Virginia Cookbook Project

Chris Holmes’ fifth grade class worked with food historian Dan Ritter and local seniors to explore the history of food in Virginia, Minnesota.

Virginia Cookbook Project
  • Intro
  • Photos
  • Product
  • Learn More/How We Did It
  • Additional Resources

See what people had to say about this project!

"The most important thing I learned was how people survived during the Great Depression."

"[I enjoyed] working with the different groups of children. I was surprised about the questions they asked and how interested they were."

"I enjoyed the fun active activities more than reading a [history] book. I liked canning pickles the most."

"The most important thing I learned was how hard it was to get food during the war."

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Virginia Cookbook Project Virginia Cookbook Project Virginia Cookbook Project Virginia Cookbook Project Virginia Cookbook Project Virginia Cookbook Project Virginia Cookbook Project Virginia Cookbook Project Virginia Cookbook Project

View the finished cookbook here:  PDF Document

Cookbook excerpts:

My grandmother, Mrs. Oscar Hanson, used this recipe. She had ten children to
feed and knew with this cake everyone could share in the one orange thatʼs in it.
There were few oranges to be had in the area until 1930. Most families relied on
the first fruit of the spring: rhubarb, and later on in the summer strawberries,
raspberries, and plums. Think what a treat a piece of orange cake must have
been in the early 1900ʼs!
-Dave Hanson, Recipe: Pioneer Orange Cake

The name of my recipe is Popped Rice. When I eat the Popped Rice it makes me
think of Nett Lake. Me,my mom, and my dad like to eat Popped Rice, but my
sister doesnʼt eat it. I donʼt know why. I like it because it tastes like popcorn. I
have it when we have Wild Rice. My mom makes it and I help her. Thatʼs good

My recipeʼs name is Swedish Pancakes. My mom and grandpa make them on
visits to my grandparentsʼ cabin. My family eats them as soon as the first
pancake is done! We eat them at my grandmaʼs big kitchen table at her cabin. I
like to eat them because they are so thin you can roll them up with stuff inside
them. They taste delicious and warm! My brother can eat two pancakes while I
am still on my first one. The five words Iʼd use to describe Swedish Pancakes are
“ You will die from deliciousness.”

My sister and I baked the coffee cake when our mother and dad had their friends over to visit.
There were no invitations. People just “popped in” for a visit in those days. That was our
entertainment before radio or television. A visit and conversation with coffee were the best
entertainment around. Baking a coffee cake “from scratch” in a wood burning kitchen stove
was a big challenge for my sister and me!
-Norma Ojala

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Students studied the way geography, climate, heritage, and technology has changed the way Virginians eat. A speaker from Nett Lake reservation shared the Ojibiwe tradition of harvesting rice, Dan Ritter taught the students about European settlers to the area, and the seniors shared stories about how their heritage and events of the 1930s, 40s, and 50s impacted their relationship with food. Together the students and seniors participated in a canning workshop and shared family recipes for a community cookbook.

Youth Participants: Chris Holmes’ 5th grade class

Adult Participants: Fran Shimmin, Leonard and Norma Ojala, Louise Grams, David Hanson, Doris and Ronald Koski, Jennie Dincay, Barbara Pakkala

For more information: Contact Project Manager Maren Levad at or 651-259-3480.

Background on Virginia
Virginia, Minnesota is part of the Quad Cities located in the Mesabi Iron Range. “The Queen City of the North” has seen logging and mining booms, two devastating fires, and now is best known for its yearly Land of the Loon Ethnic Arts and Crafts Festival and beautiful historic synagogue, B’nai Abraham.

Food History Resources

Farming in the 1940s: Victory Gardens

Produce for Victory: A Smithsonian Exhibit

Key Ingredients, A Smithsonian Exhibit, Food Timeline, and Resource List

Project Details

Date: September 2010 - November 2010
Partner(s): Chris Holmes, Virginia Public Schools; Dan Ritter; Susan Hoppe, Virginia Public Library; Maren Levad, Minnesota Historical Society, Project Manager
Location: Virginia, MN

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