Food Traditions2020-01-29T17:42:44+00:00

Food Traditions

Content production: Michaela Vatcheva, Kelly SaranMaureen McCollum, Sigrid Peterson, Marisa Wojcik, Lina Soblytė, Danielle Kaeding, Inga Foley, Amalia Zeinemann and James Parker. Produced by: Michaela Vatcheva, Kelly Saran, Maureen McCollum, Danielle Kaeding, and Zac Schultz. | November 20, 2018

More than a basic source of energy, the foods we seek out, access, combine and celebrate become bearers of community, culture and identity. These are our Wisconsin stories told through food — stories from our families and neighbors. The recipes may take you on a journey back to your childhood or to a completely unexplored swath of our state’s diverse traditions. Try them out, break bread with someone, tell us how it went.

Share your story with the hashtag #FoodTraditionsWI and follow us on our Instagram: @wisconsinlife_tvradio.

“Growing up as a Mexican Wisconsinite, as a Mexican American, you’re always stuck in an in-between …”

Kennia Coronado, Racine

Mexican Cheese

Kennia Coronado:

My mother would take me to the farms and we would buy milk because we would produce this artisan cheese and we would make it for ourselves and for our own use or to share with our family and friends. The Panela cheese is my favorite cheese. You could either use it as, like, an appetizer or you can use it to accompany a dish. There is what we call a Panela Botanera, which has, like, jalapeños inside and small pieces of carrot.

Wisconsin is very important to me. It’s a part of who I am. Growing up as a Mexican Wisconsinite, as a Mexican American, you’re always stuck in an in-between because you don’t know if you fully belong to like the Mexican background or to the American background or what that even means. There are many commonalities between my hometown in Mexico and my hometown here. We share the love of cheese, and hopefully someday, here in Racine, I am able to open an ag business in which people from my hometown can produce artisan cheese and coexist and share this cheese at the cheese fairs with other Wisconsinites.

I continue to hold these transnational ties that connect me to the land here and there. So, for me, home is … both.

Kennia Coronado was born in the United States and moved to Racine with her parents when she was a toddler. Like many Wisconsinites, she grew up milking cows and helping her grandparents make cheese. However, her grandparents’ cows are in Santa Fe, Mexico. Her favorite cheese, Panela, is a fresh variety for which she has never seen a written recipe. Family recipes are passed down orally.

Coronado talks about the emotional labor she experiences as a Mexican American reconciling multiple pieces of her identity on a daily basis. Throughout this work, Panela has served as an ally. Jalisco, a state in the country of Mexico where her ancestors come from, is much like Wisconsin: defined by agriculture and dairy. “The majority of the Latinx community is from Jalisco, here in Racine. Most of our families have worked with dairy, with cows, on farms, and a lot of the skills that our communities bring from Mexico are very much like the ones that are needed here in Wisconsin,” she says.

In both states, cheese is an inseparable part of the culture. Coronado claims it also keeps her grounded. “My family is coming from very impoverished conditions and here we have all those opportunities to be able to share this culture, and to share not only the history that the food itself has, but the fact that it’s coming from very hardworking people,” she shares.

She is partial to Panela Butanera, a traditional variety which features delightfully surprising bits of pickled carrots and jalapeños. Whether you prefer it plain or spicy, Panela is not a cheese you keep for long. It’s made fresh to be shared with friends and family. Often times, families take turns making enough to go around the community. “Everyone goes to the same parish. If you’re in Racine, go to the ending of Mass and ask ‘Where can I get Panela?’ and then they’ll direct you to someone!”

Coronado sees many connections between Wisconsin’s and Jalisco’s dairy-focused economies, “If we’re able to share our experiences and our commonalities, people will realize that we’re much more similar than they think.”

Cows graze under a bright sky on a Mexican farm dotted with trees
Cows graze on Kennia's family farm in Jalisco, Mexico.
A farmer leans against a feed trough as he watches his white cow eat hay
A cow enjoys a meal with a farmer on the Coronado family's farm in Jalisco, Mexico.

Cooking in my kitchen, it’s like therapy.

Lucy Lor, Onalaska

Hmong Feast

Lucy Lor:
For me, cooking is like art.

Instead of using ink or, you know, oil to paint a canvas, for me cooking, my pan, that’s my canvas. And then, my ingredients, that’s my ink.

When I think about food in my early childhood, food was a really big deal in the Hmong community. I just chose these recipes because they’re simple, they’re delicious, and in the Hmong cuisine, if you work all day, when you come home, you just want a nice bowl of rice and just something delicious, and pork and collard greens with some peppers, that’ll just do you justice. My parents, their identity back in Thailand, we came here in America in 1992 in September.

