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.
I is for Ice Cream
Get a lick of this: according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, Minnesota ranked sixth among U.S. states in production of ice cream and related icy desserts in 2004—a year in which American producers churned out 1.6 billion gallons of the frosty stuff. That translates to an average national consumption of 21.5 quarts per person. If you haven’t kept pace with your quota, seek out some of the state’s best artisan ice cream producers, who trade in specialized flavors (green tea to lemon poppy seed) made in small batches with top–notch ingredients. » Find Minnesota–made ice cream at metro–area locations of Crema Café, 612-824-3868; Edina Creamery, 612-920-2169; Grand Ole Creamery, 651–293–1655; Home Town Creamery, 651–779–4400; Izzy’s Ice Cream Café, 651–603–1458; Pumphouse Creamery, 612–825—2021; and Sebastian Joe’s, 612–870–0065 (Lowry Hill); 612–926–7916 (Linden Hills). Pints of Sonny’s ice cream, sold at Crema Café, are also available at Lunds, Byerly’s, Kowalski’s, and many local co–ops. Pints of Izzy’s ice cream are available at Kowalski’s.
J is for Jerky
Jerky—smoked meat dried into twisted tangles—is prehistoric food: camping vittles for a time when life was, well, one big camping trip. And the way Eichten’s Hidden Acres makes it, it’s still worth a dozen grunts of approval. Eichten’s farm in Center City is marked by a 12–foot mouse eating a cheese wheel, and its gourmet Goudas and other cheeses have been the focus of stories in the New York Times and Wall Street Journal. But Eichten’s also raises bison—the source of its all–natural jerky, which is available in such flavors as lemon pepper and teriyaki. Eat it in public and watch eyebrows rise as you tear into the primitive goodness. And, of course, pack it when you camp. » Available at numerous co–ops and farmers’ markets.
K is for Kefir
Not to be confused with kaffir limes, kefir (pronounced keh-FEER) is a sour brew of fermented milk that resembles liquid yogurt. Originally, kefir was made from camels’ milk by people living in the Caucasus Mountains (a range spread across Turkey, Iran, and the former Soviet Union); here in Minnesota, Helios Nutrition produces kefir at the Pride of Main Street Dairy in Sauk Centre, using organic milk from local cows. Since kefir undergoes a longer fermentation process than yogurt, it’s an even more desirable host for beneficial bacteria. Its microorganisms produce a small amount of carbon dioxide, causing the drink to leave a subtle effervescent buzz on the tongue. If plain is too tangy for your tastes, try strawberry, raspberry, peach, or vanilla. » Available at co–ops, Whole Foods Markets, Lunds, and Byerly’s.
L is for Licorice Snaps
Since 1940, the Fritz family of Newport (southeast of St. Paul) has been packaging candy and snacks, including those minuscule hearts you got in grade school on Valentine’s Day. (If you’re still wondering what Donna, the class tease, really meant by “Luv U”—the answer is likely not much.) Fritzie Fresh, as the brand is known, buys its candy from about a hundred different manufacturers, and new product lines reflect the times: Gummi Army Men and Gummi Fighter Jets are among recent introductions. But old-fashioned licorice snaps, those chewy little pastel tubes of, well, let’s face it, sugar, may never go out of style. Tearing at licorice whips is a good way to lose a tooth. Much better to pop in a piece bit by pre-packaged bit. So easy it’s…a snap. » Available at Kowalski’s, some Cub stores, Snyders Drug Stores, Bobby & Steve’s Auto World, and many other convenience stores.
M is for Maple Syrup
If you think the best maple syrup comes from Vermont, you haven’t tried the super–sweet serum from Wild Country. Twice, the Minnesota–made, blue ribbon–winning syrups have edged out East Coast saps at the North American Maple Syrup Council’s annual competition. Members of the Cordes and Waddell families who operate Wild Country extract sap from a maple stand, or “sugar bush,” near Lutsen (Lake Superior’s warmth enables the maples to thrive). They boil the sap right on site: it takes 30 to 40 gallons of raw material to make one gallon of the certified organic amber distillate. Pass the flapjacks! » Available at grocery stores and co–ops throughout the state, including Kowalski’s; also at France 44 in Minneapolis, 612-925-3252.
N is for Nut Goodie
Chew on this: Pearson’s Candy Company, based in St. Paul, has been cranking out Nut Goodie candies since 1912. The treat, a milk–chocolate splat stuffed with nuts and maple–flavored nougat, arrived on the sweet–tooth scene just a couple decades after Milton Hershey produced the first–ever candy bar. It was a time when Minneapolis, with its proximity to producers of beet sugar and milk, was a veritable Candyland, with local confectioners turning out such treats as the Cherry High Ball and the Seven Up bar. Unlike, say, Pearson’s Mint Patties, however, the Nut Goodie never caught on outside the Midwest. But it’s an institution in Minnesota. In fact, this year’s St. Paul Winter Carnival medallion was hidden inside a Nut Goodie wrapper, encircled by a lacy red-and-black garter, and tucked into a block of ice. Kinda nutty, kinda like us. » Widely available at convenience and grocery stores.
