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Heirloom Vegetables: Heirlooms from Scandinavian settlements

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Forum: Heirloom VegetablesReplies: 15, Views: 294
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September 25, 2009
2:26 PM

Post #7102863

I wonder if any one of you know about heirloom vegetables from the Scandinavian settlements in US. A lot of Norwegians, Swedes and Danish settlers did start a new life in Wisconsin, Minnesota and other areas where they could have a peace of land and stand on their own. Stories that I have heard says that quite many of them brought with them vegetable seeds from home.

I am involved in preserving old vegetables here in Norway, but have also connections in Denmark and Sweden. In Norway there are really not much to be found, most of the seeds on the list that I get offered from the Gen Bank are bred commercially after 1900, or even as late as the 1960. I have managed to find a really old pea, brought from Norway to Denmark in 1893 by a girl who went over to get married. Her granddaughter, who is still alive, groves this pea. But there are not many stories like this. I think we only have like 3 really old peas in the collection, the one I mentioned included. That's why I thought someone of you might know about anything.

I chase the old seeds, often preserved by pure luck. But also the stories of the people growing them, from were they came, any facts, would be most welcome. I can't offer any big rewards for the help, I do this on my own expense, but if someone wants to send me seed, I can send back other heirlooms, or a souvenir from Norway.

I keep my fingers crossed!
Moss Point, MS
(Zone 8b)

September 25, 2009
6:41 PM

Post #7103594

Are you interested in seeds from Finns? There were quite a lot of them that settled here pre-1900. My mother grew up with lots of them and most have died off and their children scattered. They were fantastic gardeners by all accounts. I do still have one contact in her 80s that I could ask about it. I think I'll ask anyway out of my curiosity. This is generally low ground and there have been so many floods over the years with salt water that it is against the odds that anything has survived.

September 25, 2009
7:39 PM

Post #7103788

Yes, seeds from Finns would also be great! There are a lot of cooperation between the Nordic countries in this matter. I did meet some of the Finnish sees savers in a Nordic conference in Denmark last November.

I am not so familiar with the Finnish emigrants. Where did they settle? The history that we were thought in school are more about Norwegians, Swedes and Danish people.

Experience shows that when someone has brought with them something from "home", they are focused on preserving it. And the younger generations often take pride in growing their parents or grandparents plants. If we are lucky, it might be possible to find this old Nordic vegetables still alive in the US.

Moss Point, MS
(Zone 8b)

September 25, 2009
10:23 PM

Post #7104253

I've just made a couple calls to some of the elder Finns and they were quite delighted to know there is some interest in their heritage. As I suspected, we're coming late to the party. The ones I know are elderly second generation Americans. They spoke fondly of their grandparents that didn't speak much English language.

I asked specifically why they immigrated here where the climate is almost tropical as opposed to the northern parts and couldn't get an explanation. All I can think of is that the Finns are known for fishing and this used to be very productive here on the Gulf of Mexico. This area has always been rural but the train used to stop and my grandfather had the general store by the train tracks. It was a gathering place and they shipped fish by the train.

The good news is that next month, on the 10th, they are having their annual gathering at the old Finn church. They'll have a picnic and lots of visiting.with some folks coming from out of town. I will speak with several more and at least get the conversation going about heirloom seeds. Don't get your hopes up but I would be so proud to be able to help you.


September 25, 2009
11:18 PM

Post #7104437

That is wonderful news, Dorothy! Please keep me posted!

Regarding settling down in your area, I can surly understand them. There is a long winter in Finland, like in Norway. I bet you don't often get minus 30C in the south states.

It would be wonderful if we managed to bring back a few more heirloom species to the Nordic countries. They were not taken care of when development started to move faster, and people could buy new sorts of seed from Germany and Holland. Those old species were adopted to the northern conditions true many years.

Milford, CT
(Zone 6a)

September 28, 2009
5:50 PM

Post #7113095

The Swedish gov't sent colonizers to create new Sweden on the Delaware river very early - like 1700's early.. i think most came during the wars in the 1800's.. i am not sure what happened to it, but they have many finns and swedes in Pennsylvania. My great Grandmother lived in Pa, and someone down the road flew the blue and yellow fla. They came by often.Anyway, it turns out there are many communities in Pa. .. there are also the large and very active Pennsylvania dutch communities.

