Editor’s Note: Aunt Else’s shut down in spring of 2013.
If you’ve lingered at their table at the Downtown St. Paul Winter Farmers’ Market (as of last Saturday Apr. 18, officially closed for the season) or the Mill City Farmers Market in Minneapolis (opening for the season on Saturday, May 9) and watched them cook their spherical Danish pancakes in the special cast-iron pan, you’ve likely noticed that Aunt Else’s sells their own packaged æbleskiver mix. Now, Aunt Else’s plans to design and sell their own cast-iron æbleskiver pan.
Æbleskiver, (pronounced EB-el-sku-wyr), which derive their name from the Danish for apple slice, are spherical Danish pancakes with a slice of apple at the center that are cooked on the stove-top in the rounded cups of a special cast-iron pan. The æbleskiver are rotated frequently, traditionally with a knitting needle (Aunt Else’s also advocates using chopsticks) during cooking to ensure even browning. “Similar to other Scandinavian treats, such as krumkake or rosettes, cooking æbleskiver requires specialized equipment,” says Chad Gillard, President of Aunt Else’s. “In this case, a pan, to give it its special shape and texture. Æbleskiver are solid, but light and airy like a pancake.”
Æbleskiver pans have been made in the US for 150 years. Lodge has made a cast-iron pan for years, but, Gillard said, “They kept raising their prices, which spurred us to create our own.” Gillard and his partners, Lisa Timek and Linda Engwall (nieces of the “real” Aunt Else) and Sarah Engwall (Aunt Else’s grandniece), are innovating in their pan design by including nine, rather than seven, holes. “It will be more efficient to make a bunch of æbleskiver for your family.”
And family gatherings are what æbleskiver are all about. Originally, in Denmark, æbleskiver were served during Advent, particularly on Christmas Eve. Now they are considered an anytime food and æbleskiver vendors are a familiar sight on the streets of Copenhagen, according to Gillard. In the US, “They are served at family gatherings and shared with close friends, not necessarily for a specific holiday, but often for a special occasion,” says Gillard. “There’s lots of tradition around it and Danish-Americans have really held on to that.”
“When the economy is difficult, people come back to family and tradition,” Gillard adds. Aunt Else’s wants to foster that. At Gillard’s house, his kids have their own tradition, “skiver Saturdays.” And while in the US “people have turned it into a breakfast thing,” Gillard says æbleskiver can be sweet or savory, noting he served a ham and cream cheese version at a family gathering recently. Another savory inclusion Aunt Else’s has tried recently is buffalo summer sausage. Sweet additions and toppings include chocolate, powdered sugar, jam, maple syrup, or Nina Wong’s “Nina’s all natural Ginger Syrup” (available in 8-oz bottles for $9.99 at Wong’s restaurant ChinDian Cafe on 1500 E. Hennepin Ave. in Minneapolis).
Aunt Else’s will stick with using the traditional cast-iron for their pans, compared to the “aluminum pans with Teflon made by Nordic Ware,” notes Gillard. “We like the flavor from cast-iron, and how it cooks. And, we avoid the health concerns. However, since cast-iron is heavier, we are trying to find the right balance so the pan isn’t extremely heavy.”
Gillard said they’ve been working on the project for about three months. They are currently having a pattern made, from which they hope to have prototypes in a couple of weeks, with pans ready to sell in a month or month and a half. Aunt Else’s has chosen to work with Smith Foundry in Minneapolis, a mid-sized local foundry who could handle the quantity Aunt Else’s needed and “helped them through the process.” They are exploring the feasibility of using iron from only Minnesota, so that the pan would be local in every way possible.
Said Gillard: “We have a lot of irons in the fire.”
More æbleskiver tasting opportunities:
- Askov Fair and Rutabaga Festival (the æbleskiver booth will be using Aunt Else’s mix)
- Danish American Center, Minneapolis, Mother’s Day Brunch
- Tivoli Fest, Elk Horn, IA, Memorial Day Weekend, May 23-24
- Danish Festival, Greenville, MI, Aug. 20-23