Beatrice Ojakangas of Duluth, MN

Jena Modin / Heavy Table

Before Beatrice Ojakangas, there was no cookbook for Finnish cuisine. Today her first book, The Finnish Cookbook, is in its 38th printing. “I guess I’ve just been a bit lucky,” says Ojakangas, who is a member of the James Beard Cookbook Hall of Fame (2005). According to her husband, Dick, “Around here [Duluth] I am Mr. Bea Ojakangas. It doesn’t bother me a bit, as long as she feeds me.”

Growing up in Floodwood, MN, Ojakangas was “the oldest [of ten]. My mother said it was time to learn to bake a cake, but I couldn’t read or write yet because I hadn’t been to school.” As her younger sister Lil was born in the next room, Ojakangas made what she calls the “salt cake,” her first experience in the kitchen. “My mother said always before you bake something you should taste it and if it tastes flat you should add a pinch of salt,” says Ojakangas. Taste after taste led to pinch after pinch of salt. After baking the cake in a wood-heated oven, Ojakangas realized she “had forgotten the sugar.” She’s come a long way in both her understanding of food and creativity in the kitchen.

With 27 books under her belt, Ojakangas could be said to be the Julia Child of Finnish cuisine. Because she’s “a curious person,” Ojakangas spent a year in Finland traveling around learning recipes and writing her first book, The Finnish Cookbook. Rye, lingonberries, and cloudberries were the elements of Finnish cuisine that were used in recipes passed down verbally from generation to generation. Due to that tradition, Ojakangas says “the same name [of] a recipe will indicate a different recipe in different parts of the country.” Growing up, Ojakangas was the only grandchild who could speak Finnish so her grandmother taught her Finnish food words. “While I was there I would ask people about the words my grandma taught me,” says Ojakangas.

To make a good cookbook, “it has to have a theme or a hook,” says Ojakangas, who has recently published Petite Sweets, a book that veers from her Finnish expertise. Not all of her cookbooks have been Scandinavian themed, but the ones that have are among the most popular. The Great Scandinavian Baking Book received a James Beard Award. Scandinavian Feasts, a book that Ojakangas wrote after traveling to all of the Scandinavian countries, went out of print after 14 months. Recently it has been brought back into print along with 7 other books by the University of Minnesota Press. “The U of M press says they want to keep all my books in print,” says Ojakangas.

Jena Modin / Heavy Table

Ojakangas also has some experience working in restaurants. “Somebody’s House” was the name of the restaurant that she and her husband owned in the Mount Royal shopping center in Duluth in the early ’70s. “Part of the success was in the name,” says Dick. It was a burger place with a menu that could compete with the Lighthouse, Big Daddy’s, or the Anchor Bar. The menu included 36 varieties of hamburgers, and every month they would change them up. The Noodle Burger ($1.45), the Burgundy Burger ($1.45), and the Swede Burger ($1.15) were among the choices. The Duluth Blizzard Burger ($1.25) was described by the restaurant’s menu as “the hamburger sheltered beneath a drift of sour cream as only Duluth would, or could, have it; the garnish of course, is a kosher pickle and Scandinavian styled pickled beet. Var sa God!” The couple owned the restaurant for three years, then sold it because Beatrice preferred writing and Dick was a professor of geology at UMD. “After we sold it, [the restaurant] supported two [other] families for 10 years,” says Dick.

Last year, one of Ojakangas’ newest books, The Best Casserole Cookbook Ever, was nominated for a James Beard Award for single subject. “You can find casseroles all over the world,” says Ojakangas, who, like many Minnesotans, often calls a casserole a “hot dish.”

Jena Modin / Heavy Table

There isn’t a book at the printer or in progress, but there is a proposal currently on Ojakangas’ desk. “People are always asking me for a slow cooker cookbook,” says Ojakangas, who doesn’t think she will ever stop writing.

Crusty Roasted Carrot Casserole

Excerpted from The Best Casserole Cookbook Ever

“You wouldn’t think that carrots covered with a batter could roast until very tender, but they do,” says Ojakangas. “And this preparation renders them sweet and flavorful, as well.”