I guess my suggestion would be looking into Pennsylvania heirloom seed companies or even e-mailing their dept. of agriculture. I don't know anyone down there, but am going to a farm in Pennsylvania in November for punkin' chunkin', and i'll ask a few people.

Milford, CT
(Zone 6a)

September 28, 2009
6:29 PM

Post #7113220

I asked a cousin of mine about it. He wasn't familliar with anything specific, but in looking up some old farms he thought were swedish, he came across this heirloom gardener in sweden.. half in english, but most in swedish - therefore we don't really know what she does - , but does have heirloom tomatoes..

best i can do and hope it helps.
Edinboro, PA
(Zone 5b)

May 19, 2010
9:20 PM

Post #7809453

The Seed Savers Exchange organization is a wonderful resource. They have a catalog and also a huge member directory of available seeds. Google them and start looking around. There are sources for Nordic potatoes, peas, rye, turnips, carrots, and more. All heirlooms saved by families. Good luck!
Brian in Pennsylvania
Austin, TX
(Zone 8b)

May 22, 2010
11:37 AM

Post #7817100

twiggybuds wrote:I asked specifically why they immigrated here where the climate is almost tropical as opposed to the northern parts and couldn't get an explanation. All I can think of is that the Finns are known for fishing and this used to be very productive here on the Gulf of Mexico.

The good news is that next month, on the 10th, they are having their annual gathering at the old Finn church. They'll have a picnic and lots of visiting.with some folks coming from out of town. I will speak with several more and at least get the conversation going about heirloom seeds. Don't get your hopes up but I would be so proud to be able to help you.
lol - So what happened to our report back on why the Finns went to Mississippi? (And how the heck would they even know what/when to plant? Some local folks must have been good welcoming neighbors...)

Pocono Mountains, PA
(Zone 6a)

December 12, 2010
5:07 AM

Post #8255681

My grandparents were from Norway, but weren't farmers. They settled in NYC. My grandmother gardened, mostly flowers, but didn't grow anything from Norway. There is a Norwegian center in Minot, North Dakota. I used to have family there. Maybe they know.
(Zone 4b)

December 12, 2010
9:35 AM

Post #8256044

Some of my Finnish wife's family emigrated to the USA back in the early twentieth century. They settled in Washington State. There were serious food shortages at the time in Finland I believe.
Lumberton, TX
(Zone 8b)

June 14, 2011
10:24 AM

Post #8629877

Lurking, and wondering how the search is going. And I have a little story. My great grandmother immigrated to Kansas from Sweden, probably around 1850, and she brought a tiny bouquet of strawflowers with her. They are completely dried, of course, and also they are not vegetables, plus at over 100 years old I seriously doubt they'd be viable. But I still have them. Sweet link to the Scandinavian roots, and I wonder if she planted some whose descendants are still there today.
Pocono Mountains, PA
(Zone 6a)

June 14, 2011
1:05 PM

Post #8630208

Both apple trees and rhubarb reminded my grandmother of home. I love rhubarb, but don't have room to plant apple trees. My favorite apples aright now are Mutso (sometimes spelled Mitso) - a Japanese variety.

I'd like to see how your quest is going also.
Gladstone, OR

August 9, 2011
10:34 AM

Post #8746638

Hi Gunn_Marit

I just happened by accident to come across your post on this forum. I am 1/4 Norwegian myself and have done a lot of work through the years tracing my ancestry back to Norway.

I think you have a very worthwhile project started and I hope you continue it and are successful in locating some heirloom seeds here in the U.S. that have links to Norway. I think one way you may locate some is through cookbooks that have been kept by Norwegian communities here in the U.S. As an example, I obtained a copy of a church cookbook from North Dakota that was given to me by a friend who is 100% Norwegian ancestry. Although I do not see anything in this one that indicates specific kinds of vegetables (such as peas or potatoes) that are used, perhaps other people's Scandinavian cookbooks would mention certain types of heirloom vegetables that have been kept in the family through the years.