O is for Oyster Mushrooms
An idea for a friend’s business–school assignment turned into Kevin Doyle’s Forest Mushrooms, which has been cultivating oyster and shiitake mushrooms (and distributing other wild–picked and cultivated specialty mushrooms) in St. Joseph for more than 20 years. Doyle, a St. John’s University grad with a natural–sciences degree, could spend hours explaining mycology (the difference between mushroom spores and spawn, for example). His process for growing the fleshy fungi is equally complex, involving pasteurized straw and sawdust composites that mimic the natural mushroom habitat of rotting tree trunks. The thing to remember, though, is how to get your hands on the peppery, fan–shaped oysters and dark brown, woodsy shiitakes. » Available at Lunds, Byerly’s, Kowalski’s, the Wedge in Minneapolis, 612–871–3993; the St. Joseph Farmers’ Market, and, beginning in June, the Mill City Market in Minneapolis.
P is for Potato Chips
Couch potatoes aren’t the only lumpy vegetables lying around Minnesota—the state is one of the country’s top tuber producers, and has the chip makers to prove it. Old Dutch has been cranking out its thin, old-fashioned potato chips in St. Paul for 72 years (it recently added thicker, kettle–style chips to its product roster). And a decade ago, Bloomington entrepreneur Jim Garlie created Rachel’s, one of the first gourmet potato chip brands. Having acquired a struggling chip maker, he used sunflower oil instead of high–fat peanut oil, and added such then-unusual flavors as Parmesan and garlic. But perhaps his most inspired decision was sponsoring a car in the 1998 Indianapolis 500. The driver won and fans everywhere asked, “Who the devil is Rachel?” (Answer: the founder’s friend.) Garlie’s chips were off to the races, and are now produced by the Barrel O’ Fun snack company in Perham. » Old Dutch is available at Rainbow, Cub, and numerous snack shops. Rachel’s chips are sold at gourmet food stores, including France 44 in Minneapolis, 612-925-3252.
Q is for (Dairy) Queen
The first Dairy Queen stand opened in 1940 in Joliet, Illinois, and by 1955 there were 2,600 franchises across the country, mostly in small towns. In fact, DQ is the place to chill in towns that can be driven through in less time than it takes to devour a Dilly Bar (which, incidentally, was invented by a Moorhead DQ owner; “Now, isn’t that a dilly,” his friend supposedly said upon tasting the treat). In 1962, the chain incorporated in Edina as International Dairy Queen and in 1970 was bought by the Mooty family (of local legal fame) and an investment group that included auto magnate Rudy Luther. The company was sold in 1997 to billionaire investor Warren Buffett, who’s just quirky enough to appreciate a product line named after natural disasters (the Blizzard, the Brownie Earthquake, the Pecan Mudslide). » If you’ve read this far, you likely know where to find your nearest DQ. Otherwise, visit www.dairyqueen.com.
R is for Rhubarb Jam
Rhubarb is as Minnesotan as Garrison Keillor, whose obsession with the red–stemmed vegetable led the radio host to name a new cabaret show after it. A few years ago, Terry Potucek also caught rhubarb fever, growing 500 of the plants on his farm in Warren, with the idea of launching a frozen rhubarb business. When he couldn’t get the numbers for his venture to add up, he did the next best thing: he asked his wife, Cookie, to whip up a few jam recipes to keep the rhubarb from going to waste. They were so good that the rest is lip–smacking history. These days, you can buy four rhubarb–based flavors of Aunt Cookie’s jam—sweet, light, and free of food coloring and preservatives. Our testers liked the strawberry version best, though straight–up rhubarb came in a close second. » Available from Aunt Cookie’s, 218–745–5589; Carlos Creek Winery in Alexandria, 320–846–5443; and the state–park camp stores at Gooseberry Falls, 218–834–3855, and Itasca, 218–266–2100.
S is for Shortbread
The Girl Scouts must have quivered in their sashes when they tasted baker Amy Goetz’s six versions of Bramblewood Cottage shortbread cookies. The dense, rich, Scottish cookies come in an array of flavors, from classic (sweet and simple, containing only flour, butter, powdered sugar, and vanilla) and lemon (just a hint of citrus) to such adventurous combinations as lavender ginger (featuring a subtle floral scent and a tiny zing of ginger). Thin Mints, you’ve met your match. » Available at Kowalski’s; Surdyk’s in Minneapolis, 612–379–3232; Cooks of Crocus Hill, www.cooksofcrocushill.com; and the Bibelot Shops, www.bibelotshops.com.
T is for Trout Farm
Technically, Star Prairie is in Wisconsin, but we’d really like to claim it as our own. Located just a half hour’s drive northeast of Stillwater, Star Prairie’s cold spring has been used to create a fish farm habitat since 1856. The farm’s current owners, Mac and Marcy Graham, begin with about 180,000 eggs a year. They feed the fingerlings for 18 to 20 months, then transfer them through a series of ponds until they reach market size. The trout’s flavor is delicate, its flesh as firm and fresh as if you’d caught it yourself—which, by the way, you can. Star Prairie allows anglers to pay by the pound and cook up their catch onsite at its idyllic picnic grounds. » Star Prairie Trout Farm is located in Star Prairie, Wisconsin, 715-248-3633. Its fish are sold fresh (and in some locations smoked) at Coastal Seafoods, www.coastalseafoods.com; and most co–ops.
