Esther Zgraggen, the Swiss-born owner of Esther’s European Imports, covers the gift-giving category. She sells raclette and fondue sets, Swiss Army knives, straw ornaments and wood-carved cows, a popular toy in Swiss children’s playrooms. To be completely authentic, however, Esther would have to stock peanuts, apples and tangerines, the presents she often found in the shoes she left outside as a child for St. Nick’s delivery drops.
Puempel’s Olde Tavern, built by new arrivals Joe and Berta Puempel, has celebrated nearly 120 Christmases. The couple ran a boardinghouse, providing room and board for 60 cents at the turn of the 20th century. One guest, Albert Struebin, couldn’t gin up the change and painted four murals as payment. Though bar smoke and general life have darkened the paint, the images are still vivid enough to crawl into.
Today, pocket change still goes far. The ceiling is covered in crumpled dollar bills that resemble a swarm of origami birds with bad navigational skills. The party trick is to pierce a dollar with a thumbtack, fold in a half-dollar (for ballast), then toss it 18 feet up, hoping that it sticks. I watched pro dollar tosser and tavern owner Chuck Bigler chuck the buck up. He nailed it on his third try.
When it was my turn, I lofted it once and missed. On the second attempt, the pin reversed course and slammed into the floor. I had to pry it out with my fingernail. I failed two more times.
I asked Chuck when it was time to surrender. He told me that the Swiss are stubborn; they never quit. So I mustered up all my Swissness and tossed the dollar hard and high. It stuck.
Scandia and Lindstrom
“This is more Swedish than Sweden,” said Bonnie Olson, a volunteer at the Gammelgarden Museum in Scandia, about 40 miles northeast of Minneapolis.
Please, go on.
“We really get into our heritage,” she added. Swedes “probably don’t go back and learn about their heritage and their ancestors.”
And now for the closing argument.
“They don’t eat lutfisk.”
Swedish Americans, however, can’t get enough of the stinky rehydrated cod.
In the Swedish immigrant towns of Scandia and Lindstrom, the holiday dish appears at church Christmas dinners. Lois Barott, whose grandparents hail from the Scandinavian country, tries to hit at least five lutfisk events during the season; she’s off to a slow chew this year, with only one dinner under her belt so far.