My parents used to be physicians. When I was a little kid, I was actually born a boy. The name that my parents gave me is Chia. I always knew that I was more feminine. There was three boys, including me, back then and three girls. So now, I’m part of the girls’ side.

I’m just happy. I’m just very happy. I felt free. Food did help, as my parents, or my family, accepted me more. I could ask about how their day is going. That was my way I could talk to them instead of being angry at them. That was my way to reach out to my parents is through food, cooking for them. Certain foods, I will do it so much different than traditionally how it would be made.

Cooking in my kitchen, it’s like therapy.

Modern Hmong Feast

Lucy Lor provides her recipes for three modern dishes found in a Hmong feast she cooks for her family and community near La Crosse. ‘Modern’ Hmong dishes like these depart from ‘traditional’ Hmong cuisine. They are newer dishes widely embraced by Hmong people, sometimes influenced by other Asian cuisines and often the creation of modern Hmong cooks. Some of them use ingredients that are a direct product of immigration to a new country. For example, in the recipe for Beef Larb, below, few Hmong people tasted Western-style beef before coming to the United States, because typically the only affordable and available red meat in Laos was Water buffalo.
Course: Main Course
Cuisine: Hmong
Author: Lucy Lor, Onalaska


Beef Larb (Laab) (Beef Salad)

  • 2 lb beef steak
  • 1/2 cup mint, minced
  • 1/2 cup basil, minced
  • 1/2 cup green onions, minced
  • 1/2 cup cilantro, minced
  • 1/2 medium purple onion, thinly sliced
  • 1 red bell pepper, sliced
  • 2 pinches sugar
  • 5 whole fresh red chili peppers, minced
  • 1 lime, juiced (optional)
  • 1 Tbsp lemon grass powder
  • 1 package Larb (or Laab) seasonings
  • 1 Tbsp roasted glutenous rice powder

Stewed Fish

  • 1 whole tilapia, cleaned or 2lbs of any fish of your liking
  • 2 Tbsp ginger, minced or thinly sliced
  • 1 lemon grass stem
  • 2 whole tomatoes
  • 4 lime leaves
  • 3 fresh whole chili peppers
  • 2 Tbsp green onions, minced
  • 2 Tbsp cilantro, minced
  • 1 Tbsp fish sauce
  • 1 tsp MSG or substitute with vegetable soup base (optional)
  • salt to taste

Tofu Peppers

  • 1 14 oz block tofu
  • 3 fresh chili peppers
  • 2 scallions, minced
  • 1/3 cup cilantro, minced (equivalent to a handful)
  • 1 Tbsp fish sauce
  • 1 pinch black pepper


Beef Larb

  • Brown your steak in a pan both sides and then bake it in the oven for 10 mins, Steak can be cooked to your liking. 
  • Sliced steak into thinly pieces and put in a large mixing bowl. 
  • Add all of the vegetables and then add the seasonings last. 
  • Mixed everything and add anything to your liking. It is ready to eat once everything is mixed.

Stewed Fish

  • In a stock pot fill your water half way and bring to a boil. Once it is boiling add the fish and the lemon grass. 
  • Bring back to a boil and add lime leaves and all the remaining ingredients. 
  • Add additional fish sauce or salt to taste. (Note: fish sauce is already salty). Bring to a boil for 5 mins and take off the stove. It is ready to be served.

Tofu Peppers

  • In a mortar, add the fresh chili peppers and and a pinch of salt and start smashing it and bring to a paste consistency. 
  • Add tofu and start mixing in breaking it apart into almost a paste consistency and add all remaining ingredients. Add any additional of seasonings to your likings. It is ready to be served.

Traditional Hmong Feast

Lucy Lor provides her recipes for three traditional dishes found in a Hmong feast she cooks for her family and community near La Crosse. ‘Traditional’ Hmong recipes like these have deep roots in Hmong culture and closely — but not exactly — replicate what was cooked in Laos. Families in Laos typically used ingredients they farmed or harvested from the wild, and many of those ingredients are not available in America or available in the same way they were found in Laos. Talk to your Hmong neighbor, visit a Hmong farmer at a Wisconsin farmer’s market or take a trip to an Asian grocery store and try one or all of these recipes.
Prep Time15 mins
Cook Time30 mins
Total Time45 mins
Course: Main Course
Cuisine: Hmong
Author: Lucy Lor, Onalaska


Stewed Hmong Chicken With Herbs

  • 1 whole Hmong Chicken, about 5 lbs (or substitute with organic chicken.)
  • 1 whole lemongrass stem
  • Hmong Chicken Herbs (or substitute with a second stem of lemongrass) (*Hmong chicken herbs include herbs known to have medicinal properties. Consult your health care provider if you have questions or concerns about whether the ingredient is appropriate for you. They're found at any local Hmong store.)
  • salt and pepper to taste
  • cooked white rice (optional)

