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Duluth News-Tribune -a dash of history
Cookbook project offers a glimpse into the lives of women in the wilderness
BY CANDACE RENALLS
NEWS TRIBUNE STAFF WRITER
The best apple pie on the Gunflint Trail. The German potato salad that wowed them at the Gunflint Trail Association's potluck meetings. The tasty homemade rolls served for years at Sea Island Lodge.
They're among more than 200 home-style recipes featured in "A Taste of the Gunflint Trail," a collection of recipes and stories about the Gunflint Trail.
"They're the stories that you tell around the table over good food," said Luana Brandt, one of the book's 11 authors. "Those are the treasured memories that people carry with them."
The Gunflint Trail stretches 60 miles through forested backcountry from Grand Marais to Canada. The road and its spurs to inland lakes are dotted with resorts and outfitters. Some businesses have been around for more than 70 years although ownerships have changed.
Until now, most stories of the trail and its businesses focused on the pioneer men who cleared the roads, built the cabins and ran the resorts, the first of which opened in 1912. But, as the book's authors point out, women worked side-by-side with the men, raising families, keeping house and cooking hearty meals for visitors.
"While Justine Kerfoot's books were popular and well read, there were other stories of special women that were never told outside the families," Brandt said.
Justine Kerfoot was the legendary woodswoman, author and longtime owner of the Gunflint Lodge who died in 2001 at age 94.
Cookbook mixes recipes with history
Over the past two years, Brandt and 10 other women of the Gunflint Trail have gathered stories from the trail's women, along with a sampling of their homestyle recipes.
The project was begun in 2001 by Gail Skrien who ran the Way of the Wilderness Canoe Outfitters with her husband, Rolf, from from 1956 to 1976. Before she died of cancer in 2002, the committee she had organized to help with the book vowed to finish it for her. Royalties benefit the Gunflint Trail Volunteer Fire Department.
What started out as a little cookbook turned into something much more. Skrien wrote seeking recipes but started getting recipes and stories in return.
"It turned into more of a history book with recipes incidental," said Lee Zopff, one of the authors, who operated Clearwater Lodge from 1964 to 1986.
Besides histories of about 50 businesses, the book provides glimpses of life on the trail over the past century. They include images of city women adjusting to rustic conditions, such as cooking on wood-burning stoves and doing laundry with a scrub board by a lake. Children were boarded in Grand Marais to attend school.
Even in the 1960s, there was no television or radio, except for weak signals from Thunder Bay. For some, the Sunday newspaper was dropped by a passing airplane.
"It's a life that not everyone would enjoy, 50 miles from the nearest anything," said Sue Kerfoot, who ran the Gunflint Lodge with her husband, Bruce, from 1968 to 2000 and still lives on the grounds. "It can be a harsh life. You have to adapt to it. Life is much different than most lives today because of our remoteness."
Most of the Gunflint women were very independent, Brandt said.
"They have a character all their own," she said "There's a resilence and a strength."
Many had mentors. For Sue Kerfoot, it was her mother-in-law, Justine.
"I learned a great deal about the woods, about running the resort, about my husband from her," she said. "She knew how to do everything. She had a very practical, down-to-earth, matter-of-fact way of looking at things and doing things. She was a fantastic woman."
The book is a way of honoring these women pioneers.
"It's preserving the stories," Brandt said. "It wasn't meant to be a history as dry facts and figures. It was meant to be the human side of the story."
Three of the authors
LUANA BRANDT: "While Justine Kerfoot's books were popular and well read,
there were other stories of special women that were never told outside the families."
"The book is a wonderful opportunity to learn about an area that is extremely well known in the state of
Minnesota and to learn about the people who helped make it what it is today. We've heard about the men, but the women had a lot to do with it."
LEE ZOPFF: "It turned into more of a history book with recipes incidental."
CANDACE REMUS is at firstname.lastname@example.org.