The fancy Italian dinner

I don’t think I have any amount of Norwegian ancestry. At least the ancestors we know come from German and English roots for the most part. I have some relatives who have really gotten into studying genealogy and there is quite a bit of information available, but I’ve never made much of study of my ancestors beyond great-great grandparents or so.

I did, however, grow up in a community that had a lot of Norwegian families. Norsemen from Greenland were probably the first Europeans to reach North America. Leif Erickson reached America via Norse settlements in Greenland around the year 1000. The wave of immigration to the areas where I have lived, however, came as a result of a variety of agricultural and natural disasters that created famine in the Norse countries in the last half of the 19th century. The attempt to form a union between Norway and Sweden never worked out the way people wanted and in 1895 ongoing tensions between Sweden and Norway resulted in a retreat of Norwegians from Sweden in 1895 and sparked a new wave of immigration to America.

Our children were both pretty blond, blue eyed and fair skinned and fit right into the community with a lot of Norwegians where we lived in North Dakota. North Dakota welcomed nearly 70,000 Norwegian settlers between the 1880 census and the 1900 census. This wave of immigration corresponded to the settlement of the county where we lived in North Dakota. I used to joke that we raised our children on the Norwegian Reservation in North Dakota. It was a culture with which I was familiar because the town where I grew up in Montana also had plenty of Norwegians. So when I moved to South Dakota, I had heard a lot of the Ole and Lena jokes that had been so carefully collected by the pastor of the Lutheran Church on the west side of town. I don’t know if I ever succeeded in telling him one that he hadn’t previously heard, but we exchanged quite a few. Rapid City has a reproduction of the famous Burgundy Stavkirke known as Chapel in the Hills. It reminds me of the chapel in Scandinavian Heritage Park in Minot, North Dakota.

So it is with a bit of caution that I make a report on the activities in my home town. Friday night was the big Italian Dinner in the town where I grew up. It is an annual fund-raising event for the Episcopalian Church. I’ve never attended the dinner, but it is a kind of big deal to the people who work hard to serve a nice dinner to their friends and neighbors. But when I think of my home town, I don’t think of Italian dinners. So here is a scenario from my imagination that has no bearing on the actual event.

The committee got together to plan the meal there was Lars Larson and Olie Olson and Pete Peterson and Swen Swenson. And, of course their wives, Olga, Oola, Uma and Helga. Olie says they should start with a salad, so there is much discussion about what an Italian salad would be like. Pete thought that he saw some Genoa Salami in the Costco the last time he went to the city, so he said he would bring some. They could cut it into little chunks and add it to a regular salad with lettuce, tomatoes and onions. Pete said that what they needed was some black olives, so Uma agreed to get a can when she went to the grocery store. “Might better get two or three cans,” said Lars. “You never know how many people will show up.

They decided that spaghetti was served too often at Italian dinners in the past, so they planned to get some rotelli pasta. Oola was pretty sure she saw some that was multi colored at Walmart and it is only 60 miles to get there. They could pick some up. Of course tomato sauce is easy to come by with all of the tomatoes from the gardens that have been canned at the end of the summer. Each family has rows of jars in their basement filled with canned tomatoes. “You got to have cheese for it to be Italian,” says Swen. Maybe we could melt some Velveta and pour it on top. “No,” responded Helga. You need Parmesan cheese.” “I thought Parmesan was French,” responded Swen. “That shows what you know,” Helga said. “Parma is a city in Italy and it is where Parmesan cheese comes from.” “How we gonna get that stuff? I bet it is expensive,” Swen said. “You can buy it in big green cans from Kraft,” she responded. Swen conceded that the Parmesan cheese would be just fine.

“So what do Italians have for dessert?” Pete wanted to know. “You know,” Olga said, “We once ate in a fancy Italian restaurant and had a fancy dessert called Tiramisu. I wish I had a recipe for that.” Uma remembered eating the same stuff once, but she didn’t have a recipe either. “How hard can it be to make something like that?” she said. “I bet I can come up with a recipe.”

So they served a fancy Italian Dinner in the basement of the Episcopalian Church. Everyone had a good time and even though there was the same salami in the salad and int he pasta dish, which also sported olives, a good time was enjoyed by all of the participants. And a lot of people asked for the recipe for Uma’s tiramisu, so I thought I’d pass it on to you:

First you take a sheet of lefse. Spread some butter on it and then sprinkle hot chocolate mix on the butter. Then take a piece of Grandma Lena’s Rum Cake and put in on the lefse. Put a dab of cool whip on the rum cake. Sprinkle generously with Folger’s coffee crystals. Add another piece of lefse on top and smash the whole thing down. Cut into squares. Add a dab of cool whip and a bit more hot chocolate mix on the top.

Trust me, Grandma Lena’s Rum Cake is so good and so laced with Rum that no one complains after eating it.

I make no claim to the accuracy of the events reported in this journal entry.

Copyright (c) 2019 by Ted E. Huffman. I wrote this. If you would like to share it, please direct your friends to my web site. If you'd like permission to copy, please send me an email. Thanks!