Julie wrote charming letters to her family back in Denmark describing the hardships of pioneer life. She detailed their basic diet: flour, sugar, oatmeal, eggs, milk, butter, lard, potatoes and dried fruit. She kept a large vegetable garden and made bread with potato-based sourdough. They had chickens and cattle but, depending on the time of year, they went for weeks and even months without meat or milk.
Her letters were published in Denmark in 1912 and 1917 by Ditlev's father and later translated into English by her son Nikolai as Letters from Nokomis: Life on a Homestead in Saskatchewan, available at the Saskatoon public library.
In October, Julie cooked for a neighbour's harvest crew of 16 or 17 men who expected three solid meals a day. She might serve a hearty stew or roast chickens (killing and plucking them first) with potatoes, garden vegetables, bread, biscuits, butter, raisin pudding or cake. One day she made a recipe from home, Danish hamburger steak with onion gravy (called hakkebof) which she says "went over very well."
Hakkebof - Danish Hamburger Steak
2 large onions
2 tbsp butter
2 tbsp butter
Sprinkle of sugar
2 tbsp flour
1 cup beef stock
1 1/2 lbs lean ground beef
1/2 tsp salt
1/4 tsp pepper
1 tbsp butter or lard
Peel onions and cut into fat slices. Melt 2 tbsp butter in a wide frying pan on medium low. Separate the onion rings. Toss in the pan with the melted butter and sprinkle with sugar. Cook slowly, covered, stirring now and then, until the onions are soft and turning brown, about 45 min. Lift the onions out of the pan and keep warm.
Sprinkle flour into the butter remaining in the pan, stirring well. The flour will soak up the butter and begin to brown. Pour in beef stock and whisk vigorously to prevent lumps. Bring to a light bubble, stirring, until slightly thickened. Season with salt and pepper. Keep warm on low heat.
Form the ground beef into four patties. Season with salt and pepper. Using the dull side of a knife, crosshatch the patties on both sides. In another pan, melt 1 tbsp butter or lard on medium high heat. Cook the patties, turning once, until both sides are browned and the meat is cooked through.
To serve, stack onions on each steak. Pour on gravy. Serve with boiled new potatoes sprinkled with chopped parsley and pickled beets.
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This column first appeared in the Saskatoon Star Phoenix.