Food, Family and World History — The North Star Reports – by Tayler Boelk. Sponsored by The College of St. Scholastica and The Middle Ground Journal

Food, Family and World History — The North Star Reports – by Tayler Boelk. Sponsored by The College of St. Scholastica and The Middle Ground Journal


When I was first seeking a theme for my family project, I struggled. It was not until about half way through the project that I realized how prominent cooking was in my family. Making homemade food has always been important to us. Even today, we make many homemade foods such as noodles, jams, salsas, fritters and breads. The more research I did into family traditions, the more often food came up.

One of my favorite things to do with my family is bake homemade bread. Because we have to wait for the bread to rise, it has always been an all-day event. We make as many loaves of bread as we have pans, including some cinnamon bread. The youngest children are taught to make their own loaves in the smaller pans while others take turns making and eating fritters.

Fritters have always been a favorite of mine growing up. I thought fritters were a food unique to my family, but as I watched more and more presentations, I realized that an incredible number of people with Scandinavian heritage make the same food by a different name. My family’s fritters are another family’s “dough god” and another’s “fry bread” but essentially it’s just a donut. My family’s version of the fritter is homemade bread dough fried in oil and topped with sugar.

Learning that so many others have this same food in their family really gave me a way to connect with other members of my class. We may have come from all different backgrounds but there are still things tying us together. This is one of the amazing things about food. Yes, we need it to survive, but it is also a mechanism of bringing people together. It is no coincidence that each of the most important holidays in one’s family usually have a dish or two associated with it. Many people in my community have the usual Thanksgiving turkey or birthday cake but one traditional food in my family that I think is pretty great is our homemade noodle soup. taylerfood5
A few times a year, usually around bread-making days, my family makes homemade noodles to eat in soup. For the noodles, we take flour, salt, and eggs and mix it all together. Then we roll it out in a thin layer and let it dry. When it’s dry we cut it and boil it like you would any other noodles. Aside from the noodles themselves, the soup has no actual recipe. In the past, it would be considered “a poor man’s soup:” the kind of soup to which you added random vegetables and meats, if any were available, into a big pot and that would be dinner. I find this both humorous and endearing because now it seems to be a special treat. It is funny how things like this change throughout history, and it truly makes me appreciate the access to things like meat that I have today.

The biggest lesson these foods have taught me is how important it is to carry on traditions. Even when families gain a higher economic status, these traditions are carried on. Maybe it reminds them of their childhood, or maybe they never lose their belief that no food should be wasted; in any case, I am thankful that the recipes for these foods have continued to be taught generation after generation. The most important element of a family is what brings them together— in my family, this is homemade food. [From Professor Liang’s 2014 World History II class.]


Please contact Professor Liang if you wish to write for The North Star Reports — HLIANG (at)

See also, our Facebook page with curated news articles at

The North Star Reports: Global Citizenship and Digital Literacy, The Middle Ground Journal and The College of St. Scholastica’s collaborative outreach program with K-12 classes around the world. We acknowledge North Star Academy of Duluth, Minnesota as our inaugural partner school, and the flagship of our program. We also welcome Duluth East High School and other schools around the world. The North Star Reports has flourished since 2012. For a brief summary, please see the American Historical Association’s Perspectives on History, at:

The North Star Reports publishes edited essays from our students, particularly from those who are currently stationed, or will soon be stationed abroad. Students have reported from Mongolia, Southern China, Shanghai, northeastern China, The Netherlands, Tanzania, Ireland, England, Finland, Russia, and Haiti. We also have students developing reviews of books, documentaries, and films, projects on historical memory, the price individuals pay during tragic global conflicts, and analysis of current events from around the world. We will post their dispatches, and report on their interactions with the North Star Reports students and teachers.

We thank The Department of History and Politics and the School of Arts and Letters of The College of St. Scholastica for their generous financial support for The North Star Reports and The Middle Ground Journal.