Boiled Pork with Mustard Greens

  • 2 lbs pork
  • 1 large bunch of mustard greens
  • salt and pepper to taste

Hmong Peppers

  • 10 green onions (scallions)
  • 3 cloves of garlic
  • 1 bunch of cilantro
  • 1/2 cup peanuts (optional)
  • 1 to 2 Tbsp fish sauce to taste
  • 1 Tbsp MSG or substitute with vegetable soup base (optional)
  • 1/2 cup fresh whole chili peppers
  • 1 lime, juiced (optional)
  • 1 pinch salt to taste


Stewed Hmong Chicken With Herbs

  • Fill a stock pot half way full with water. Add whole chicken and all the herbs into the pot before the water boils.
  • Bring to a boil for 15-20 mins and salt to taste. (If not using Hmong Chicken or if using a chicken larger than 5 lbs, confirm chicken is fully cooked before serving. It could take an additional 20-30 minutes.)
  • Serve broth with herbs and pieces of chicken in individual bowls. Place chicken on a platter and pull off pieces of chicken as you eat. Serve with white rice.

Boiled Pork with Mustard Greens

  • Fill a stock pot half way full with water and add pork into the pot and bring to a boil. 
  • Add 2 teaspoon of salt to taste. Let pork boil for 5 mins and add mustard greens.
  • Let the pot boil for 10 mins, and take it off the stove and it is ready to be served hot. Add additional salt as needed.

Hmong Peppers

  • In a mortar, add peppers and pinch of salt, garlic, smash the chili peppers until it is a paste consistency. Add peanuts, lime, and optional MSG or vegetable soup base. 
  • Add cilantro and green onions and smash it in the mortar until it is evenly grounded, then add fish sauce and a little water to thin it out. Add any additional seasonings of your likings. Ready to be serve.



Tofu peppers, pork and mustard greens, stewed chicken in herbs, Beef Larb, fish stewed, and steamed rice. This is what’s cooking in Lucy Lor’s kitchen.

Lucy’s cooking style is deeply rooted in Hmong culture, a tradition she learned from her mom. “She would walk me through certain recipes. She would tell me that, ‘don’t put too much of this’, ‘this don’t go in there,’ so that’s how I learned to cook,” Lucy recalls.

In 1992, Lucy’s family settled in La Crosse to be near relatives. “When we came here to America, my parents got $600 from the government to feed like a family of eight … But my parents pulled through it,” she shares.

Their lives changed, but food continued to be the center of all family gatherings. “When there’s an event, there’s usually a lot of food. Or when there’s a lot of food, there will be an event,” she explains. As Lucy grew older her love for cooking didn’t change but her physical appearance did.

“When I was a little kid, I was actually born a boy. My legal name, or the name my parents gave me, is Chia … I always knew that I was more feminine,” shares Lucy.

When Lucy went through a physical transition she knew cooking was a way to remain close with her family. “That’s how I connect with my parents … through food,” she says.

It’s that connection through food that Lucy believes will continue to bring communities in La Crosse together.

“So when someone hears the word Hmong, the first thing they think of is eggrolls,” says Lucy. “So that’s how I would think that they would connect as a community — is through eggrolls.”

Lucy holds a fan as she models a traditional gold headdress of embossed leaves and flowers with a matching necklace
Lucy Lor models a traditional ensemble including an ornate headdress.
Lucy's mother and father wear traditional Hmong embroidered textiles and silver necklaces
Lucy's mother and father, seen here, settled in La Crosse in 1992 where they raised a family of eight.

“Corn is a time for celebration. It’s in our ceremonies. It is an integral part of who we are.”

Rebecca Webster and Laura Manthe, Oneida Nation

Oneida White Corn Soup

Rebecca Webster:
Corn is a time for celebration. It’s in our ceremonies. It is an integral part of who we are. The most work comes in during harvest time, during the husking bee. That’s a really fun time for the kids, especially, because they get to go out in the fields and just pick, pick, pick the corn and we load up our trucks and then we drive it back to the barn. And then, we share food, we share stories. To see all of the corn hanging in the barn is just a sight to behold.

Anything that we grew, we are very thankful for. Native Americans face higher rates of obesity, heart disease, and diabetes than any other race. One of the ways that we can address that is by returning to our traditional diets.

Laura Manthe:
Corn soup, a delicious soup that we have. Traditionally eaten during holiday time or during funeral time. If you were hungry today, you should’ve thought of that two days ago and started getting your things together because all Indian food is slow food. The soup takes three hours for the hulling process and then I like to cook my meat and my beans overnight in a Nesco, and so mine is a two-day process, and then, it’s gone right away.

