This is part 2 of 2 of Carolynn’s trek to Hibbing. Click here to read part 1: The Quest for Porketta.
Potica was simple enough to track down. Sort of a cross between walnut strudel and bread, it was available at several local bakeries. But when Pam (my weather-watching innkeeper) heard I was looking to learn about potica, she insisted that the best potica baker in town was the sister of a local restaurateur. I’m never one to shy away from a good lead, and Pam was kind enough to track down the phone number of Melissa Sundvall at her adorable restaurant, Amelia’s. I called and she (and her two sisters) graciously agreed to meet me.
I asked Melissa for some recommendations on other potica and she told me of two local bakeries, Sunrise and Andrej’s (a mostly wholesale bakery that sells potica at local shops). I called Sunrise first and spoke to Virginia, the owner. She also agreed to meet with me and, when she heard I had never actually had potica, insisted on mailing me a loaf to try. It was delicious. I couldn’t wait for more.
We had had our fill of porketta and were clamoring for something sweeter. We’d tasted our way through a few of the local bakeries’ potica and were excited to go meet up with Melissa at Amelia’s (named after her grandmother).
Melissa Sundvall and her two sisters, Kari Doucette and Christina Zierman, had agreed not only to chat with me, but also to let me help them make potica. We began by making the sweet, yeasted, enriched dough. As it proofed, we made the filling (walnuts, brown sugar, honey, and butter).
The sisters explained to me that this potica was a traditional Slovenian recipe passed down by their grandmother. The recipe was so special that even though the sisters grew up making the potica with their grandmother, Amelia refused to give them actual quantities of ingredients until the sisters reached adulthood. Only when Amelia felt that her granddaughters knew what they were doing did she give them the actual recipe. The sisters make the potica at holidays and typically eat it as dessert, although they have heard of people eating it for breakfast.
We were making one batch of dough, which would be enough to make 6 to 7 loaves of potica.
We put the pile of dough at the center of a 6’ by 4’ table. Slowly, circling the workspace, we stretched the dough until—amazingly—it covered the entire tabletop.
We spread the filling and slowly rolled the dough into a long loaf. We sliced it into loaves and baked them.
While it was in the oven we chatted about life in Hibbing. How the economy had been hit hard there. That the population was decreasing. I could tell how much this family loved the area, and how much they were willing to fight for it. It made me sad—I had only been in Hibbing a day and already felt attached. It is an adorable American town filled with kind, interesting, and hardworking people who clearly enjoy living there. (As our trip continued, we ate a lot of delicious potica, but none compared to the one we helped make. I can’t thank Melissa, Kari, and Christina enough for spending the afternoon with us.)
The next morning, our last in Minnesota, we woke up and headed to the Minnesota Discovery Center. It was a neat place. Part museum, part library, it was undergoing some major renovations but, lucky for us, the library was intact. We found dozens of cookbooks with recipes for porketta and potica, and history books with information about the groups that had settled the range and made it what it is today. I could have spent an entire week there looking at the books, but we had one last spot before we headed to the airport.
Our last visit in Hibbing was to Sunrise Bakery.
Virginia, the current owner, warmly greeted us. Sunrise has, in many ways, put potica on the map. They opened in 1913 as a small Italian bakery. They employed a woman who would make them potica as a gift each Christmas. As a child, Virginia begged her father to start making potica to sell at the bakery. He obliged, and they added it to their lineup as a seasonal product.
One day, about 20 years ago, the phone rang off the hook with requests for potica to be shipped all over the country. Virginia couldn’t imagine why the phone was ringing off the hook. As it turns out, the food editor at the LA Times had tried their potica recently and written a rave review. From there, business took off. Sunrise kept their storefront but turned a vacant school into a production bakery. They make dozens of products but potica accounts for about 25% of their sales. They now make up to 1200 loaves a day and ship them all over the country.
We had an amazing time in Hibbing. The term “melting pot” was used over and over. Although all of America can be called a melting pot, somehow in this smaller town it was even more, well, melted. Differing groups of immigrants had combined recipes and stories to create a truly unique community, incorporating elements from all of their distinctive cultures. I was humbled by the kindness and generosity of the people we met. If you find yourself near Hibbing—go, learn, and feast.
Armed with all her notes, Carolynn has returned to the test kitchen. Stay tuned for her Hibbing-inspired recipes for potica and porketta in an upcoming issue of Cook’s Country.