Venture north to Minnesota’s Mesabi Iron Range and you’ll find 75 miles of paved cycling trails, 60 miles of hiking trails, many small, friendly lakes, and one-of-a-kind attractions that explore the region’s history and mystery. The must-see list is long, but wherever the trails take you – into the woods, onto the course, or into the water – you’ll need to refuel! Try these regional specialties that hearken back to the early 1900s when many nationalities came to the region to work in the burgeoning iron ore mines. One serving of these comfort foods will make you feel strong like a miner, and give you a taste of some Mesabi magic.
They are (in no particular order):
1. Porketta – If you eat meat, you’ll be ordering these delicious roasts online for the rest of your life, or making a special trip north to buy them in our grocery stores. A rolled Italian pork roast covered with fennel, oregano, garlic and other spices, this slow-cooked nom-nom perfect for hard roll sammies. The drippings are great for dipping or gravy-making, but the porketta’s most common iteration is shredded on a bun and served at just about any family gathering, any time of year. Try a porketta sandwich at The Wandering Pines restaurant in Gilbert, or buy one from Sunrise Deli or Fraboni’s in Hibbing, or just about any grocery on the Range. The also-popular “turketta” (take a guess) can also be found in stores.
2. Sarma – These delightful little Serbian “pigs in a blanket” can be made a variety of ways, but I’ll describe the way I know. The filling is a large handful of seasoned ground pork and beef (ground ham or even veal is not-entirely-uncommon), mixed with rice. Wrapped in a leaf of sour head cabbage (basically, cabbage that’s been frozen, at least that’s the technique I learned), they’re cooked in a casserole dish or even stacked in a roasting pan and covered with sauerkraut and lightly seasoned tomato juice/sauce. Some make this without tomato – maybe purists or something – but I like the saucier version. So yummy. Serve with crusty bread. Buy these from the Hibbing Tourist Center Seniors (218-262-4166) or Sunrise Deli, also in Hibbing (218-263-5713).
3. Potica – Pronounced Po-teet-suh. Also pronounced delicious by, like, everyone. This pastry hails from eastern Europe – Slovenians, Slovakians, Croatians et al serve some equally yummy version of this. My favorite has paper thin bread layers, a process that involves stretching the sweet dough to the size of a large dining room table. Others like a thicker dough layer. Either way, the filling of finely chopped walnuts (or pecans, sometimes with apples or even raisins) mixed with a sweetener – sugar or honey – and cinnamon, among other things, is spread onto the dough and rolled, cut and baked into a cherished holiday treat the size of a loaf of bread. Some like it served warm with butter, but honestly, the nut filling is rich enough that potica is fab cold, too. Purchase at Italian Bakery in Virginia, Andres European Pastry in Chisholm, and Sunrise Bakery in Hibbing.
4. Pasty. Pronounced past-ee, this meat pie carries its heat and shape, and thus made it a lunchtime staple among the working men of the mines back in the day. Many still adore this dish today, and pasties are monthly money-making, mass-production projects for a solid number of church groups across the Range. Basically, root veg like potatoes, carrots and rutabaga (this last ingredient is controversial. I’m going to go pro-“root-a-baggy”), and onions, and seasoned with S&P and mixed with ground beef and/or pork. The crust MUST BE made using lard. Roll the dough, put the filling in, and fold the dough, crimping the edge. Bake and voila: your pasty. Serve with butter, gravy, ketchup or all three. These hearty little guys are a meal of their own. Can be purchased frozen at Sunrise Bakery in Hibbing. Groups get a kick out of the “pasty in a pail” miners’ lunch experience at Minnesota Discovery Center.
There you have it, four of our favorites. Find them during your next visit to the Mesabi. Questions? firstname.lastname@example.org 218-749-8161.