Eating seasonally, eating the fish when the fish are running, and eating the turkeys when it’s turkey season, and eating the venison and corn, maple syrup instead of white sugar, we’ll all be healthier from that.

Oneida White Corn

Oneida white flint corn is an ancient variety with ancestral roots in the Oneida homeland in what is now upstate New York. It is still grown there today as well as at the Oneida Nation of Wisconsin where Rebecca Webster and Laura Manthe hope to use this high protein and sacred crop to preserve tradition and improve health outcomes in their Native American community. Here, Laura and Rebecca share how they harvest and prepare Oneida white corn. Once prepared, it can be used in a number of dishes. In their Food Traditions story, they feature it in a white corn soup mixed with kidney and pinto beans, along with smoked pork hocks.  
Prep Time15 mins
Cook Time2 hrs
Hull Removal20 mins
Total Time2 hrs 35 mins
Author: Rebecca Webster and Laura Manthe, Oneida Nation


  • 1 quart shelled dry white corn
  • 1 cup sifted hard wood ashes
  • 4 quarts water (for first boiling) (16 cups)
  • extra boiling hot water to add as pot of water evaporates
  • cold water for rinsing
  • 4 quarts water (for second boiling) (16 cups)


  • Bring water to a boil, add ashes and stir. Add corn and stir often. Boil for one hour adding boiling water every 15 minutes. 
  • Remove corn from ash water and rinse in cold water in a metal sieve or metal colander rubbing the corn against the side to remove the hull. 
  • Return to fresh boiling water for one hour. Rinse again to remove any remaining hulls. 
  • Add to your favorite dish (e.g., bean and ham soup). Enjoy  


WATER: This recipe calls for four separate uses of water: 1) an initial 4 quarts of water for the first boiling of the corn to prepare it for hull removal; 2) a reserve pot of boiling water to have on hand during the first boil to replace the evaporating water in the corn pot and ensure the corn remains fully immersed; 3) clean water for rinsing the corn and for removing husks following the first and second boils; 4) another 4 quarts of water for the second boiling of the corn. 

Rebecca Webster and Laura Manthe are cousins and seemingly inseparable. They share a passion for Oneida white corn: an ancient variety dating back to the tribe’s ancestral homelands in upstate New York.

“Laura’s corn soup recipe is reservation famous!” Webster says. Historically, scarcity of the crop limited the preparation of white corn soup to special occasions such as ceremonies and funerals. To make it a staple of the Oneida diet, the cousins are a part of a cooperative collecting seeds and growing corn according to traditional practices. Preparing corn soup the Oneida way is labor-intensive but sustainable, and Webster believes it holds the key to solving many health problems plaguing their community in recent decades.

To begin making the delicacy, they use hand-picked, hand-husked corn dried in ornate braids over the course of the winter. They cook it in hardwood ashes to remove the hull and allow it to expand in size. The corn releases niacin, a vitamin known for its ability to lower high cholesterol levels. The hulling process can take up to three hours. Then, the corn is mixed with dry kidney and pinto beans, along with smoked pork hocks.

By practicing traditional Oneida ways, Webster and Manthe regain intimacy with their cultural heritage. For many years, displacement and assimilation resulted in many Native children growing up speaking only English. “Even though I grew up [on the reservation] I didn’t grow up learning the language,” says Webster, whose parents forbade her from associating with other tribal members in the Oneida longhouse down the road.

Traditional preparation of Oneida corn soup benefits other Wisconsin communities, too. To access a sustainable source of hardwood ashes, Manthe and Webster developed a relationship with the Menominee Tribe, many of whom burn hardwood to heat their homes. The Menominee now trade ashes for dehydrated corn.

Rooted in traditional growing techniques, Manthe’s sight is set on innovation. “We’re getting braver. . . using corn flour to make banana bread and fritters, but we’d like to expand and make traditional recipes from other tribes,” she says. The cousins share the story of bringing their dehydrated corn to friends in Oaxaca, Mexico, who added it to their famous Posole soup. “They loved it because it’s not the corn grown in their village,” shares Manthe. “They also joined us on a trip to Ecuador and brought these gigantic tortillas and they shared with the [Quechua] people. It was a three-way trade of knowledge, ideas and seeds!”

Rebecca and Laura laugh and smile as they cook together
Rebecca Webster (left) and Laura Manthe (right) enjoy a moment cooking together.
Two glass bowls of corn soup
An ancient variety of Oneida white corn is used in Laura’s famous corn soup.
Dried white corn in glass jars
Once dry, the Oneida white corn must go through a hulling process that takes up to three hours.

“I guess I’m expected to be from somewhere else.”

Laila Borokhim, Madison

Wisconsin-grown Ghormeh Sabzi

Laila Borokhim:
My grandmother came to the U.S. in the late seventies, because there was a revolution in Iran. We grew up pretty much on the same block as the house that her and my grandfather lived in. She was just a kind individual.

