Exploring South Dakota

There were always cookies at Grandma’s house. I remember dunking a fresh sugar cookie into a steaming cup of coffee long before most parents let their children anywhere near that amount of caffeine.

The cookies were a little extra special at Christmastime. Because Grandma came from Norway, we enjoyed rosettes and krumkake and other Scandinavian treats that hardly any of my classmates had ever seen.

But of course, ours isn’t the only South Dakota family with holiday baking traditions.

A few Christmases ago, we invited food writers from around the state to share theirs. Rachel Roe grew up in Cincinnati, far removed from the Scandinavian treats more common in the Upper Midwest, but after she moved to Brookings in 2004, her husband Jay’s family brought her up to speed.

“The rosettes and the krumkake, I loved right off the bat. Krumkake reminds me a lot of Italian pizzelles, which I’ve had before. I had not ever heard of the rosettes but was impressed by how flaky and delicate they are,” Roe says.

Roe, who blogs at tramplingrose.com, learned the art of making rosettes from her mother-in-law, Mary. “They are as fussy as I imagined,” Roe told us.

Heating the iron, dipping it in the thin batter and gently removing the fragile cooked rosette with a fork is a process that takes some time to perfect, but the fuss is worth it.

Blogger Merissa Alink told us about time spent around her grandmother’s table in Piedmont.

“In our German family, kuchen was always a staple, but no one made it like Granny did. In fact, no one even tried,” Alink said. When Alink asked for the recipe, she learned there was none. “Like most of the best bakers, she would always tell me she didn’t measure; it was just all in her head. Eventually we got her to write down some version of her recipe, but it wasn’t the same.”

The Benson family of Brookings likes their Christmas cookies picture perfect. Every year, Leah Benson rolls out an embossed cookie called springerle, which means “little knight” or “jumping horse,” using a special rolling pin carved with pictures.

Benson has researched this ancient German treat and teaches classes about it at medieval reenactment fairs.

Springerle originated in pre-Christian times in present-day southwestern Germany.

“The legend is that back then, the peasants were so poor that they could not afford to give gifts,” Benson said.

“To celebrate the winter solstice, they would carve the gift they wanted to give into a piece of dough, let it dry, bake it and give it to their loved one. Most carvings were things of nature because they worshipped Mother Earth. The dough in ancient times was leavened with hartshorn, which is a white powder that comes from inside a deer's antler. Today of course we use baking powder.”

Benson learned about springerle from her grandmother. “She always made these cookies with a special rolling pin that was handed down through the generations,” she said.

Recipes, as well as the tools needed to create them, are important parts of a family’s history. Gather around the table and enjoy them this holiday season — maybe with a cup of hot coffee.

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