Book serves Range food favorites to new generation

Aaron J. Brown

Aaron J. Brown is an Iron Range blogger, author, radio producer and columnist for the Hibbing Daily Tribune.

Every member of the Cherry High School band knew from Day 1 there would come a time where we would spend the entire night in the school cafeteria making pasties for the big annual fundraiser. It was as sure as the sunset or a freshman missing the high notes. When pasty night came, every kid was assigned his or her task: peeling potatoes, cutting carrots, measuring meat, or wrapping the finished pasties in tinfoil for tomorrow’s buyer.

Some tasks, however, were not trusted to youth: The delicate mixing of the flaky crusts. The specific combination of ingredients. The monitoring of the browning pasties in the oven. These precious skills were trusted to a small group of mothers, and no one did anything without their approval. If the carrots were cut too thick, you heard about it from them. These weren’t just moms. They were the guardians of much more than just their awkward, pimply offspring.

We did not know it then (no one ever does) but we were experiencing our culture in that late night pasty marathon. These meat pies weren’t just tasty, and a frequent emergency meal for Iron Range moms on the go. These pasties were the very same food that miners carried in their pockets into the underground mines, a Cornish food staple that united all ethnic groups, even the Finns that would move out to Cherry after the blacklists.

Every delicious bite had a story to tell.

The Minnesota Historical Society Press just released a new book named for the invitation so many Iron Range mothers give their families: “Come, You Taste.” The author, Hibbing native B.J. Carpenter, compiled a remarkable combination of history, stories and user-friendly recipes for many legendary Iron Range ethnic dishes. Carpenter is a writer and culinary educator now working in the Twin Cities.

Come, You Taste by B.J. CarpenterThe chapters of “Come, You Taste” read like any cookbook — Breads, Breakfasts, Lunches, Dinners, Suppers (of *course* there’s a difference), along with salads, desserts and holiday fare. While these chapters include scads of recipes, they are wrapped like a delicate dessert in layers of touching narrative, shared stories and Iron Range history. In other words, “Come, You Taste” can be read cover-to-cover like a book, before earning a trusted position in the kitchen cupboard and some proper fingerprint stains.

What’s happening on the Iron Range now is part of what always happens. Time goes by. People speed forward until they get stuck in ruts. We get used to the old change before being shocked by the new change. I was a kid in the ‘90s, and now I have children. My boys can cut carrots and potatoes, but who knows the recipe? We need help in passing culture down to new generations. Not all of us got the recipes, but we can now.

Why, such a book would even be enough to give a new resident of the Iron Range some perspective (and a culinary ace in the hole) for the oh-so-difficult task of blending into the dry, firm dough of Mesabi society.

In full disclosure, the publisher provided a copy of the book to request my opinion for a book blurb. I wouldn’t have done so if I didn’t enjoy reading it. What I wrote about “Come, You Taste” was this:

“Carpenter’s book is the best kind of cultural record—one that reminds us how wonderful (and delicious) culture really is. The foods of my family are found here, along with new ones I’d never tried. Taste the flavors that sustained generations of people in this very interesting place on Earth.”

Besides language, nothing reflects culture more enduringly than food. As we hurtle into the future let us not forget that sometimes the past tastes better than fast food. It’s certainly more filling.

Aaron J. Brown is an author and college instructor from northern Minnesota’s Iron Range. He writes the blog and hosts the Great Northern Radio Show on Northern Community Radio. This piece first appeared in the Sunday, Oct. 25, 2015 edition of the Hibbing Daily Tribune.



  1. Peggy Watson Tilleard says

    Where can I purchase a copy?

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