North Dakota State University -- NDSU Agriculture Communication
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February 1, 2001

Plains Folk: Checking out the Regional Cuisine

Tom Isern, Professor of History
North Dakota State University

After attending a field day of the Central Grasslands Research and Extension Center held in Washburn, N.D., I took the opportunity to check out some culinary tips sent in by readers. Specifically, these were leads to establishments offering kuchen and fleischkuechle, two foods of the Germans from Russia that are making the crossover into regional popular cuisine.

First, to the cooperative grocery store in Tuttle, where Rita Anderson presides over the bakery. A tipster promised me "the finest kuchen you ever put a fork into" here. Now, I'm not going to make this a contest, but I'll tell you, if you like a fruity kuchen–lots of fruit filling on a relatively thin custard base–then this is the place for you.

Rita recalls her mother making kuchen, and she herself started baking for the store two years ago when it moved into its present metal building. She makes kuchen 60 or so at a time, along with caramel rolls and a whole line of baked goods. Cottage cheese is her most popular Kuchen flavor, but she also offers blueberry, peach, prune, raisin, rhubarb, apricot, strawberry and apple.

Up the road at McClusky, in the Grenz Super Valu store, you can get most of the same flavors, along with pumpkin and, believe it or not, Mandarin orange. Verna Schaeffer is the baker here, turning out about 25 kuchen (described by my original informant as "the most exquisite, delicate Kuchen you'll ever eat") a day along with other baked goods. These, too, are remarkable kuchen, notable for their full-inch depth and thick yeast crust.

The cottage cheese kuchen I took home earned enthusiastic praise from all generations at my house, with tasters aged three years and up.

The search for Kuchen goes on, but in the meantime, I made a stop at an unlikely outlet for excellent fleischkuechle–the Dairy Queen in Beulah. They are served humbly here, peeking golden out of a white hamburger jacket. The high school girls frying them are not the makers, however. That is the task of Betty Hausauer, a native of Beulah. After I got home I reached her by telephone at the DQ, where she was making a batch of about 175 Fleischkuechle, using her own dough mixer and roller.

Although Mrs. Hausauer is a native of Beulah, raised on a farm north of town, these meat turnovers were not a tradition of her own family, she explains. She learned to make them from her sister in-law. In fact, the family story is that Betty's sister's husband refused to propose marriage until she had mastered the art of fleischkueckle making.

"I started making them on my own when I was 18, when I got married," Betty recollects. "It was the only way my son would eat hamburger." She has made them at the DQ for 16 years now, and still says, "I just make them the way my family likes."

Mrs. Hausauer's fleischkuechle are wrapped in a lovely pastry, tender and yet substantial enough to contain the meat patty.

Knoepfle soup–I'll get around to that again in a future column. It may be time, too, to expand the reconnaissance so as to identify the best purveyors of other regional classics. The old-time caramel roll, for instance, staple of a thousand small-town coffee klatches every weekday morning.

When I get tips of hearty and, of course, culturally significant food available in the region, I check them out as I can in the course of travels for research and lecturing. Which reminds me to mention that my expeditions commonly are cataloged on the World Wide Web in my "Travel on the Gravel" pages (http://www.plainsfolk.com/gravel.htm). There, now, you'll find Rita and Verna and their kuchen.

(Tom Isern can be reached via mail to Minard Hall 412C, NDSU, Fargo ND 58105-5075, or via e-mail to isern@plainsfolk.com )

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Source: Tom Isern, (701) 799-2941, isern@plainsfolk.com 
Editor: Gary Moran, (701) 231-7865, gmoran@ndsuext.nodak.edu 

 

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