Hong-Ming Liang, Ph.D., Chief Editor, The Middle Ground Journal, Associate Professor of History and Politics, The College of St. Scholastica, Duluth, MN, USA

(c) 2012-present The North Star Reports: Global Citizenship and Digital Literacy The NSR is sponsored by The Middle Ground Journal and The College of St. Scholastica. See Masthead for our not-for-profit educational open- access policy. K-12 teachers, if you are using these reports for your classes, please contact chief editor Professor Liang at HLIANG (at)


Filed under North Star Student Editors, Professor Hong-Ming Liang, Tayler Boelk

34 responses to “Food, Family and World History — The North Star Reports – by Tayler Boelk. Sponsored by The College of St. Scholastica and The Middle Ground Journal

  1. Pingback: Food, Family and World History — The North Star Reports – by Tayler Boelk. Sponsored by The College of St. Scholastica and The Middle Ground Journal | The Middle Ground Journal

  2. Mike Lehmann

    Its always so much fun to here about other people’s family traditions. Whether we are aware of it or not, our families all have our own traditions and food is just one part of that. Whether it is a casserole that is only made on thanksgiving or baking bread, food really does tell us about our family history. It was really cool reading about your family traditions. That bread looked really good by the way.

  3. David Miller

    First I would like to say reading this article made me very hungry! I love how you were able in your research to find something in your family to connect everyone together. My family as well has quite the history of cooking from grandparents to grandchildren so we have a something in common!

  4. Katy Goerke

    Wow! Your family sounds delightful, and delicious. The only thing traditional about baked goods in my family is that my mom has been buying them from Pillsbury for my entire life. You mentioned that no matter how wealthy your family gets the traditions still endure. Which made me wonder, if wealth doesn’t kill traditions, does poverty? I can imagine my great-grandparents during the depression having to go without their parents traditions in order to just survive, while at the same time starting new traditions to replace them. This was all speculation, as I haven’t done any formal research on the issue. So well done! Your article was quite thought provoking.

  5. Becca

    I love how your whole family cooks and bakes together! In my family, I’m the one that usually does the cooking, but when I have kids of my own, I definitely want to have a tradition like this. Since my grandma doesn’t like to cook, it’s difficult to have a special (albeit not unusual) food, like fritters for us to pass down the line to the upcoming generations. To do this, I’ll probably have to raid her recipe box!

  6. Zach Friederichs

    Food is often the best way to transfer traditions through generations as it can reveal so many aspects of time – types of materials available, money, change, location, sense of time, etc. I really love hearing all of the different takes on meals, especially those that started solely because of hard times and that have now become a familial staple.

  7. nickalino

    It is cool to see all the pictures you posted about the different delicious forms of food that you and your family make. I do believe what you said about people and the habit of carrying on traditions despite changing economic realities is true. I think people all sort of have the same sort of feeling or regard for their home and like to do things that remind them of it. are there any other mechanisms besides food that bring people together?

    • Tayler Boelk

      I think there are many ways that people are brought together! Think about things like weddings, baby showers, birthday parties, funerals, baptisms, etc. Sure, a lot of them are socially expected or commercially promoted celebrations, but they didn’t start that way! They were excuses to get together, celebrate life, and be happy that families and friends have each other.

  8. My paternal grandfather’s family prepared fry bread because of its simplicity. He grew up during the Great Depression and fry bread was a cheap option. It became a comfort food for him and he would prepare it for my dad and my dad’s siblings. The tradition, however, did not continue beyond my dad’s childhood.

    It is probably too early to tell, but it will be interesting to look back and see what foods (and their smells) are a comfort food to me.

  9. Karn Pederstuen

    Thank you for sharing some of your family traditions! I am finding that my family has a strong connection to food as well.

  10. Samantha Roettger

    Those fritters look delicious! Isn’t it incredible how food brings people together? This has been true since the beginning of time which is amazing! Food is a great way to connect with other people and discuss their own family traditions centered around food. My family has a tradition of making homemade spaghetti sauce and meatballs every Christmas. This recipe has been passed down from my great-grandmother’s restaurant in White Bear Lake, MN. My family does not have many traditions, but this one centered on food is for sure the most important. It connects us all to the memory of great-grandma Mabel. I never got the chance to meet her but through her sauce I seem to know her.

  11. Kyle Stepka

    I am currently doing the Family history project and I have found a love of learning about other peoples family history. I think it is very cool because everyone is different and each family does something different.

  12. Chelsey L

    That is just awesome that you guys do that! That is great that you can share some of your family traditions as well! I know that making homemade foods taste better as well and being able to spend with the family makes it even stronger.

  13. Carley Henning

    I can relate with you because my family also has an important background with food. We make cased sausage and it’s one of the only times that part of my family is able to get together for the holidays. So we really enjoy the company of one another while also making a lot of sausage!

  14. Donovan Chock

    Wonderful article! I too value specific foods in my family. Nearly all of the elders of my family are really good at cooking. Growing up, my dad was the chef of the house. Now that I’m at school I call him regularly asking him for cooking directions. I think its a bond that we’ll cherish forever.