We would go to her house instead of going to daycare, and I would hang out and watch her cooking food in the kitchen. This is Ghormeh Sabzi. Some might call it the national dish of Iran. This was something that my grandmother would make on Friday nights for Shabbat. We are Sephardic Jews. We definitely tried to assimilate and not be Jewish outside of doing things with our family. We didn’t want to be weird. We wanted to go to football games on Friday night and not be at my grandmother’s house, eating the foods that I now cook. We wanted hamburgers and hot dogs and just to fit in.
[bright music]

My father owns a Persian rug store, and he’s always worked six days a week since I was a little kid, so Sundays were the only days that he has off. We have our family gathering on Sundays, based sort of on his work schedule.

I wouldn’t be here if I didn’t have my family with me. I think there’s forces at work here that, you’ll always end up finding us having dinner together.

Wisconsin-grown Ghormeh Sabzi

Ghormeh Sabzi (also Qormeh Sabzi) is a Persian herb stew and the default national dish of Iran. Laila Borokhim provides her personal recipe, one she shares with her Sephardic Jewish family. Laila is also the owner of the restaurant Noosh in Madison where she provides twists on her family’s traditional dishes.
Prep Time20 mins
Cook Time3 hrs
Total Time3 hrs 20 mins
Author: Laila Borokhim, Madison


  • 1/4 cup canola oil, divided
  • 1 large yellow onion, finely chopped
  • 1 tsp ground turmeric
  • 1 1/2 pounds leg of lamb, cut into 1 1/2-inch cubes
  • 1 1/2 cups finely chopped spinach
  • 1 cup finely chopped green onions (green part only)
  • 1/2 cup finely chopped Italian flat-leaf parsley
  • 1/4 cup finely chopped cilantro
  • 1/4 cup finely chopped chives
  • 1/4 cup finely chopped fenugreek leaves
  • 1 1/2 cups water, or more as needed salt and ground black pepper to taste
  • salt and ground black pepper to taste
  • 1 lemon, juiced
  • 4 dried Persian limes
  • 1 15 oz can red kidney beans, drained and rinsed


  • Heat 2 tablespoons oil in a large pot over medium-high heat. Add onion; cook and stir until deep golden brown, 10 to 15 minutes. Stir in turmeric for 1 to 2 minutes. Add lamb cubes; cook until coated in turmeric and browned on all sides, 8 to 10 minutes.
  • Heat remaining 2 tablespoons oil in a separate pot over medium heat. Add spinach, green onions, parsley, cilantro, chives, and fenugreek leaves; cook and stir until deep dark green in color, 5 to 10 minutes.
  • Stir spinach mixture into the onion and lamb mixture. Pour in enough water to create a slurry consistency. Season with salt and pepper. Pour in lemon juice. Reduce heat, cover, and simmer stew until greens soften, about 1 hour.
  • Pierce dried limes with a fork and add to the stew. Continue simmering until chuck is tender, 30 minutes to 1 hour. Stir in red kidney beans. Cook until flavors combine, about 30 minutes. Discard dried limes before serving.

Ghormeh Sabzi, often dubbed Iran’s national dish, is an aromatic stew of herbs and meat. Laila Borokhim, a Madisonian with Persian Jewish heritage, sources nearly all the ingredients for it from local gardens and farms. In Nahavand, one of the oldest Iranian cities, her grandmother used to prepare the green herb stew for the family’s Shabbat dinners. Borokhim summons the memory of her grandmother and the passion for cooking she inherited from her in a Wisconsinite rendition.

Parsley, green onions or leeks, cilantro, onions and a choice of beef or lamb can be found at any farmers’ market around the state. Kidney beans and dried lemon add the signature tartness. Ghormeh Sabzi stews slowly on low heat while Borokhim prepares other Persian delicacies. Three generations of her family traditionally get together every Sunday to share a feast in her sister’s Madison home.

When Borokhim’s paternal side of the family immigrated to the United States in the 1970s, they were fleeing the Iranian Revolution. In Madison, where Borokhim and her sisters were born and raised, she says she felt a need to assimilate. “I guess I’m expected to be from somewhere else,” says Borokhim. Looking for a way to experience and share her heritage with the Madison community, she dedicated her life’s work to food. She currently runs Noosh, a restaurant, in which she explores Jewish food traditions from around the globe.

A lemon, kidney beans, minced parsley and a Persian cookbook
Ingredients are gathered as the Ghormeh Sabzi recipe lies open on the counter.
Grandmother, parents and children eat hamburgers and fries al fresco
Laila shares a photo of her grandmother, parents and siblings eating a meal together.
Laila and her young son smile at each other as the boy eats an apple
A moment of joy as Laila Borokhim and her son spend time together in the kitchen.

