doughpalms up. Lift the dough up several inches and begin pulling it toward you with your fingertips. Carefully stretch it out, trying not to tear the dough, lifting and pulling until it is evenly thin and transparent, about 3 x 5 feet.

4. Preheat oven to 325 degrees and position rack in the middle. Spread the filling evenly over the surface of the dough, leaving a ¾-inch margin around all the sides. Starting at one of the narrower sides, fold the unfilled edge of dough over an inch of the filling. Reach across the table to lift the edge of the sheet up and over, and down close to the filling. Pull slowly toward you, rolling the dough over the filling as you go, keeping the sheet low to ensure a tight jelly roll-style dough wrapped around the filling.

5. Cut roll into thirds. Grease a 9 x 13-inch baking dish and line with aluminum foil, shiny side up; lightly butter the entire foil surface, including the sides. Place the three poticas on the foil, seam side-down and evenly spaced, with additional strips of buttered foil between them. Mix the egg yolk with the remaining tablespoon of cream, and brush over the tops and sides. Bake for 45 minutes to 1 hour or until golden brown.

Cook's Notes: A word of caution: don't bake this bread on a convection setting if your oven has one; it will dry the outer crust too much. Serve with thinly sliced ham or prosciutto and some salted butter, or thin slices of a salty hard white cheese. And coffee-of course.


Serves 10.

This inexpensive, economical cut of pork had humble beginnings before being elevated to the status of one of the three essential Iron Range "Ps": Porketta, Pasties, and Potica. No stranger to area Italians who made their versions at home, porketta turned into a lunch and picnic staple for most all other ethnic groups in and beyond the mining region thanks largely to Leo Fraboni and the family sausage company founded by his father.

Properly seasoning a porketta is important; getting the herbs and spices deep into all nooks and crannies is key, so boning the roast is essential-and never, ever trim any of the fat. If you don't know how to, or don't want to, bone a roast, ask the butcher to do it. Once seasoned, rolled, and tied, the meat is wrapped and refrigerated for at least twenty-four hours to become infused with all the flavors of the rub. While you're at it, why not make several and freeze a couple uncooked; they're great to have on hand, and the flavor will only improve.

1 (5-pound) pork butt or shoulder roast, boned
2 tablespoons kosher or coarse sea salt, or to taste
2 tablespoons freshly ground pepper, or to taste
1 tablespoon garlic powder, or to taste
3 tablespoons fennel seeds, toasted and finely ground in a mortar and pestle or spice mill
1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
7-8 cloves garlic, minced
2 cups fresh fennel fronds, minced, or 2 tablespoons dried and crumbled
handful flat Italian parsley leaves, minced
Italian hard rolls
mustard, for serving

1. Lay pork roast on a rimmed baking sheet; open flat and dry all surfaces with several sheets of paper towel. In a small bowl, mix together salt, pepper, garlic powder, and ground fennel; remove 2 tablespoons and set aside. Mix the remaining 6 tablespoons with the olive oil and rub onto the inside surface of the roast, making sure to get some into all the cuts. Combine minced garlic with fennel fronds and parsley and spread over the surface. Tightly roll the roast and tie securely with kitchen string; rub the outside of the roast with reserved dry spice mixture. Wrap in parchment or waxed paper, place in a large (gallon-sized) zip-top bag, and refrigerate overnight.

2. Remove roast from refrigerator, unwrap, and place in a roasting pan or slow cooker, seam side down, fat side up; let come to room temperature. If roasting in an oven, preheat to 325 degrees; if roasting in a slow cooker, let meat rest for 30 to 45 minutes, then place on high. Slow roast for 4 hours in the oven or up to 6 hours in a slow cooker, until the meat shreds easily when pulled with a fork.

3. Serve warm or at room temperature on crusty, Italian hard rolls, with mustard and maybe a Peroni.

Cook's Notes: Placing the open roast on a rimmed baking sheet helps contain the inevitable mess when seasoning, rolling, and tying. Drying with paper towel before rubbing with the seasoning helps the meat draw in the spice mixture. Because porketta needs to roast at a low temperature for a long time, using a slow cooker is a great option; it helps tenderize the meat and hold the moisture in.