  15. Kaitlyn Young

    I love that you talked about how important it is for families to carry on their traditions, whether it be food or something else. The traditions bring the family together. I’m currently doing my family history project and I’m uncovering a ton of things that my family does today that I didn’t even know was passed down from grandparents! It’s very interesting.

  16. Kyle Hellmann

    My family doesn’t have any traditions with food, and after reading this article, I wish we did! Even though it may just be a tradition, you learn many other skills and such. With your tradition of making bread, I would definitely be testing my patience, as I could not easily wait all day! Thanks for sharing!

  17. Kendra Johnson

    I love hearing about different families that cook meals and have certain foods that get passed down generation to generation. My family doesn’t have a ton of them so it’s interesting hearing other families traditions and creativity with food!

  18. Bao Vang

    Great article on traditional food in your family. I feel that that is one of the most important factor of a family’s culture. I also love the fact that you realized that food was the main factor that brought your family together! It’s the things that we do as a tradition that some times we forget how important it is to the family. After reading your article, I am curious to what brings my family together.

  19. Alex Cole

    All of those foods made me miss home cooking. You don’t realize how much you take for granted until you don’t have it anymore.

    • Tayler Boelk

      I am very lucky that I remained in my home town for college and continue to have access to such wonderful food on a regular basis! That is why I always make an effort to bring a friend to dinner now and then. Going away for graduate school will be a hard transition for me, but at least I have learned all the recipes by now!

  20. I think food is one of the most vital parts in maintaining a relationship whether it be with one’s parents, siblings, or friends, etc. I truly think that is why holidays are so important such as Thanksgiving. Food brings people together aside from the fact that we as human beings are dependent on food as a whole. It is wonderful that making a day of baking is a family tradition and I do hope you and your family continue to carry that on for future generations!

  21. Austin Kindt

    First of all thank you for sharing your families traditions revolving around baking. I swear I read all of the great food articles around lunch time. Its really cool how you can all break bread together and everyone is involved, as that makes the food taste even better. Last week I made pizza dough with my German neighbors and we cooked European style pizzas outside in a wood fire oven. We even ate it outside as it was in the high 50s with snow all around the oven.

  22. Making food is also a way that me and my family come together and connect. For holidays we always have tons and tons of different homemade dishes and treats, we all fill our plates with what we love and its a really good time! Working on my family history project I am discovering how my grandparents were very big bakers and they loved to cook, thank you for sharing!

  23. Tyler Winkelman

    I love reading and hearing about different types of food! I know food is very important to my family. Its little things like this that keep family traditions together. Thanks for sharing!

  24. Hannah Johnson

    Thank you for sharing! I always like to hear about what other family traditions are and how they are different from mine. I like to see how long something has been in the family and how long it will be in the family.

  25. Hannah Kunde

    I’m going to start off and say that the food you showed looked amazingly delicious. Like you, I agree that food and history are often tied to each other and more than we may expect. In a lot of cases, it usually the memories that the food serves as to why it is such a special treat. I think that’s why along with friends and family, honestly food is at the top of the list when it comes to missing things when going to college. Food brings people together in so many ways and I think your article really shows that. Thanks!

  26. Ada

    I wonder how many other foods have had their ‘social class’ status transform over time. I really enjoyed how much description you provided on your family’s tradition of bread making and the delicious looking food that you incorporated! It’s truly lovely to see how much passion towards a family tradition can be passed down from generation to generation.

  27. I think the African version of the fritters you make is called a fat-cook. They are made the same way pretty much. I just like how in your family the little kids are also taught how to make the bread, and that way the tradition carries on for generations.

  28. Benjamin Carlson

    Much like your family, mine too has been rooted in the kitchen. I recently made my mother’s chicken noodle soup but, like yours, it has no recipe. Thus, a friend and I through as many different items into the pot and let it simmer all day, and what a treat it was!

  29. Emily Schiro

    This is a really cool story and it’s interesting how many different ways you are able to connect with people over food. I especially enjoyed the part about the poor mans soup, as it is now seen as a treat you get to make with your family. I agree with you that it is very important to continue on the traditions of making food that means something to your family.

  30. Catherine McConnell

    Connecting with your family over food is an amazing experience. Cooking my families dishes always conjures images of what it was like for them when they were preparing the same meal for their family. My family has very few recipes in comparison to yours so I hope you keep up the tradition of cooking these dishes in order to maintain the dishes for generations to come!
    As a side note, the food in the pictures looked amazing and has successfully left me very hungry.

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