Pancakes in Summer

August 27, 2010

August is a busy time in our household. Our kitchen goes into full production mode as we harvest, freeze and can the tons of garden produce that seem to ripen all at once.

Until last week, August was also presenting me with an empty week in my blog schedule. For some reason, I was simply at a loss for a story idea—that is, until my Aunt Judy called.

Judy is my grandmother Ruth’s daughter and she’s the preserver of an important family tradition. Judy is key to the potato pancake recipe.

Perfect timing! She gave me a yummy story topic and coincided it with our great harvest of potatoes.

“I learned this recipe from my mother,” says Judy. “And she probably learned it from her mother. We always had them on Good Friday and we never had meat with them. I loved them. I carried it on with my family.”

Perhaps my mother didn’t love these pancakes as much because, as a kid, I don’t remember her cooking them. So, naturally I’m coveting my aunt’s recipe. Except, guess what, like many family recipes, there’s no real recipe.

“We never had any specific measurements, nothing that was written down,” says Judy. “I just go by the potatoes and how they mix together.”

So, together over the phone—Judy calculating and estimating, and me writing things down—we came up with the following recipe. You can start practicing it now and by next Good Friday, you’ll be good to go.

Ruth Larson’s Potato Pancakes
6 medium potatoes
4 eggs
2-3 Tbsp. flour
1-2 teas. baking powder
Salt and pepper, to taste
Vegetable or olive oil

Grate potatoes. If grating with water in a blender, drain water. If grating in a food processor, allow natural potato juices to remain. Beat eggs and mix with potatoes. Sprinkle flour and baking powder over potato mixture, mix well to create a thick paste.

Heat griddle and oil until hot. Drop the batter into pan in 3-inch diameter pancakes, making sure dough is thin. When browned on one side, flip and flatten pancake with spatula. Brown the second side. Cook until brown and crispy.

grated potatoes

I called Judy to verify my potato volume and texture. I ended up with about six cups of potatoes grated to the size of rice kernels. She said that was good. (And just so you know, food photography is very stressful. The potatoes discolored as fast as I set them up for shooting!)

Be sure the griddle and oil are hot enough. Drop the batter in 3-inch diameter, thin cakes. I think I should have made these thinner, as some of them didn’t cook completely before browning.

Potato pancakes are commonly topped with syrup or applesauce, however Judy puts granulated sugar on hers. “That’s how we ate them as kids,” she says. “That’s how we liked them.”

And while Judy never ate meat with her pancakes as a child, she now serves ring bologna or kielbasa when cooking for her family. She also sometimes adds chopped onions or uses zucchini instead of potatoes.

Judy didn’t say anything about beer. But I’m remembering our German heritage. I’m remembering those beer-drinking, ball-swinging, picnicking Hornburg cousins and as my husband and I sit down to dinner, we raise a glass to Ruth.



Back in the 1980s, while raising my children, I fancied myself a writer. Well, let’s just say I was a wannabe writer. I wrote as a creative outlet. I wrote for self-expression. Once in a great while, I’d even get published in random, obscure magazines.

So, naturally, when Eivor sent me her story, I wrote one in response. And, naturally, I tried to get it published. Unlike Eivor, who is a professional writer, I didn’t have much success. You wouldn’t believe how many magazine publications I queried—and back then it was snail mail correspondence, a very slow process.

Well, thank goodness for today’s blogging. I’ve finally found a way to get my story published!

Here it is.

Her Picture and My Picture

She has an old family photograph of four sisters. The young women are dressed in formal black dresses of long ago and have been captured in a serious pose by a photographer in Des Moines, Iowa. She wonders of those sisters. She wonders what became of them and what the future brought for them in the land of America.

I have a photograph of an old house. It’s a small, frame house, located in Västra Harg, Sweden. I wonder of that old house and the history it holds. I wonder of the many generations born there, who then grew up to bring their own children into that same house.

Of different tenses of time. Of different subjects and places. Such are the wonderings the two of us have.

