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Scandinavian Stories: Eva Gregerson's Cakes

Welcome to the Blog! It's been awhile since I've written a post and it feels good to be back. I invite you to check out my previous Blog posts if you're new to our site. The "Artist Stories" series features our artist partners at the Shoppe, including photos of their beautiful, hand-crafted art as well as a glimpse into their creative process. The Shoppe has been a true gift to me and to my mom, the Bead Gypsy (aka Rebecca Karlsson Rosenkrans) as we've navigated together since our opening in May of 2018.

With our mission in mind, I'm sharing a story to honor a local Norwegian that may need no introduction. Eva Gregerson has been creating Kransekake cakes since 1980 and she is well-known in the community for her traditional designs and delicious results.

(Eva created three cakes for the wedding of a great-niece ~ I love the traditional Norwegian dolls in their Bunads!)

To learn more about the history of the Norwegian Kransekake and the effort it takes to create one, check out this website.

In early January I got in touch with Bev Torkelson, Eva's daughter, also a well-known member of the community in her own right. Bev has just retired from 45 years of helping others feel good about themselves through her work as a hair stylist. Bev owned and operated her own salon for many years. I had to laugh when I called Bev about my desire to feature her mom on my Blog. During the call, I requested a variety of things, including an interview with Eva, photos for the Blog and I asked if she'd help her mom create a Kransekake for an upcoming Shoppe event! Bev was so gracious and kind, sharing that she had literally just retired in December. I couldn't help but wonder if she was thinking, "I'm trying to be retired!?" I am certainly appreciative of her role in helping me share Eva's story.

(1980 ~ the very first Kransekake Cake!)

I asked Bev to interview Eva and share a bit of backround about how Eva became known as "the lady that makes the Norwegian wedding cakes" as a way to celebrate the joy she's brought to so many people over the years.

Enjoy the following Q & A between Bev and her mom Eva, who will celebrate her 93rd birthday in April.

Please share some of your family history, including where you were born and where your Scandinavian heritage originates.

I was born April 12, 1927 on a farm 10 miles south of Badger, Minnesota to Jonas and Elizabeth (Brotherston) Didrikson. I was a twin and born at home. We were only about three pounds each but we both were healthy. I had three brothers and four sisters. I lived in Roseau County all my life. I attended country school and then I graduated from Badger High School. My father was born in Nordfjeid, Norway and came to Minnesota when he was 17. He started out in Southern Minnesota and then came North to Badger and homesteaded there. That is where he met Elizabeth Brotherston. Elizabeth's grandparents came from Scotland. I am the only one left in my family. I married Harry Gregerson, a neighbor boy who I had been writing to when he was in the service. We were married Nov. 4, 1948 and built a home and started farming in Nereson Township. We raised five children, Janice (Steve) Wollin of Greenbush who passed away two years ago, Gary (Michelle) of Roseau, Stephen (Carma) of California, Beverly (Roger) Torkelson of Roseau, and Brian (Diane) of Roseau. We have seven granddaughters and seven grandsons, and eleven great-grandchildren.

(A special family tradition ~ Eva created these cakes for her granddaughter's wedding.)

When did you first start to make the Kransekake cakes?

My oldest sister Jessie had made these cakes and she gave me a set of pans. A relative in Rapid City showed me how to make them and the first one I made was for our nephew Leland and Shar Peterson's wedding in 1980. We didn’t have Kransekake growing up. When I got the pans, I decided to try it. It is something I have enjoyed doing for almost 40 years.

(The well-worn cake recipe... like so many Scandinavian recipes, the Norwegian Kransekake was adapted from the Danish version, Kransekage!)

How many cakes do you think you've made over the years?

I’ve never kept track of how many I’ve made. Sometimes I would make 3 or 4 at a time for each wedding. It has become a family tradition for weddings, graduations, confirmations, baptisms, and even retirement parties! The cakes have been sent to other states and to many places in Minnesota.

(A beautifully decorated Kransekake for a Christmas celebration.)

What is the most challenging part of the cake making process?

The most challenging is probably the humidity in the summer, it can get too soft. Transporting it to different places can be hard too but we’ve found a couple coolers that work well. As I’ve gotten older it has been harder to make the cakes. There are six pans with three rings to a pan. The dough has to be squeezed through a pastry bag onto the pans and then baked. Each ring is then put together with frosting which is also piped through a bag. Your hands get pretty sore. My daughter Beverly has been helping me with the frosting for a while and also has learned to do the cakes. We just made three for her son’s wedding in June and also one for Sally Norton’s retirement in November. I have enjoyed showing other people how to make the cakes; two of my granddaughters have made them for 4-H and for the State Fair.

(Daughter Bev assisting Eva with frosting duties.)

What other kinds of Scandinavian pastries or foods do you enjoy making?

I have made many other goodies over the years. I’ve made lefsa, flat bread, krumkake, sandbakkels, rosettes, Blotkaka which is a layered cake with fruit and whipped cream, Christmas pudding, rommegrot, rice pudding, and sweet soup.

(Norwegian needlepoint created by Eva along with some favorite traditional dishes & decor.)

Do you have a favorite Scandinavian tradition you'd like to share?

Harry and I traveled to Norway two different times and then I went once with my daughter Janice and great niece, Carmen Hontvet. I enjoyed seeing the farm my father grew up on and visiting with relatives there. Many of them have come over to visit and it is fun to entertain them, too. I love to use my Norwegian dishes when I have company. Since starting to make these cakes I have met many wonderful people who have become friends.

Thank you Bev & Eva!

Before I added the finishing touches to this post, I gave a call to Eva to chat about the story and thank her for sharing a bit more about herself, the cakes and her Norwegian heritage. (I also wanted to be sure I had the details just right.) Bev was there for the call too, and it was interesting to learn that Eva started the needlepoint (pictured above) in 1983 during a trip to Norway with her husband, Harry. The type of embroidery is called Crewel and it's created with wool yarn. To learn more about this traditional art form, click here. A detail I really loved about the scene is that it is the birth place of Eva's father, Jonas (Isane) Didrikson. It is called the 'Birksdalen Glacier' located in the Nordfjord area of Norway. The needlework is a family treasure indeed!

We welcome you to join us at our upcoming Shoppe event as we celebrate Eva's cakes with a traditional Scandinavian Fika & recipe exchange. I'm very pleased to share that Eva plans to join us in the afternoon and has generously agreed to bring along her Birksdalen Glacier embroidery piece as well as a traditional Norwegian dress she's had for many years. You can check out additional details for the event here or here.

Thank you for visiting the site and learning more about the richness of our local Scandinavian heritage!

Until next time, I hope we all remember to pause in our busy lives, connect with the ones we love, hear their stories, write down their recipes and celebrate our shared love of traditions... and cake!