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A is for Ames Farm Honey
For years, you were just fine getting your honey out of a plastic bottle shaped like a bear. That was before you discovered the stuff produced by Ames Farm Limited, based in Watertown. This honey, as smooth and silky as flower petals, is gathered from beehives in 18 locations across Minnesota. It’s called “single source” honey because each jar is derived from just one hive, noted on the label, as in “Hive 104A at Pioneer Creek, 2005.” This means that each vintage, as with terroir-influenced wines, may taste a little different, depending on what kind of flowers the bees decided to dine on—sweet clover, say, or alfalfa. Knowing precisely where your food is coming from, well, that is the bee’s knees. » Available at Twin Cities co-ops, specialty grocery stores, Whole Foods, and Kowalski’s.
B is for Barbecue Sauce
Great barbecue sauce is not made by people who fuss over shirt stains. Sweet, sharp, or smoky, the finest sauce reveals as much about the personality behind it as the ingredients within. In Minnesota, the best-known locally produced sauce is made by “Famous Dave” Anderson, who dirtied his hands in barbecue barrels and pits around the country learning the art of messy meat. Ken Davis, a former jazz bassist, peddled his product out of a station wagon until it became a Midwestern hit. Pastor Luches Hamilton dishes up down-home wisdom along with grilled chicken and pork at his restaurant on St. Paul’s East Side, selling his garlic-tinged “Old Style” sauce on the side. But the most colorful story belongs to Daddy Sam’s. When Dwight Oglesby began bottling his “Bar–B–Que Sawce” in Red Wing, he named it after his grandfather, who, in 1883, met a woman on a trip and two years later decided to ask her to marry him, mortgaging his horse to pay for the train ride back to her town. Now that is saucy. » Famous Dave’s and Ken Davis sauces available at Rainbow and Cub grocery stores. Find Pastor Hamilton’s Bar–B–Que at his St. Paul restaurant, 651-722-0279. Daddy Sam’s available at Kowalski’s, Lunds, Byerly’s, and Twin Cities co–ops.
C is for Caviar
Reputation and mystique helped the Russians make their name in caviar. But Minnesota’s increasingly popular Lake Superior herring may be poised for a 1980 Olympic hockey–style upset. Dockside Fish Market in Grand Marais began processing lake herring caviar in 2003, selling some of it locally but freezing and shipping most of the tiny, bright orange eggs to Scandinavia. While the roe looks a lot like the sushi topping tobiko, it has a creamy texture instead of a crunchy bite. With the roe priced at about $3 an ounce, one employee of Coastal Seafoods in Minneapolis calls it his “favorite caviar that costs less than $200.” » Available at Dockside Fish Market in Grand Marais, www.docksidefishmarket.com; or, in the metro area, at Coastal Seafoods, www.coastalseafoods.com.
D is for Dark Chocolate
Hey, you. Yes, you, the one with your grubby paws in the jar of Hershey’s Kisses on the front desk at work. Again. It’s time for an upgrade. Time to start enjoying real chocolate, the sweet dark delicacies from such artisans as B. T. McElrath (try his signature dark chocolate truffles), Legacy Chocolates (buy your chocolate in quantifiable cocoa intensities, ranging from 41 to 85 percent), and Chocolat Céleste (beautifully decorated and great as gifts). Best of all? Dark chocolate has been found to benefit your heart. Here’s to too much of a good thing. » B.T. McElrath sold at Lunds, Byerly’s, Kowalski’s, the Bibelot Shops, www.bibelotshops.com, and many metro-area co-ops. Find Legacy Chocolates retail locations at www.legacychocolates.com, and Chocolat Céleste retail locations at www.chocolatceleste.com.
E is for Erstwhile Elixirs
While major soda manufacturers introduce new products faster than we can get our cavities filled (Diet Caffeine-Free Vanilla Coke Zero, anyone?), two venerable Minnesota soft–drink makers are sticking with the tried–and–true. The 140–year–old August Schell Brewing Company in New Ulm began bottling retro Buddy’s Orange and Grape sodas alongside its beloved German beers in 1996. Spring Grove Bottling Works has been making nostalgic fizz—in such flavors as strawberry, cream soda, and lemon sour—since 1895. Spring Grove recently replaced its signature, squat 10–ounce bottles with slim, long–necked 12–ouncers, but, like the folks at Buddy’s, they still use real cane sugar. » Buddy’s sodas are available at grocery stores statewide, including Kowalski’s, Lunds, and Hy–Vee. Spring Grove sodas are available in grocery and convenience stores in southern Minnesota and in the metro area at Lunds and Byerly’s.
F is for Free–Range Meats
Free–range meats (often called “pastured” or “all–natural” on labels) don’t just guarantee a better living environment for Bessie and Wilbur. They offer a lighter, cleaner flavor than the meat from animals housed at large factory farms. The lamb has a nuttier taste, the pork is just a bit sweeter and you don’t have to worry about added hormones and other chemicals. » Try some cuts from Clancey’s Meats & Fish in Minneapolis, 612-926-0222, or go straight to the source, purchasing from such farms as Hill and Vale (beef) in Wykoff, 507–352–4441; Hidden Stream (pork) in Elgin, 507–876–2304; and Wild Acres Game Farm (birds) in Pequot Lakes, 218–568–5748.
G is for Goat Cheese
In biblical times, a goat was symbolically loaded with the sins of the Hebrew people on Yom Kippur and released into the wilderness—the “escape goat” or scapegoat. To early Christians, as well, goats were evil. We know better now, and the proof of goats’ goodness is in the cheese made from their milk, rich in riboflavin and potassium. Stickney Hill Dairy Farms, in Kimball, makes peppercorn, pepperjack, feta, and other goat cheese varieties at a farmstead dating to the 1870s. Poplar Hill Dairy Goat Farm, in Scandia, has been producing goat cheese and goat milk since 1972, including a mildly tart Montrachet cheese (with or without sweet basil) and a semi–hard Colby. And should you want to try your own hand at milk-making, they also sell the goats. » Stickney Hill goat cheeses are available at Lunds, Byerly’s, and Twin Cities co–ops. Poplar Hill varieties are sold at the Linden Hills Co–op in Minneapolis, 612–922–1159; and other natural foods markets.
H is for Hobo Soup
In the early 20th century, Lem Kaercher rode the rails, living the hobo life, before settling in Ortonville on the South Dakota border. He became a Minnesota legislator and publisher of the Ortonville Independent newspaper, but in 1953, nostalgic for his old ways, he decided to see what was cooking in the local hobo “jungle,” or camp. Soup, as it turns out, which the hoboes made from scrounged vegetables and bits of meat and heated in tin cans. Kaercher loved it so much that he and his son, Jim, began canning and selling their own version, Hobo Soup—“a jungle recipe, fit for a king,” as the label brags—thick with beans, carrots, potatoes, bacon, tomatoes, celery, and something called “smoke flavoring.” Jim still runs the company out of Ortonville, although production shifted to New Jersey about 10 years ago. It wouldn’t be Hobo Soup, after all, if it didn’t do a little traveling. » Available at Lunds and other major grocery stores.