I’ve been reading about food trends. Now, if you’re like me, you don’t think of Wisconsin as being a particularly trendy place. What worked for us Wisconsinites yesterday, we go ahead and do again today. You can see this best in the ways we raise and prepare food. Our artisanal cheeses, meats, and beers have always been popular. But if we haven’t been boasting about them it’s because we here in this frigid northern clime don’t like jumping up and down calling attention to ourselves, unless of course we need to thaw our toes. Our state’s never had a reputation for fancy food, just food that tastes awesome.
So it made sense to read in Mary Bergin’s February article in Madison Magazine that Illinois chefs are supplying their restaurants with Wisconsin foods. The article focuses on the buy-local movement which I guess to Chicagoans means buying from Wisconsin. Because chefs are raving about the superiority of Wisconsin food, it’s now trendy to dine at upscale Chicago-area restaurants serving food from Wisconsin farms. But really, what’s the shocker? – that food picked yesterday tastes better than food picked two weeks ago in California? Perhaps the surprise is that people are willing to pay a little extra for better food. Mary’s article points out that urban Wisconsinites are increasingly fed up with eating old food trucked in from 1000 miles away. Membership is surging in Community Supported Agriculture groups through which Wisconsinites weekly buy large boxes of fresh produce directly from farmers.
But eating Wisconsin farm food is not a new trend. It’s more like something Wisconsinites always used to do and then stopped for a while. Most of the Wisconsin senior citizens I know grew up on farms. For them, eating farm food is old hat.
And it’s to these old farmers that younger Wisconsinites such as myself now turn when I want to participate in a new national food trend. You see, I also recently read a list predicting 2010’s trendiest foods. Wisconsin produces some of them, – such as the artisanal goat cheese and buffalo meat. But how can I eat the newly trendy tropical fruits such as coconut and pomegranates while also being trendy by buying local? What to do? Click on “Continue reading…” for my solution and a Wisconsin farm woman’s recipe for chocolate sauerkraut cake.
For years I’ve passed over Helen Myhre’s recipe for chocolate sauerkraut cake. Pressed for an opinion, I would have predicted it should taste pretty good since Helen is a U.S.A. national treasure when it comes to baking. She got her start on a Wisconsin farm. After raising a farm family, she took her cooking into town and opened up the Norske Nook restaurant in Osseo, WI. Her reputation for her scrumptious pies preceded her when she started entering national pie-baking championships and then won 13 times. So if Helen is offering a chocolate cake recipe it’s gotta’ be good. But sauerkraut?
Last night I re-read Helen’s introduction to the chocolate sauerkraut cake recipe and realized how I can be trendy in 2010. Helen wrote:
“When people first settled here, there was great excitement when new folks arrived, but language was kind of a problem. Most people didn’t speak English, and when they did learn, it was heavy with the sound of their homeland. People tended to put up in certain areas around here according to their heritage. There was a Norske Valley, German Valley, Swede Town, a Frenchman’s Coulee, all within a few hours’ traveling distance by horse and wagon. My mother still talks about these two German women in her Ladies’ Aid who brought delicious cakes to church doings, but it was a long time before the Norwegian ladies could get the recipes because they couldn’t understand each other. It was a big day I guess, a breakthrough for the community, when the ladies could start communicating and exchanging secrets.
“This was one of the recipes those women waited so long to get. It’s a nice moist cake and the sauerkraut tastes like coconut. I had a farm-implement man at the restaurant who loved this cake; he had a piece every day we made it, until he found out it was made with sauerkraut, not coconut. He hated sauerkraut, so that killed it for him.”
Substitute sauerkraut for the coconut! That was my answer. Wisconsin farms grow a lot of cabbage, and a lot of farmers still put it up as sauerkraut. I could have the taste of coconut and still be eating local. And if you’re from around here, you can too. Here’s Helen’s recipe taken from her cookbook: Farm Recipes and Food Secrets from the Norske Nook: The Midwest’s #1 Roadside Cafe.
- 2/3 cup butter
- 1 1/2 cups sugar
- 3 eggs
- 2 1/4 cups all-purpose flour
- 1 teaspoon baking powder
- 1/4 teaspoon salt
- 1/2 cup cocoa
- 1 teaspoon baking soda
- 1 cup cold water
- 1/2 cup Homemade Sauerkraut (page 93), drained and lightly chopped. Or you can use store-bought kraut for this if you’re pressed for time.
- 1 1/4 teaspoons vanilla extract
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. In a large bowl, blend the butter and sugar until creamy.
Add the eggs and stir in the flour, baking powder, salt, cocoa, baking soda, and water.
Stir in the sauerkraut and the vanilla. Mix well and pour into a buttered 9 x 13-inch pan. (I used two 9-inch rounds.) Bake 40 to 45 minutes, until your finger doesn’t leave a dent. (Careful not to over-bake.) Cool then frost.
Helen recommends her Sweet Milk Frosting, but I chose to eat the cake without it. A friend and I decorated it for Valentine’s Day. She’s a chocoholic and loved the cake. I’m writing this post now so that she can have the recipe.
But did it taste like chocolate coconut cake? Well, sort of. The sauerkraut definitely gave it the texture of a coconut cake. But it didn’t taste like a sauerkraut cake, that’s for sure. I think the reason those old German ladies put sauerkraut in was because the sauerkraut lent a slightly sour taste to the cake, reminiscent of sour cream. It was really good, and a whole lot healthier than a real sour cream cake. The sauerkraut also made the cake lighter and moister than most cakes. So I’ll definitely make this chocolate cake again. My friend said it was a cake that tasted like brownies. But are brownies still trendy?