Q & A with Irene Sandvold
Wisconsin Historical Society Press: Why did you decide to write "Gudrun's Kitchen?"
Irene Sandvold: Eddie and I started putting together the recipes that we had enjoyed from our mother's cooking, compiling those that each of us had collected. We had planned to prepare this cookbook to give to family members, and we felt an urgency after our mother passed away in 1980. We planned this cookbook over many years, collecting the recipes, remembering, and trying to recreate the tastes and smells of Gudrun's cooking. Ingeborg had the idea and motivation to write the story of the connection of the family between Norway and the United States, and the political and economic conditions evolving during her life. She also decided to search for a publisher, instead of being satisfied with an end product of photocopying for family members. We were delighted when, before Thanksgiving in 2008, Ingeborg received an e-mail from the Wisconsin Historical Society Press stating their interest in publishing the collection as a book.
We found that one of the best parts of the project was the opportunity to work on a project as mother and daughter. The whole process was a marvelous opportunity to share the excitement of uncovering information, and sharing ideas, and collaborating.
WHS Press: How did you divide up the research and writing?
IS: Eddie thought we should add little anecdotes or stories about Gudrun to each recipe or favorite meal, and I sought the help of my daughter. Ingeborg, who was only a toddler when her grandmother died, took on the task of researching our family's life in Norway and arrival in the United States, where our story is one in the tapestry of American history. She decided to write the story of the sisters and their emigration from Norway to America, and while doing so, she researched other societal, economic, and political events that Gudrun and her family lived through. Ingeborg conducted family interviews, watched old video tapes, collected stories, transferred the oral history into writing, and compared the oral tradition to the various documents and records she uncovered in her genealogical research. She did the entire Part 1 and then typed in all of the recipes that Eddie and I had collected, recipes written by Gudrun in letters, and some stories I had written to accompany some of the recipes. Quinn made comments on the cover, and on some design issues and prepared some photos from which the selections were made.
WHS Press: What were some surprising or interesting things you learned when researching Gudrun's history?
IS: Both Ingeborg and I were surprised to learn about the early movement of family members to America. I could not believe that I had not talked with my mother about all her brothers that I had never met. Ingeborg was surprised to learn that her grandfather had been in the Norwegian Army before coming to America and that he was about to go into the U.S. Army in World War II, but at the last minute he was told not to go because he was in a food producing and distributing business. It was interesting to find out how Gudrun became a cook and how she was somewhat isolated from the Great Depression by working in an affluent household. We looked through so many old family pictures. I found a picture of my grandfather's birthplace, and among Gudrun's possessions, I located two old cookbooks and paged through each page. Thank goodness I did because I found a letter on onion skin paper, folded carefully inside the pages, to Gudrun from her Father for Christmas 1931. This letter touched me in so many ways. The parents had kept their children who had emigrated in their hearts and must have missed them very much.
WHS Press: The second part of the book features Gudrun's recipes. Do you have personal favorite recipe?
IS: A major favorite is krumkake. We love Norwegian meatballs with all the trimmings. Gudrun-style meatballs had to be served with steamed potatoes, lots of good gravy, lingonberries or cranberries, carrot salad, peas and carrots, flatbread with butter, and cucumber salad. Chocolate Chip Cookies are a family favorite. We also love Angel Pie, Chocolate Cake with the heavy dose of chocolate frosting (double chocolate), the fish ball dinner served with curry cream sauce, steamed sliced carrots, steamed potatoes (Minnesota new potatoes are best), and cucumber salad, and the entire Turkey cycle at Thanksgiving. I could go on and on.
WHS Press: What do you hope readers take away from "Gudrun's Kitchen?"
IS: I would like readers to take away the love gained through eating together, preparing the many delicious dishes, and the family connectedness that is enhanced by sharing food together each and every day. Taking the time to cook is a wonderful gift. Gudrun never wasted a part of the raw material. If we ate watermelon, she made watermelon pickles out of the rind. She wanted to give anyone who came in the door a cup of coffee, smorbrod, coffee waffle, or a meal before anything else. There was always enough food for anyone who happened to stop by. She loved to bring food over for friends or anyone who may have a need. No one could visit our home without taking home some cookies or other food.