Woodworking again: Torsk and tofu

By Dave Wood
Posted 5/15/24

One of the best jobs I’ve ever had in my eight decades of toil on this planet was the 15 years as a teacher at Augsburg College in Minneapolis. It didn’t pay as much as jobs I’ve …

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Woodworking again: Torsk and tofu


One of the best jobs I’ve ever had in my eight decades of toil on this planet was the 15 years as a teacher at Augsburg College in Minneapolis. It didn’t pay as much as jobs I’ve had in newspapering and freelance writing, but as I look back on all my years of working as a hired man, a paper boy, a bartender and a teacher at several other larger universities, I must say Augsburg takes the cake, or Kake.

I hired on at the school in 1969 when it was  celebrating its 100th anniversary, so when I arrived I immediately sat down and read the new history of the college by historian Carl Chrislock, titled “From Fjord to Freeway,” which chronicled the lives of its first students, many of whom grew up on Norwegian fjords and made it all the way to its present location on I-94 in Minneapolis. Unlike most college histories, it was a thriller. Chrislock  didn’t pull any punches about the college’s ofttimes, cantankerous controversies about everything  from religious doctrine to high (and low!) finance.

I left its tight little community three decades ago, though it still jolts my heart, and when I get lonesome for the college, I turn to the book by dear friend Chrislock, long passed on to the Halls of Ivy in the Sky (probably near a fjord) and then on to another book, one my wife and I helped edit years ago when Augsburg grads got together and compiled a cookbook of popular college recipes, entitled “From Torsk to Tofu”—emblematic of the great changes that have occurred since the college’s arrival from “old Norway.” Gammel Norge.

I guess that sounds funny, but each recipe I peruse brings back memories about my old students and colleagues that jolt my heart and remind me how staid, yet untypically Lutheran a place it was. The last time I looked, here’s what comforted me:

The first recipe in the book came from Noburu Sawei, class of ’69, one of the Auggies I wrote about in a book about noteworthy Augsburg alums. He’s a brilliant artist living in Canada. The recipe he submitted is called “Tofu for Four.” Torsk, curiously enough, didn’t make it until page 164 where Irene Steenson of the college business office submitted a recipe for “Boiled torsk with butter and chive sauce.” Thanks for your always on-time paychecks, wherever you are, Irene! And thanks for this one sticking to the best traditions of simplicity!

Lisa Rusinko Rykken, ’80,  one of my favorite students, kicked her husband’s Scandinavian traces and submitted a delicious Greek Moussaka recipe. So did Rev. Sheldon Torgerson, ’49, pastor at Trinity Congregation on campus; he kicked his own traces with  “Second Helping Lasagna,” which he used for 30 years to sate his hungry congregants including my wife and yours truly. So did Chrislock’s wife Valborg Gilseth, ’37, who nourished us with our first ever Indian curry accompanied by exotic condiments, washed down with dry martinis, probably the first such potables served under college auspices.

This is not to suggest that this fine book lacks true Scandinavian recipes. Jonette Grindal, ’40, came up with a recipe I can’t pronounce, “Mors Grov Brod,’’ which turns out to be Norwegian brown bread. Poli Sci prof Myles Stenshoel challenged my linguistic capabilities with ”Potetesclub” which means potato and flour dumpling rolled into huge balls and boiled in meat stock and “served with enormous  amounts of melted butter, real butter,” and warned partakers that “leftovers can be used next morning by slicing and frying the balls in more butter. Do not repeat recipe until weight and cholesterol levels have returned to normal.”

And let us not forget that Manna from above the Arctic circle, LEFSE! Ace storyteller and fundraiser Jeroy Carlson and wife offered their version of “Wanamingo Lefse” but disagreed on methods of ingestion. Lorraine wanted hers warm and wrapped around butter, sugar and cinnamon. Jeroy: “absolutely not. I want it cold with hard butter and NO LUTEFISK!”

Sylvia Sabo was a St. Olaf grad but was permitted to join the largely Auggie female editorial staff and also provided several elegant recipes and even insisted that her husband Congressman Martin Olav Sabo, ’59, contribute his favorite snack after a hard day at the legislature. He modestly complied with a modestly Augsburgian recipe for ”White bread, Peanut Butter and sliced Velveeta Cheese Sandwich.” Was Sylvia expecting Pheasant under Glass?   

Nor was I. But having spent over a decade with these fine, well-controlled and expectably conservative folks, it thoroughly tickles me to see how easily they got off the Fjord and onto the Free Way of eating and cooking for fun and pleasure.

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