LILLIAN CROOK: WildDakotaWoman — German Chocolate Cake For Daddy

Today is my Daddy’s birthday. My job was to make his favorite German Chocolate Cake, from scratch. It is a nice continuation of the theme of “chocolate” from my last blog post.

I made a run to the store the other day for ingredients. My husband gets pretty nostalgic when he sees the box of Pillsbury Softasilk cake flour, remembering cakes that his mother made when he was a youngster.

I couldn’t find the Dutch processed cocoa, but Google came to the rescue, and I found recommendations for making my own, with my food processor. As I worked with the chocolate, I thought about all I learned Thursday at the North Dakota Heritage Center about this scrumptious ingredient and wonder just where this particular bar of German chocolate came from in the world.

Baking is a time-consuming process, but I do it with joy because I know it will bring happiness to my loved ones.  While I work, I think about all of the cakes that my grandmothers and mother made in their lives, with all of the love in their hearts.  Here is a short film that my father shot more than 50 years ago with his 8mm camera. It includes me eating my first birthday cake (about halfway through), a swan cake prepared by my loving mother. If I say so myself, it is pretty darned adorable.

And what a miracle it is that while I work, my dishwasher cleans up our dirty dishes. I don’t have to raise the chickens, or churn the butter, or grind the flour — I just go to Dan’s Supermarket and voila!

What a world would my Grandma Lily think this is? I’m lucky in that I have many of her handwritten recipes. My mother tells me that they would listen to the radio and when the recipes were read out, my Grandma would scribble them down.

I’m guessing that one of the reasons that my father likes German chocolate cake is the pecans in the frosting. Pecan trees grow in Mississippi, where he was raised.

I’ll bet that you, gentle reader, remember this rhyme you learned as a child. I know I recited it for my children.

This marvelous alchemy of eggs, sugar, flour, chocolate and such will bring happiness to my father, and thus to me. But first, I have to make a really big mess!

LILLIAN CROOK: WildDakotaWoman — ‘Chocolate’ at the North Dakota Heritage Center

“Only when we know little things do we know anything; doubt grows with knowledge.” — Johann Wolfgang von Goethe

With the exception of my home, my favorite human-made place in the state is the North Dakota Heritage Center. I live a short distance from there and go very frequently, to view the exhibits, to eat lunch, to do research at the State Archives and just to hang out in their pleasant spaces. Heck, I just like to drive by! It is one of North Dakota’s crown jewels.

This morning I went there to see the temporary exhibit “Chocolate“, something that has been on “my list” for months. And learn more about chocolate, did I. From the tree on which the pods grow, to the Mayan and Aztec cultures, to the spread of chocolate around the world and more.

All of this made me want to eat some chocolate, so I made a pass through the excellent James River Cafe for an indulgence.

Then, I strolled over to check out their new exhibit on World War I. I highly recommend both exhibits.  When I was living in Medora, I worked as a museum technician for Theodore Roosevelt National Park. I love museums and visit as many as I can. Kudos to the hard-working and talented staff at the North Dakota Heritage Center. What a good investment of our tax dollars.

JEFF TIEDEMAN: Straight From The Vest — Widman’s Is The Best!

Anyone who grew up in Grand Forks, or East Grand Forks, knows about Widman’s Candy Shop. It’s located on South Third Street on the west side of the Red River, just across the railroad tracks from the old Metropolitan Opera House, soon to be the site of Rhombus Guys’ microbrewery.

widmans1But a lot people don’t know that’s not where Widman’s got its start. I grew up in Crookston, Minn., where the Widman family has been selling candy for more than 100 years. Candy was in the family’s blood even before that.

William Widman, father of George, who opened the Crookston store in 1911, Operated the New York Bakery and Candy Shop in Dubuque, Iowa, in 1885 and later worked for Pearson’s Candy Co. in St. Paul, known for its salted nut rolls and mint patties.

As a kid, I remember going into Widman’s all the time, whether it was after a morning of Park Board baseball in Central Park or an afternoon of swimming in the municipal pool.

Besides all of the wonderful candy, there were also malts from the soda fountain (it all wouldn’t fit in a glass, so you were given the rest of it in the metal mixing container) along with cherry, lime and chocolate Cokes (my brother Kevin’s favorite).

And a great selections of magazines, including The Sporting News and Hockey News, a must for a sports-crazy kid like me. (Back then, there weren’t the chocolate-covered potato chips called Chippers, a favorite of many these days.)

At that time, Margaret Widman, the daughter of George and Clara, did most of the heavy lifting at the candy shop. But I remember the diminutive George and Clara still working there a bit. And I fondly recall the quaint couple walking down the aisle arm-in-arm at Sunday morning Mass at the Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception Catholic Church. (Now, Widman’s in Crookston is run by George Widman III, and his wife, Lois. George’s dad, George II, founder of the Grand Forks shop, still lives in Grand Forks.)

The Crookston business is one of four candy shops in the running for “Where is Minnesota’s Best Candy Shop” contest ( of WCCO Radio in the Twins Cities. The winner will be announced later this week, just before Valentine’s Day.

The contest is a hot item on Facebook. A closed group site (invitation only) called Crookston Connection is abuzz about the contest. Hundreds of comments have been filed, many from people I know and grew up with in the small town of about 8,000 people.

Norma Degnan wrote that every Christmas, she would buy more than a dozen candy canes from Margaret to put on the tree her dad would frost in their basement.

And Matt Baab, whose dad (Bob Baab or “Doc”) was my high school baseball coach, said he was a true regular at Widman’s from fourth to eighth grade due to having a paper route, “which put me on that block to pick up my papers at the (Crookston) Times on the corner. I soooo hated the routine of going to Widman’s for a strawberry soda and red hots and reading a comic book in a booth!”

Perhaps Mike DuVal, an old Cathedral school friend summed it up best about Widman’s, when he commented, “It’s great to know that really unique places we all enjoyed still exist and never seem better.”

I’ll second that, Mike!