She is Eivor and she lives in Sweden. I am Diahann and I live in the United States. She is a descendent of those who stayed in Sweden. I am a descendant of those who immigrated to America.

In reality, the women in Eivor’s photograph were four of seven Lindahl sisters who grew up in the tiny Swedish house and later came to the United States. They were born into a large family during the latter half of the 19th century, a time when life in Sweden was hard and frugal. Their father, Anders Lindahl, is said to have been a very stern man. As was common during that time, the sisters were encouraged to go to America to seek a better life. The eldest came first, sending news back to their family in the homeland.

Eivor’s photograph, bearing the label of Kramers Photography, from Walnut Street in Des Moines, was one such greeting. Encouraged by these letters, their younger sisters followed in the years to come. As the family story goes, their youngest sister, Emelie, loved her life in Sweden and didn’t want to leave. In spite of this, her family bought a passage to America for her and she left with tears, promising that no one would ever hear from her again.

Eivor writes of the sympathies she feels for the family of the sisters. She imagines the tears their poor mother must have shed as she lost her daughters one by one. Yet, she feels a “wing-stroke of history” at the thought of the sisters long ago running and playing on the same hills she herself has run. And she appreciates the personal touch when she reads the name of Sofi, which was signed on the back of her photograph a hundred years ago.

I write of my feelings for the sisters. I think of the sadness they surely felt as they waved goodbye to their loved ones and watched the only home they had ever known grow more distant. Imagine how frightening, yet exciting, it was for them when they finally arrived in America. This was the country that would be their new home, nevertheless it offered many strange faces, languages and customs. What a happy occasion it must have been to meet an acquaintance or family member from the homeland.

As a great-granddaughter of Sophia (Sofi), I know a bit of what became of the sisters. Eivor’s photograph is proof they lived in Des Moines for a time. While there, Sophia worked as a housemaid for several years, as was common for single, female immigrants. She also met Carl Larson, an acquaintance she had known from Västra Harg. Eventually, they married and settled in Grovertown, Ind.

Sophia’s sisters eventually settled in Chicago or the surrounding areas. With the exception of one, they all married and had families of their own.

And what of their poor sister Emelie? No one knows. Apparently, she remained true to her word and broke ties with her family in Sweden and sisters in America.

Our pictures are different. Our thoughts and wonderings are different. Eivor is part of the homeland and family the four sisters left behind. I am part of their new home and the families they brought into being.

So very different the two of us are. Yet, because we are family, we’re very much the same.

The house in the photo above, and the barn in this photo, are part of the farm where the four sisters grew up.

In 1987, Eivor wrote that she had bought the farm from her uncle, thus keeping it in the family for another generation (Eivor’s grandfather was a brother to the four sisters).

According to Eivor, there were 13 children total. Imagine that many children in this little house! No wonder their father shipped them to America! And imagine what their parents thought when Sophia sent the picture of her family and large farmhouse in America!

The family attended this church in Västra Harg. Click here for an article on the church today.

The four sisters and their siblings attended school in this building. The church now uses it as a parish hall.

Unfortunately, over the years Eivor and I have changed addresses and are no longer in correspondence. However, if you search her name under this newspaper link, you’ll find she’s still writing professionally.

Today’s technology has enabled me to finally publish my story. Certainly it can help us reconnect with Eivor. Let’s do it together!

Walpurgis Night

April 30, 2010

So, are you ready for the big celebration tonight? It’s Walpurgis Night and it’s part of our family heritage.

What? You didn’t know this?

Well, neither did I. I just happened to come across it while researching the next Beaded Bells topic—the Swedish side of our family tree.

Apparently, Walpurgis Night (Valborgsmässoafton) is a Swedish welcoming of spring. On the night of April 30, Swedes light bonfires reminiscent of those lit in the paganistic 18th century to ward off evil spirits and witches. Nowadays, the celebration continues on to the next day, which is May 1 and the Scandinavian Labour Day.

So happy Walpurgis Night!