“I don’t know too many people that can make bread by hand anymore without a machine. It’s just the way we’ve known to make bread. We’ve had to make our bread over open fire.”

Katherine Denomie, Bad River Reservation

Fry Bread

Listen to Audio

Maureen McCollum:
Fry appears to have originated in the 1800’s, when the U.S. government forced many American Indians to move onto reservations. They were given commodities like flour, lard, and sugar to survive. Fry bread is become a staple in many Native American diets including in Katherine Denomie’s. She lives on the Bad River Reservation in northern Wisconsin but she’s originally from the Fond du Lac Band of Fond du Lac Band of Lake Superior Chippewa. Denomie recently showed WPR’s Daniel Kaeding how she makes fry bread.

Katherine Denomie:
I’m making the dough right now. Measure out the flour, yeast, salt, sugar. Then put my oil and milk in there and mix it up. When I first started, I was about 19. My mom taught me how to make it. She taught all of us how to bake.

[scraping sounds]

So we wouldn’t starve I guess. I don’t know. [chuckles]

And I’ve had other women teach me through the years. We used to go to a lot of pow wows when I was younger. And I remember my mom being one of the main cooks for the feast. That’s all I remember is her cooking all the time.[chuckles]

So I knew because I can do it now, she’s the one that taught me.

[scraping sounds]

She taught me how to making a living anyways.[chuckles]

I’ve seen her cook a lot of food in my life for a bunch of people. I guess I got it in my blood. People always listen over a piece of bread. The young kids, they like to talk so that’s when you teach them. Keep their mouth full. Then they’ll listen. [laughs]

For me, it’s a living and it’s something that Indian people eat year round. It’s not just a special. It’s something we use every day. A lot of people don’t make it no more. Old ladies do but not the younger ones. I don’t know too many people that can make bread by hand anymore without a machine.

[scraping sounds]

And that’s it. And then I fry it. 400 degrees and then it cooks the bread. You cook it on one side and then you flip it over and you brown it on the other side. Then it’s done. It’s just the way we’ve known to make bread. We’ve had to make our bread over open fire. We never had ovens or anything so usually when you make fry bread, a long time ago, it used to be made outside. You used to put it over a fire and then a kettle, like a fry pan, and you would just put the whole thing in there. Not something you need to make in the house, or something, you can make it anywhere. So that’s why it was good for Indian people ‘cause they could make their bread anywhere they were camped at for a site. It only takes about a minute or two on each side. It’s good to go.

[Native American flute music]

Katherine Denomie lives on the Bad River Reservation in Northern Wisconsin but she’s originally from the Fond du Lac Band of Lake Superior Chippewa.

When she was 19 years old, Denomie’s mother first taught her how to make frybread. She remembers attending American Indian Movement (AIM) pow wows with her mom when she was young. Founded in 1968, the organization protested on behalf of American Indian civil rights. The group sought protection of tribal sovereignty, treaty rights and restoration of their lands. Denomie’s mother was often one of the main cooks for the feast at the pow wows.

Denomie mixes flour, yeast, sugar, salt, oil and milk to make the dough for frybread. She lets it rise for about a half hour before she fries it in oil for a minute or two on each side. Denomie couldn’t remember her mom’s exact recipe so she turned to one on the side of a commodity flour bag.

For her, frybread is a way to make a living. She just began selling it as part of her business Denome Dough, which she started in July. “A lot of people don’t make it no more by hand,” Denomie said. “A lot of old ladies do, but not the younger ones.” Many years ago, people would make it in a kettle over a fire.

“You can make it anywhere. That’s why it was good for Indian people because they could make their bread anywhere they were camped at,” she said.

Frybread appears to have originated in the 1800s when the U.S. government forced many American Indians to move onto reservations. They were given commodities like flour, lard and sugar to survive.

Katherine Denomie mixes the ingredients for frybread dough in her kitchen.
Katherine Denomie mixes ingredients for frybread in her kitchen.
Large stainless steel bowl of flour amongst kitchen appliances
Katherine gathers her ingredients as she begins to prepare the frybread.

“Rum is a crucial ingredient in the cake and the party.”

Monica O’Connell, Fort Atkinson

Rum Cake

Monica O’Connell, Fort Atkinson

Rum Cake

[water running]
[upbeat music]

Monica O’Connell:
Alright, cake time.

Three and a quarter cups. This is my mother’s famous rum cake. The memory is one of me being a young kid, getting to stay up ’cause my parents were throwing one of their famous house parties. Just to help the flavor along, you know. Eating this, my mom’s famous rum cake, on the stairs and watching the grown folks dance. People would get dressed up and they’d dance and they’d play cards and we don’t have parties like that anymore, you know?