Serves 6 hungry people.

The Cornish were among the earliest arrivals at the Iron Range mines, coming by way of Michigan. Their small physical stature coupled with their experience working in the old, narrow, underground copper and tin mines of Cornwall made them perfect candidates for the Michigan copper mines in the late nineteenth century, but it wasn't long before Michigan's mines were far overstaffed and the workers far underpaid. News of open-ended opportunities in northern Minnesota in the early 1900s easily lured them to the Iron Range, where their size and skill set were once again readily welcomed. Their work ethic was admirable, but by far their most important contribution to the growing communities wasn't an ability to work for long hours while confined in small underground spaces; it was the traditional Cornish miner's lunch they carried down the shafts every day, tightly wrapped in their pockets: the pasty.

This Cornish tradition was quickly adopted by other immigrant arrivals, and church ladies across the Range followed suit, making and delivering hot pasties to sell to miners at lunchtimes. Eventually everyone wanted in, so schedules were worked out, and these evolved into unofficial congregational competitions as different variations began to be developed. The most notable is probably the Finnish version of rutabagas in place of carrots or sometimes potatoes. Some find this root vegetable's strong flavor to be overwhelming; grating the rutabaga adds a hint rather than a wallop of the earthy taste. Some sift the flour and others add baking powder to give lift to the flaky pastry. A few add gravy while others merely enclose a pat of butter. Some say to mix the filling and some insist layering is best, with potatoes on the bottom to absorb the juices from the meat in the middle and butter on the top of the vegetables. This version uses the latter technique.

4-1/2 cups sifted all-purpose flour, divided
3/4 teaspoon baking powder
1 cup chilled vegetable shortening or lard or a combination
1/2 cup ice water
freshly ground pepper
2 cups sirloin or top round cut into 3/4-inch pieces
2 cups yellow onions cut into 3/4-inch pieces
2 cups red potatoes, peeled and cut into 3/4-inch pieces
1-1/2 cups carrots, peeled and cut into 3/4-inch pieces
1-1/2 cups grated rutabaga, optional (see head note)
2 tablespoons salted butter
1 large egg yolk mixed with 1/4 cup water

1. Mix 4 cups flour, 1 tablespoon salt, and baking powder in a large bowl. Add the shortening, cutting it in with a pastry blender or two forks. Sprinkle ice water over the mixture a little at a time, toss with a fork, then work in by hand; add more if needed so the dough is easy to handle. Divide the dough into 6 pieces, wrap in waxed paper or plastic wrap, and refrigerate for 30 minutes. Season remaining 1/2 cup flour with salt and pepper to taste and add chopped beef and onions; toss to coat.

2. Preheat oven to 425 degrees. Roll pieces of dough into 8-inch circles on a lightly floured surface. On one half of each circle, half an inch from the edge, layer about 2 heaping tablespoons of potatoes, 2 heaping tablespoons of beef and onions mixture, and about 1/4 cup each of carrots and rutabaga (if using); add salt and pepper after each addition if desired. Dot the top of each with 1-1/2 teaspoons butter. Moisten the edges of the dough with water and fold over, forming a half moon. Press the edges together to seal, and crimp with your fingertips or press down with the tines of a fork.

3. Use a spatula to slide pasties onto a lightly greased or parchment-covered baking sheet; leave a good inch between each pasty. Brush the tops with the egg yolk-water mixture and make several small slashes in the top of each with a sharp knife.

4. Bake for 30 minutes; reduce heat to 350 degrees and bake for another 30 minutes, until the pasties are nicely browned.

Cook's Notes: These freeze extremely well before baking; you may want to re-slash the top of the crust. Bake directly from the freezer starting at 300 degrees for 30 minutes; increase temperature to 375 degrees and bake for an additional 35 to 45 minutes, until golden brown and the internal temperature is 165 degrees. Serve hot or at room temperature in the traditional Iron Range style: with ketchup.