Maple Ridge in Isanti County, MN—Church suppers are a regular part of the autumn calendar in east central Minnesota. At this time of year a heritage food follower can exchange cooking at home for cooking at a large gathering somewhere in the neighborhood, with the advantage of dining with others one only sees on these public occasions. Or perhaps the meal serves as a social lubricant for the somewhat shy and taciturn Nordic types. One can eat in quiet, or engage in conversation with a neighbor as needed or desired. In any case, work and life seem to have replaced entertaining on the home front for many, so these gatherings are an opportunity to meet and greet folks who share a similar cultural or heritage background, or who simply live in the same zip code ... with the added benefit of having no dishes to wash afterward.

Such was the case at the Siloa Lutheran Church in rural and agricultural Maple Ridge Township. The little country church is located in Isanti County, called “America’s Dalarna,” due to its history of many Swedish families from that province, which immigrated to this part of Minnesota after the 1860s. Many descendants continue to live in the county today.

The church still has native speakers of Swedish, plus a Swedish language teacher who is also a professional Scandinavian hand weaver. His weavings serve as church paraments during the liturgical year. In addition, judged by the vast array of items for sale in its marknad at the dinner, it has a bevy of bakers who can produce limpa and other foods from the Nordic heritage.

A couple hundred folks enjoyed the most recent sunny, noon-time dinner, music and good conversation. While some made dates for the lutfisk community supper—at Cambridge Lutheran Church—always on the first Thursday of November, others waited to partake of the repast of potato sausage, meatballs, potatoes, peas, beet pickles, rice pudding and plenty of coffee. Music was performed by the 2-year-old Spirit River Scandiband. The group formed specifically to foster interest in Nordic dance in the region. There are fiddles, guitar, and nyckelharpa in the band.

The Scandiband recently took part in a workshop, taught by musicians from the Ole Olssons Old Time Orkester, to help make their music more danceable. The members felt they had improved from the experience, as witnessed by a good response from a recent gig at the Cambridge Baptist Church anniversary. After that performance, in which they stated before each tune what sort of dance it was meant for, people from the congregation approached them expressing strong interest in learning the dances. Perhaps after 140-plus years, some of the early immigrant-era church strictures against dance are easing and maybe the Scandiband will help folks recognize that they can re-embrace a tradition that used to include dance. Maybe there can even be another social lubricant besides the regular fall gatherings for heritage food to help support the descendents of Swedish immigrants as a community.