That smells good. It’s a happy smell. Rum and butter, no problem. What I want to recreate is just that feeling of, through deliciousness and welcomeness, the food ways and the musical traditions, they share the same space, they influenced one another, I think.

Bye, momma, we’ll see you in 45. Just a little more butter. They know how I see this in Wisconsin too. I go to Cheese Days. Cheese Days isn’t Cheese Days without polka. [chuckles warmly]

It is a grown-up cake and that’s probably part of why it felt so special to have it when I was a kid but it looks pretty good.

Mm-hmm! [laughing] Yup, that’s just fine!

That little bit of extra rum definitely helped.

Curtis & Cake’s Butter Rum Bundt

Monica O’Connell makes one-of-a-kind wedding and celebration cakes through her independent, small-batch cake and sweets studio in Fort Atkinson called Curtis & Cake. The “Curtis” is for the soul singer Curtis Mayfield and gestures to O’Connell’s love of the arts, music, culture and history. She cherishes foodways of the American South and generously offers her adaptation of her mother’s recipe for Butter Rum Cake.
Prep Time20 mins
Cook Time1 hr
Cooling time30 mins
Total Time1 hr 20 mins
Course: Dessert
Servings: 12 slices
Author: Monica O'Connell, Fort Atkinson



  • 3 3/4 sticks softened butter
  • 2 cups sugar
  • 3 1/4 cups unbleached all-purpose flour
  • 3/4 tsp baking powder (aluminum-free if possible)
  • 3/4 tsp kosher salt
  • 5 eggs
  • 3 Tbsp sour cream
  • 1/4 cup rum (I use Bacardi Gold in honor of my mom’s version, but also really like Cane & Abe Small Barrel or Plantation Pineapple Rum)
  • 1 Tbsp vanilla

For the glaze

  • 1/2 cup butter
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 3/4 cup rum


  • 1 cup toasted pecans


  • Preheat oven to 325°F
  • Butter and lightly flour a 10 or 12 cup Bundt pan
  • Cream the butter and sugar until light and fluffy (5-7 minutes). Meanwhile sift together flour, powder, and salt, and set aside. In a smaller bowl, whisk together eggs, sour cream, rum and vanilla. Pour into butter mixture and cream until smooth. Add the dry ingredients in two batches, scraping the bowl in between.
  • If using, layer toasted pecans in bottom of Bundt; pour in batter. Bake about an hour, rotating pan after 30 minutes. Just watch and smell; It’s done when a poked-in knife comes out clean.
  • Make the glaze while the cake is cooling. Melt butter in a saucepan. Stir in ¼ cup water and the sugar. Boil for 5 minutes, stirring constantly. Remove from heat and stir in rum.
  • Carefully release cake from pan. Poke small holes all over it with a toothpick. Pour ¾ of the glaze into the bottom of the cake pan and return cake. Pour remaining glaze over the exposed bottom of cake. When all of the glaze has soaked into cake, invert onto a plate.


A lot of ingredients go into making a good memory, and for Monica O’Connell it usually includes butter and sugar … and rum. Baking a rum cake takes Monica back to when she was a little girl living in the South.

Part of this atmosphere was the music played at her parents’ house parties —70’s R&B. “The foodways and the musical traditions,” says Monica, “they share the same space, they influence one another.”

Monica remembers the music as an integral part of her household. She recalls helping her mother bake the rum cake; her mother’s sense of grace and hospitality left an indelible impression.

“The memory is really literally one of me being a young kid getting to stay up later than I usually do because my parents were throwing one of their famous house parties, eating my mom’s famous rum cake on the stairs and watching the grown folks dance,” she says.

Rum is a crucial ingredient in the cake and the party. “There’s a little bit of rum that goes into the batter,” says Monica, “but there’s a lot of rum that just soaks into the cake itself.”

Now Monica hopes to spread some of that love with her own baked goods. She emphasizes that the cake tastes even better when accompanied by a little Curtis Mayfield.

“The smell one can never forget. It’s not good.”

Christ Lutheran Church, Deforest


Listen to Audio

Maureen McCollum:
Lutefisk —cod that’s been preserved in lye—is a Scandinavian delicacy. It’s a polarizing dish; some people grow up loving it, while others despise it. But that doesn’t stop people from packing into the basement of the Christ Lutheran Church in DeForest every year. For months, volunteers plan the dinner and cook everything from scratch, including 1900 pounds of lutefisk. I went to see what brings people back year after year.

Dan Paulson:
I’m Dan Paulson with Christ Lutheran Church and I’m one of the co-chairpersons of the lutefisk dinner. And how long we’ve been involved. Jan, we have been involved since about what nineteen seventy five.