I also have a friend who is Danish who has a large cookbook which she saved from her cooking school in the 1960s (written in Danish) and the last time I spoke to her she was beginning work on a cookbook of Danish recipes for her daughter. The next time I see her I will ask about possible heirloom seeds that either she or someone she knows may have.

Several years ago I began doing research on Spelt (Triticum spelta). This was before the days of the internet (pre 1991). Now I see that the Danes (who are our Norwegian cousins so to speak) have made a product:

I was wondering if perhaps Spelt was ever used in making Lefse there in Norway, or if Spelt was ever grown as a grain there?

Well, here's a page from the Norwegian cookbook from North Dakota >

Thumbnail by nrowlett
Click the image for an enlarged view.

Deep East Texas, TX
(Zone 8a)

August 9, 2011
5:19 PM

Post #8747395

Ahhh, that takes me back home to MN. My father was Norwegian and my French mama always fixed Norwegian dishes for him. I grew up eating lefse, lutefisk and those recipes look familiar. Unfortunately, my father has passed on and my mother is in her 90s with snatches of memory left so no one to ask.

No help on the seeds but hoping for success for Gunn_Marit!
Gladstone, OR

August 10, 2011
10:02 AM

Post #8748590

Other possibilities for locating Nordic heirloom seeds in the U.S., for anyone wishing to help with Gunn_Marit's project:

The Sons of Norway has lodges all over the U.S. and Canada:
Sons of Norway
Lodge Directory >

I think anyone is welcome to attend some of the numerous events - a good place to hang out for a while and absorb some of the culture, and maybe inquire about anyone who may possibly have some heirloom garden varieties that have been kept in the family and handed down.

Several years ago my father and I attended the annual lutefisk dinner at a lodge here in Oregon, a very large gathering of people and a chance to see, hear and taste our Viking heritage firsthand:

Norse Hall / Grieg Lodge, Portland, Oregon
" ... 2nd SUNDAY IN NOVEMBER - MENU: Lutefisk, meatballs, boiled potatoes and cream gravy, coleslaw, homemade lefse, flatbrød, fresh cranberry relish, prune pudding, coffee, tea ... "

The real test to authenticate your Norwegian heritage, I think, is whether or not you can eat lutefisk without a problem - both my father and I enjoy it as a specialty, but I have seen others who simply could not stand the thought of tasting it (after having first smelled it) and I really had to laugh about that! Hi there podster in Deep East Texas, TX - - thanks for bringing that up.

Other American Scandinavian societies:

American Scandinavian Society

Danish American Heritage Society

Swedish American Heritage Society (West Michigan)

Finnish American Heritage Society (Maine)

These are only a few examples of how people can "get back to their roots" and search for possible leads to heirloom seeds.

I didn't know much about the Finnish culture until I talked with an older gentleman who talked about his upbringing in a Finnish community in Amasa, Michigan (Upper Peninsula) where his family had a large farm, and he continued farming until finally coming here to Oregon (no longer actively farming). He told me about a Finnish meat pie made by the women at the Lutheran church called "Pasty" >
... but having read this, I see the origin of this "pot pie" dish is disputed.

Back to the search for Nordic heirloom seeds - some of the specialty stores may have something (but these appear to be common items):

Nordic House
Whole Yellow Peas (Gula Ærter) > (
Whole Brown Beans (Bruna Bønor) > [Bruna Bönor - Swedish Brown Beans] (

Willy's Products
Dry Goods >
Gule Erter - Yellow Peas
Norwegian Dry Green Peas

[... etc. these are only 2 examples of many]

Local farmer's markets near American Scandinavian communities may be worth browsing, especially if you get to talking to some of the old timers.

Just some ideas - one never knows, maybe someone will turn up something of interest.

(Page 42) - Caption: "Flat bread is baked in the open. In some parts of the country it is still usual for traveling women bakers to come to the farms and bake a huge amount of this flat bread for future consumption." [photo credit: A. Riwkin-Brick] from "Norway" copyright 1961 Hanns Reich Verlag, Munich - Hill and Wang - New York

Thumbnail by nrowlett
Click the image for an enlarged view.

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