1 tablespoon cold butter, cut up, plus extra for the dish
6 medium carrots, peeled
¼ cup milk
1 egg beaten
1 teaspoon salt
½ cup all-purpose flour

  1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Butter a shallow 2-quart casserole.
  2. Quarter the carrots lengthwise. Beat the milk and egg in a shallow bowl. In another shallow bowl, combine the salt and flour. Dip the carrots first into the milk mixture, then into the flour mixture.
  3. Arrange the carrots in the casserole dish in a single layer. Dot with the 1 tablespoon butter and bake until the carrots are tender, about 45 minutes.

Facebook Comments

comments

About the Author

14 Comments

  1. I have “The Finnish Cookbook” and I love it. I must get a copy of “The Best Casserole Book Ever”. I must, I must.

  2. Beatrice Ojakangas is a state treasure. She should have a statue on the Nicollet Mall, right next to MTM–or maybe it should be up in Canal Park. I love the Finnish cookbook, too, and Ms. Ojakangas was way ahead of the curve in promoting honest European-style breads, and showing us how to make them in the American kitchen. All best to her, and thanks to Heavy Table for another excellent article.

    Brett

  3. She is one of my cooking heroines. I would love to spend a winter afternoon baking with her. She did an episode of Baking with Julia and it’s the sweetest episode.

  4. Bea is so amazing – thank you for this dolly of an article. When I was a cub reporter in Duluth I got to go to an annual Norskie dinner at the First Lutheran. It was my first time meeting such a real life food champion; totally masterful with the lefse stickchula!

  5. Faye Jordheim 01/17/2010 Reply

    Not only did I find this artile interesting, the photo’s brought it all together.

  6. Oh my word! When I got back into bread-baking several years ago, I copied down many of Bea’s recipes from her whole-grain bread book. They were always lovely, tasty recipes, and her method of stirring up ingredients including a 15-minute rest was eye-opening. I began to refer to it as the Ojakangas method, even though I’d seen methods like it before, and now apply it to most of my bread-baking. She’s a real treasure and wonderful resource. Thanks for the profile, Heavy Table.

  7. Bea is a wonderful lady. I well remember many lovely meals at “Somebody’s House” in Duluth. The concept was very cool. Students could afford to go to a nice place with a fairly classy atmosphere. The menu was all burgers, but done in the most clever, delicious ways. I recall one that involved Linden Berries for goodness sake. I remember sitting at a table conversing, watching snow collect on the evergreens outside the window. We sipped a radical new coffee brew called “espresso!” What a pleasant memory. Thanks to Bea and her husband for “Somebody’s House” and for all the other wonderful work she has done. Bea has become a celebrity of sorts. I have seen her over the years on a number of very popular cooking programs.

  8. I have a correction for my post of 4-19-20. There was a “lingonberry” burger on the menu. When I first saw this on the menu I had no idea what a ligonberry was. A daring ligonberry “trial run” revealed a delicious new flavor experience. I think I had linden confused with ligon. Linden is used to make tea I believe.

  9. Liz Swanson 12/31/2010 Reply

    Big Bea fan since the early ’80’s. Her recipes are well-tested and represents Scandinavian food at its best!

  10. Lillian Marie Larva 12/31/2012 Reply

    Hi Peaches!

    I would like to know if you have a recipe for syltya. I would like to try making it. Can’t seem to be able to buy the good stuff. I would appreciate your input on this.

    Kiitos!

  11. Jeff Barry 01/03/2014 Reply

    Having read some of the above I am regretting even more that I did not have a chance to meet Beatrice Ojakangas. I was invited to the Ojakangas’ home to meet with her husband, The Geologist, to talk about rocks. The Mrs. pulled out of her driveway just as my wife and I arrived and we never met her. Still I am not surprised to hear all the nice things about her. Likes attract, after all, and the Mr. is quite a wonderful fellow in his own right, and is a well known geologist with many papers and books to his name.

    Jeff Barry
    Acton, MA

Trackbacks for this post

  1. […] If you’d like to read more about Beatrice Ojakangas, I love this piece written by Eric Faust for the Heavy Table. Click right here. […]

  2. […] summer squash tacos, warm blueberry sauce, borscht, cooking chanterelles with Beatrice Ojakangas (our profile of her is here), roasted chili relish, fresh tomato soup, and Italian lamb with risotto. » Borscht and […]

  3. […] Biere de Noel. Author Beatrice Ojakangas is coming to Ingebretsen’s on Dec. 8 (here’s our interview with her.) StoryCorp interviews Sarah Burt of Saucy Burt’s (pictured above, here’s our […]

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

*