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An Icelandic holiday

It was during the holidays that Don and Steve Hoag got their most memorable taste of their Icelandic heritage. When they were growing up in Duluth, the holidays meant kleinur, a twisted deep-fried pastry, and a multilayered torte called vinartert...

It was during the holidays that Don and Steve Hoag got their most memorable taste of their Icelandic heritage.

When they were growing up in Duluth, the holidays meant kleinur, a twisted deep-fried pastry, and a multilayered torte called vinarterta. There was also jola bread, a Christmas raisin bread spiced with cardamom.

Before Christmas, their mother and grandmother, whose ancestors came from Iceland, would spend a whirlwind day in the kitchen making the holiday treats.

"It was a big production. There was flour everywhere," recalled Don, who is manager of the city of Duluth's Workforce Development.

On Christmas Eve, kleinur and vinarterta would be served before the family opened gifts. After presents came another round along with steamed cranberry English bread pudding, a dish likely tied to their father's English heritage.

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Forty years later, Don and Steve carry on the tradition with their sister, Elin, in Minneapolis and brother Dave in Albuquerque, N.M. For the past 15 years, each sibling has made one of the dishes and shared it with the others. Don, 52, makes the kleinur and Steve, 62, makes the vinarterta, Dave, 56, does the jola bread and Elin, 64, prepares the English pudding and an Icelandic brown bread that was served year-round.

"Off and on, we're together during holidays," said Steve, who lives in Duluth and is dean of the College of Pharmacy at the University of Minnesota Duluth. "When we don't see each other, we mail. At least some of us get together."

Don, who lives in Saginaw, looks forward to Christmas mornings when he has vinarterta, kleinur and jola bread for breakfast and a sandwich on Icelandic brown bread for lunch. At Steve's house, the vinarterta comes out when company comes over during the holidays.

Continuing the food tradition has taken on greater meaning in the past two years with the passing of their parents: Lauga in 2003 and Leverett in 2004.

Steve and his wife, Jill, were the first to adopt a dish to keep the tradition going. In the 1980s, Jill learned from her mother-in-law how to make vinarterta, then taught Steve, who has taken over the annual task. Despite the lengthy process, he makes six or seven of the five-layer tortes.

The other siblings followed, each adopting a holiday dish.

"The recipes came over with families emigrating from Iceland to Canada and the United States in the late 1880s," Steve said.

"What's cute about this is the three men don't otherwise cook," Jill Hoag says. "These are not easy recipes. Vinarterta is the only thing Steve makes. It's time-consuming, not like stirring up a boxed cake."

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Sometime in November, Don makes the dough for kleinur and refrigerates it overnight. The next day, his wife, Jo Ann, helps him to turn out hundreds of the bow-shaped doughnuts.

"We swing into production, rolling out the dough, cutting the pieces and deep frying them," Don said of the five- to six-hour process.

To learn how to make kleinur, Don and his wife went to his parents' house about 15 years ago to watch them make it. The younger couple videotaped the older couple as they worked, asking questions and adding notes to the family recipe.

Don and Jo Ann proved to be quick learners: Their first solo batch got approving nods from his parents.

CANDACE RENALLS covers food, home and garden topics. She's at (218) 723-5329 or e-mail: crenalls@duluthnews.com .

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