No place for secret family recipes in the Upper Midwest
What I've learned so far in 2019 is that the Upper Midwest is not the place for secret family recipes.
You may recall my column from a few months back about my quest to get my knoephla soup to resemble that of the cafe at Napoleon Livestock, my husband's favorite version of the German soup that is popular in North Dakota.
After my column ran, I learned how much people here love to share their family pride through their cooking. I didn't keep track of how many recipes I received, but suffice it to say that I haven't had time to try them all.
The emails, tweets and Facebook messages I received with knoephla soup recipes all were a little different and all showed how giving and open people can be. Each recipe had different elements, and I could tell that each sender truly finds his or her recipe to be the one, true version.
I've never understood why anyone would want to keep a recipe secret. If I enjoy something, I want other people to enjoy it, too. My favorite dessert to make is caramel brownies. People often try them and say something like, "I suppose you won't tell me how you make these." And I like to jot down the recipe right then so that they can have the enjoyment (and extra pounds) that I do.
That being said, when I cook, rather than bake, something, I don't always have a recipe ready to share. My grandpa once told me I must be "one of those old German cooks," because, for better and worse, I tend toward the school of "a little of this, a little of that" and using whatever I have on hand. Which brings me to my favorite of the knoephla soup recipes I received.
I met Tori Gross last year while I was in McIntosh County, N.D., writing a story on Annie's Project, a farm management education program for women. I initially declined to eat with the participants of the program, finding juggling a plate and a notebook to be unwieldy. But when they brought in the knoephla soup, I decided to risk getting my notes covered in milky broth. I explained my quest for that certain brand of soup, and Tori exclaimed that she could help — her grandmother, Iona Bolstad, had been the cook at the cafe at Napoleon Livestock and she used to help out there, too.
She told me quickly the secrets of the soup. But I definitely didn't retain the knowledge and my next attempts were poor, leading me to write my column.
After my column ran in January, Tori sent me her grandmother's recipe via her husband's Twitter account. The recipe made my day for two reasons: The first, obviously, is because I've been searching for it, and the second is because it's just my kind of recipe.
There are some exact measurements listed for making the knoephla itself, but the rest is pretty free-wheeling. Add "a little" chicken base to the dough and "a little" oil to the water when you boil the knoephla. Potatoes, onions, water, chicken base and cream are to be added according to desires, as is the cooked knoephla.
I've made the recipe Tori sent me three times now. Each time I try a little different combination of the elements. My husband's opinion is that it's "close." I have a feeling I'll never get him to admit that I got it right, even if I do. But that's OK. He usually has more than one bowl, and I think that means success.
It makes me happy to know I'm following a recipe followed by generations of other people in this area and that there are other people out there who don't see the point of keeping a good thing a secret.