Food is history and that's one reason you can find so many recipes associated with historic times like war, the Depression or virtually any notable historical event. However, this is equally true close to home. Years ago I made that declaration in relation to preserving local fundraiser recipe books.

At one time it seemed like every church had a cookbook fundraiser where people would contribute recipes to be compiled into a book. Said books were sold to raise funds, sometimes for a specific purpose. The creation and sale of these books was significant to our local history.

Honestly, I'd like to see a similar book created within our community, but instead of having just any submitted recipes, have recipes from businesses that no longer exist: wild rice brats from Shamp's, pizza sauce from Lucette's and I've heard the 1,000 Island Dressing at the diner along 371 in Pine River was to die for. As an aside, if you know any recipes that might fit that category, I (and maybe Heritage Group North) might like to hear from you.

Equally important was what they did with those funds as well as who shared recipes and for what.

Many of the foods written about in this column have a connection to historical and cultural changes in human lives, and family recipes reflect that as well. Did Great-Great Aunt X grow up on a farm with pigs? That explains her ham recipe. Did Great-Great Grandpa Y like to fish? That's why his pickled fish recipe is the best. Did they make a lot of chipped beef or none at all? Either could say they remember war or the Depression. The same is true for so many things.

Local history is valuable to me, and it has cost me a lot of free time outside of work lately. For years I have wanted a large archive bound book of all of the Backus Old Timers Backus Area News newspapers published from 1942-2013. If you are not familiar, they published one copy every year around Cornfest and they contained the historical recollections of residents of Backus. These are the closest thing that exists to a Backus history book. However, my plans for a large bound archive changed.

The first week of the pandemic I got help from Rae Borst to collect one copy of every single Backus Area News Newspaper in the archive at Backus City Hall, and Lena Richards generously lent me her large format scanner. I spent four days ironing old newspapers, then sitting at my kitchen table scanning, turning a page, scanning, flipping over for an estimated 1,100 pages. Since then I cataloged all of the articles written in those years so I can write a table of contents. I have been converting those scans to PDFs with searchable text while also extracting photos. You may have seen some of these photos on Facebook. The next steps will be 1. Fixing conversion errors. 2. Layout. 3. Indexing. 4. Printing and 5.?

In my progress I have seen historical local maps from before certain area lakes existed, the original Rocky Dock, which started on the lakeshore just outside of Annie Sue Anderson's house, not at the park that would have been under water at that time. I've read histories about families I've known my whole life. Learned about the bustling downtown Backus once enjoyed. Learned of a couple new places to find blueberries and cranberries and overall I've learned so much more about some of the places I've visited, lived and worked in my lifetime.

In addition, Backus was once home to several cafes, and the Backus Area Old Timers, who must have seen it my way, got more than a couple recipes from restaurant owners and residents in one or two of their issues but especially 2004, and now I share a taste of Backus history with you.

Gladys Sawyer's Cottage Cafe Donuts

  • 1 ½ cups sugar
  • ½ cup shortening
  • 4 eggs beaten
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla
  • 2 teaspoons baking powder
  • 2 teaspoons soda
  • 2 teaspoons salt
  • 1 ½ teaspoons nutmeg
  • 5 ½ cups flour
  • 2 cups buttermilk

Cream together the sugar and shortening. Add vanilla and beaten eggs. Mix all dry ingredients together and add alternately with buttermilk. Drop ½ teaspoon of dough in hot grease for donut holes or roll out donuts and cut with a donut cutter and drop in grease. Fry in deep oil heated to 360-370 degrees, turning after donuts rise to the surface, then turning again to brown the other side.

Mary Melby's Harvest Supper Whole Wheat Buns

  • 3 cups water
  • ½ cup lard
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 1 tablespoon salt
  • 4 eggs
  • 1 package dry yeast
  • Approximately 10 cups flour, 1/3 of it whole wheat

Mix dough until stiff and allow to rise seven hours, punching down several times. Roll into buns and let set overnight in pans, covered, about nine hours. Bake at 350 degrees for 20 minutes.

Sophie Wick's Famous Backus Cafe Ginger Cookies

  • ½ cup white sugar
  • ½ cup shortening
  • 1 egg
  • ½ cup molasses
  • ½ cup water
  • 2 cups flour
  • 1 teaspoon ginger
  • ½ teaspoon salt
  • ½ teaspoon baking soda
  • ½ teaspoon nutmeg
  • ½ teaspoon cloves
  • ½ teaspoon cinnamon

Mix all ingredients together and refrigerate one hour before baking. Drop rounded spoonfuls two inches apart on a greased cookie sheet. Bake 8 minutes at 375 degrees. Frost with a frosting made of ¼ cup butter, 2 cups powdered sugar, 1 teaspoon vanilla and 2 tablespoons milk.

Travis Grimler may be reached at 218-855-5853 or Follow him on Facebook and on Twitter at