Homemade: A gift of heritage and history

Scandinavian cookbook author Beatrice Ojakangas talks about her new memoir


Daytona Strong
Taste of Norway Editor

It’s fair to say that Beatrice Ojakangas has lived a life influenced by food. And given the sheer number of cookbooks she’s written over the past 52 years, she has made a significant contribution to people’s experiences with cooking. The cookbook author has just released her 30th book, a memoir with recipes called Homemade: Finnish Rye, Feed Sack Fashion, and Other Simple Ingredients from My Life in Food (University of Minnesota Press, October 2016).

Ojakangas’s first cookbook, The Finnish Cookbook, came out in 1964. That book opened a door to publishing, she said in a recent interview, and since then she’s written such titles as The Great Scandinavian Baking Book, Scandinavian Feasts: Celebrating Traditions throughout the Year, Scandinavian Cooking, and The Great Holiday Baking Book. Her books—many of which involve Scandinavian food—have taught many people about the traditions and celebrations that surround that region’s cooking and baking. She became a James Beard Awards Cookbook Hall of Fame winner in 2005. At Norsk Høstfest in September this year, she was inducted into the Scandinavian-American Hall of Fame.

After decades of developing recipes and writing about food, Ojakangas—who has always loved the craft of writing—has finally told stories of her own life in her new memoir.

Among stories of life in a Finnish-American family and baking on television with Julia Child and Martha Stewart, Ojakangas weaves a portrait of the family—and the people—who have shaped her life. She hopes other people will be inspired to capture their own family histories as well.

“What I’d like to do is encourage people to write their stories, write their family’s stories,” she said. “Every family has a story to tell, and everyone has a story to tell.”

Photo courtesy of Beatrice Ojakangas Ready for the St. Louis County Fair!

Photo courtesy of Beatrice Ojakangas
Ready for the St. Louis County Fair!

In addition to sharing the stories with future generations, Ojakangas enjoys tracing characteristics through the family tree.

“Some of this kind of stuff is just born in us—we’re born to like to sing or to like to play music or whatever it is. I really think that that is something that I hope people would realize in their own lives… take this as a lesson for your own life.”

In considering her own family’s history and its stories, Ojakangas noticed similarities between her relatives and herself.

“It’s important—the characteristics, no matter whether you’re rich or poor or what, but the characteristics that you gain from your parents and your grandparents, that is really valuable and people should realize that their own experience, their own background, their own parentage is valuable. And the more you look at it yourself the more you become ready to accept someone else that thinks differently.”

From growing up as the oldest of 10 children in Minnesota to establishing a career as one of the leading authorities on Nordic food in the U.S., Ojakangas writes a book that is full of stories that anyone with an interest in Scandinavian cooking or the Scandinavian-American experience will enjoy.

Give the gift of stories

Photo: Daytona Strong Creating a meaningful gift of recipes doesn’t need to be a huge project.

Photo: Daytona Strong
Creating a meaningful gift of recipes doesn’t need to be a huge project.

“Everyone’s story is important,” cookbook author Beatrice Ojakangas said in an interview about her new memoir, Homemade: Finnish Rye, Feed Sack Fashion, and Other Simple Ingredients from My Life in Food.

If you’re trying to come up with a unique and personal gift for your loved ones this year, consider a collection of stories and recipes from your own family. While a book-length project like Ojakangas’s is the work of years, you can still put together a lovely present in the form of a small booklet, a photo album accompanied by written accounts of people and events with some recipes scattered throughout, or even a handful of handwritten recipe cards with a thoughtfully-written card tied together with a pretty ribbon.

Whether you’re writing about your own life or collecting the stories of your family and your relatives, this can be a meaningful gift that not only begins to preserve a family’s history,] but also creates new memories as you begin interviewing your relatives.

With only a few weeks between now and Christmas, the project you choose for gift-giving should be simple and manageable, but you may decide to expand it in the months and years to come. What you begin now could become the start of a new tradition of storytelling in your family. And what a valuable experience and priceless gift that could be.

Daytona Strong is The Norwegian American’s Taste of Norway editor. She writes about her family’s Norwegian heritage through the lens of food at her Scandinavian food blog, www.outside-oslo.com. Find her on Facebook www.facebook.com/OutsideOslo; Twitter @daytonastrong; Pinterest @daytonastrong; and Instagram @daytonastrong.

This article originally appeared in the Nov. 18, 2016, issue of The Norwegian American. To subscribe, visit SUBSCRIBE or call us at (206) 784-4617.

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