U is for University of Minnesota
The U of M’s Department of Horticultural Science—the group that brought us the Honeycrisp apple—is introducing its Marquette wine grape this spring, and cold–climate vintners are stomping in anticipation. The U’s grape breeding program has released just four varieties in the past 20 years, and the new Marquette, which descends from Pinot Noir and Vitis riparia (a native Minnesota grape), has been 17 years in the making. U viticulturist Peter Hemstad describes the grape’s wine as “complex” and “full-bodied,” with more tannin, black currant, and spice than wines made from the popular University–bred Frontenac grape. Though local nurseries have been quick to propagate cuttings, demand is outstripping supply, “like the X–box” video console, Hemstad says. Don’t polish up the tastevin yet: it’ll be at least four years before the Marquette’s first crop makes its way into wine. » Look for Marquette–made wines from Minnesota vintners sometime after 2010.
V is for Vodka
Vodka is supposed to be flavorless; according to the official U.S. government definition, the liquor is “without distinctive character, aroma, taste, or color.” Tell that to the producers of Shakers, which have hints of vanilla, cocoa, and citrus and have been hailed as the first ultra–premium vodkas made in America, on par with Grey Goose and other high–end spirits. Created by the San Francisco–based team behind Pete’s Wicked Ale, Shakers vodka is made in the west–central Minnesota town of Benson from wheat harvested nearby. Varieties include a classic wheat vodka, rye vodka, and Shakers Rose, which smells and tastes like a rose, despite being concocted from other natural flavors. » Available at Surdyk’s in Minneapolis, 612–379–3232, and other fine liquor retailers.
W is for Wild Rice
Wild rice is actually an aquatic grass—genetically more similar to corn than rice. “Wild” is often a misnomer, too, as 95 percent of wild rice sold in the United States is actually domesticated rice that’s grown in paddies. Northern Minnesota lakes are some of the few places you can find true wild rice, where it’s still hand harvested by the Anishinaabe (Ojibwe) people. The White Earth Land Recovery Project, spearheaded by activist Winona LaDuke, sells the toasty–tasting ebony–colored grain through its Native Harvest label. LaDuke and other White Earth Band members are concerned that genetically modified crops could contaminate indigenous rice paddies and have been lobbying the Minnesota legislature to protect the native plant. » Order Native Harvest wild rice by phone at 888-274-8318 or online at www.nativeharvest.com, or find it at co–ops and specialty stores throughout Minnesota.
X is for eXtracts
For most of its 130–some years in business, Winona–based Watkins was known for its door–to–door sales (it was once the largest direct seller in the world). The “Watkins Men,” as the reps were known, were even featured in the cable television movie Door to Door, starring William H. Macy. The company’s extracts (yes, okay, eXtracts is a bit of a stretch on this culinary cruise through the alphabet) are now available in 21 varieties, ranging from good old vanilla to more exotic flavors (mango, anyone?). Though Watkins peddles hundreds of products these days (spices, laundry detergent, liniments, salves…) via catalog and in Wal–Mart stores, its extracts are a mainstay. In fact, the company claims to have sold more than 13 million gallons of the vanilla flavor alone, enough to fill 17 Olympic–size pools. » To order, call 800–928–5467 or go to www.watkinsonline.com.
Y is for Yogurt
Old Home Foods, a classic family–owned Minnesota company, has long been the region’s market leader in cottage cheese, sour cream, party dip, and, yes, large–size yogurt. Unfortunately, its plant on University Avenue in St. Paul wasn’t keeping pace with technological change, sustaining huge losses due to manufacturing waste and inefficiency. Last year, employees banded together in a heroic attempt to re–engineer the plant, but, citing cost–cutting measures, management decided to scale back the facility’s production this past winter and plans to close the plant entirely this spring. Old Home will outsource production to other plants in Minnesota and throughout the upper Midwest; in St. Paul, the familiar sour milk smell will fade into an olfactory memory. We raise our spoons to lament the loss. » Available at grocery and convenience stores statewide.
Z is for Zucchini Blossoms
Minnesota gardens seem to sprout zucchini squashes like weeds, judging from the surplus your neighbor hauls over to your house every summer, whether you asked for the bland veggie or not. This year, tell him to focus on the bright orange blooms that precede the harvest and come in two varieties, male and female. The mild–flavored blossoms can be cooked and eaten any number of ways: sautéed, stuffed with cheese and baked, or batter–coated and deep–fried, like something you might find at the state fair. No green–thumbed neighbor? Head to a farmers’ market, and you shouldn’t have any trouble finding them—the Minneapolis Farmers’ Market alone boasts more than 20 vendors who sell them. » Call 612–333–1718 or go to www.mplsfarmersmarket.com for more information.