Jan Scholz:
I’m Jan Scholz, live in DeForest. Thirty years ago it was the first dinner.

Dan Paulson:
What it is it’s a cod or a whitefish. And then they’d dehydrate it and preserve that in lye and then it has to be rehydrated and wash all the lye out.

Jan Scholz:
When they were immigrating, when they came to this country from Norway, they preserved it and they put in their suitcases. It was dry, they could bring it here.

Dan Paulson:
At Christmas, my father was 100 percent Norwegian, my mother 100 percent German. So I’m just confused. But at Christmas we had the lutefisk dinner my father on my left my uncle on my right. They passed that dish back and forth between the two of them. And then I couldn’t stand the smell. And finally when they killed all the taste buds in my mouth, then I started loving it. It takes it’s an acquired taste, but my sons love it right off the bat.

Here’s some more of the cooks. You can see the kettles of boiling water. Boiling water drains off. Then they drop it into a dish. And that’s where we separate the bones from the meat itself.

Janice Tipple:
Yep, when she gets to be a bone picker you never get rid of his job hahaha. My name is Janice Tipple and I live in the town of Windsor. [00:01:27][8.8]

Dan Paulson:
Janice, you said you became a member of Christ Lutheran for what reason?

Janice Tipple:
Because of the lutefisk dinner. Really. I did, yes! We’ve been coming to this lutefisk dinner long before we became members. It was the best lutefisk dinner. We decided Well we need to become members of this church.

Male voice:
That’s one way to pick a church.

Matt Erlandson:
Today we have lutefisk and Swedish meatballs with gravy, mashed potatoes, rutabagas, delicious coleslaw, and lefse, and melted butter, of course. Plenty of it. Matt Erlandson, Madison.

Wendy Bunster:
Wendy Bunster, Antigo, Wisconsin. This is a generational type of thing. Our grandparents, great-grandparents we were raised having lutefisk and lefse for Christmas. The smell one can never forget. It’s not good. It has to do with the lye flavor. Ask him, he travels to all of them practically, hahaha.

Dale Erlandson:
Ask me how I found the lutefisk. I said there was a truck went by and we just followed our nose. My name is Dale and last name is Erlandson. I live in Antigo. My nickname is Swede. That might have something to do with the fact that I like lutefisk. Well mostly because it’s a good fish. They cook the lutefisk just perfect.

Matt Erlandson:
Our patriarchs here have been eating fish since they could crawl and it wasn’t our favorite as children but it’s really grown on us and now it’s a great tradition.

Background music:
[singing to the tune of “Oh Christmas Tree” played on accordion]
O lutefisk, O lutefisk
How fragrant your aroma
O lutefisk, O lutefisk
You put me in a coma …

Lutefisk is a generational dish you can smell from afar — as far as a fjord in Norway, quite possibly. As one lutefisk fan describes it, “The smell one can never forget. It’s not good.” The intense, unpleasant odor of this brined fish is both affectionately embraced and lightly mocked among enthusiasts. Most of them agree: it’s an acquired taste.

Traditional lutefisk dinners are typically served with other Scandinavian dishes and sides including lefse — a paper thin potato flatbread — Swedish meatballs, rutabaga, coleslaw, potatoes and lots of butter. The cod or white fish is initially dehydrated and preserved in lye to which it owes its name — lutefisk means “lye fish.”

Before it can be eaten, lutefisk is thoroughly soaked and rinsed with water to remove the lye solution, then boiled back to an edible texture. At this point, the bones must be separated from the fish. One church volunteer says, “Once you get to be a bone picker, you never get rid of this job.” It’s a painstaking task and pickers need all the dexterous helping hands they can recruit to extract the tiny bones from the flesh.

The hard work, foul smell and funky texture — the fish is described as “gelatinous” — are all worth it for people passionate about lutefisk. One woman even admits the main reason she joined Christ Lutheran Church in DeForest is for the lutefisk dinners, explaining she began attending them long before she and her family became official members.

The event is volunteer-run and requires weeks of preparation. By the end of a lutefisk dinner at Christ Lutheran guests will have consumed:

2,200 pounds of lutefisk
500 pounds of meatballs
500 pounds of rhubarb
200 pies (all donated by members)
106 pounds of butter

Odious odor and aesthetics aside, this traditional meal brings people together, celebrates Scandinavian American culture and allows for a special bond among the loyal lovers of lutefisk.

Community members crowd into the church basement at Christ Lutheran in Deforest for their taste of the annual Lutefisk Dinner.
A church volunteer boils a big pot of lutefisk.
Church members and avid Lutefisk Dinner volunteers, Gregg and Janice Tipple, enjoy each other's company before seating the next round of guests.
A glass pane at Christ Lutheran Church in Deforest illustrates how deeply symbolic the fish is to Christianity.

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