Actually, May is George’s month—George, being Ruth’s husband—and May is the month we move on from our very Germanic roots to our Swedish. We happen to have a lot of information from the Larson side, so hang on to your seats. May is going to be a genealogical joy ride (except that it will in no way be reckless or unlawful:-)

Let’s start by talking about George.

As previously mentioned, George came into Ruth’s life in 1929, when they worked together at the C.A. Burnette Co., in Chicago. George was a bookkeeper and Ruth was a switchboard operator.

At the time, George had been living in Chicago for about ten years. According to a letter I have from my mother Carol (George and Ruth’s daughter), he moved to Chicago shortly after graduating from high school in 1918 and lived with one of his aunts.

Prior to that, he grew up on the family farm just outside Grovertown, Ind., the very place he was born on May 3, 1899, to Carl and Sophia (Lindahl) Larson. He was their third child, out of five—Olga, Clarence, George, Arthur and Esther.

Now George was a quiet man. Even though he was very much a part of my childhood and young adult years, I seldom heard him talk about himself. I do, however, have many letters written to me from his brother, Arthur, and these give good insight to their years on the farm.

According to Arthur, in a letter dated 1983, the family’s 98-acre farm was located a mile east of Grovertown, a community where many of their Larson relatives also lived. They always had lots of cows and horses “to enrich the soil,” writes Arthur, “and a few hogs and pigs to roll in the mud.”

Arthur describes their years on the farm as hard work. In addition to corn, wheat and oats, their father also planted 1-½ to 2 acres of onions to be sold as a cash crop in the fall.

“We had to crawl on our knees and pick out all the weeds,” writes Arthur. “Then Dad also planted another acre of pickles (cucumbers), which was backbreaking to pick. When finished, they had to be sorted large from small so it was quite late, and we had to deliver them to town. That was a cash crop.”

Arthur also writes of fun times like butchering a hog every fall, cutting wood in winter and sleigh rides with the horses.

“No cars or tractors back then,” he writes.

According to Arthur’s letter, Olga, George and he all went to Chicago as young adults because work there was easy to find. In 1925, their parents sold their farm in Grovertown and moved up to Michigan, where they farmed together with Clarence in the Imlay City area.

I remember as a child, my parents always had a big garden and my grandfather, George, loved to help with planting and weeding. Like the old adage says, you can take the farmer away from the farm, but can’t take the farm out of the farmer.

Here’s to Walpurgis Night, here’s to our Farmer George and here’s to any of us soon to plant our own gardens.


Carl & Sophia Larson Family, circa 1900

L-R: Carl, Clarence, Olga and Sophia, holding George.

Carl & Sophia Larson Family Farmhouse, 1993

Years ago, I sent away for the abstract and plat map for the Larson’s farm in Indiana. While vacationing in the area, we scouted down the house. Unfortunately, the owners weren’t home (or thought we looked shifty and chose not to open the door). We left a copy of the original farmhouse photo and our address, but never heard from them. It would be interesting to see the house today, yes?

Carl & Sophia Larson Family, circa 1910

A guess at identities: Back, l-r: Clarence and Olga. Middle: father Carl, Esther, and mother Sophia. Front: Arthur and George.

George, on the left, and Clarence Larson

Olga Larson, 1895-1927

Clarence Carl Larson, 1897-1959

Geroge Berthal Larson, 1899-1983

This picture was provided by Larry Newburg, our Kusin, as he likes to say. Wait to you see the information he has to share—stay tuned!

Strangely, of the many pictures we have, none of them are of Arthur. Very unfortunate, since it’s Arthur who provided so much personal information about the family. He lived from 1902-1990, and I’m hoping his daughter Donna can share as well.

Esther (Larson) Mann, 1908-1978

Another photo provided by Larry.

George Larson

Anyone know antique cars? Any ideas of the era? Look what a sharp dude George was!

George Larson 1918 military draft registration

While World War I lasted from July 1914-Nov. 1918, the U.S. didn’t get involved until April 1917.

Above is George’s draft registration card, dated September 1918. At the time, he was working as a postal clerk in Chicago and never was drafted.

Below is a more visible sample of a registration card.

1918 U.S. Draft Registration Card