BY JEFF MANUEL
During my years of research for Taconite Dreams, I came across some interesting taconite-themed recipes. One of my favorites is Taconite Tater Tot Hotdish. This recipe comes from Senator Amy Klobuchar, who submitted it to win a 2011 hotdish competition among Minnesota’s congressional delegation. I made this recipe at home this fall. I can’t say that it has any special connection to the holidays—or taconite for that matter—but it’s the kind of hearty hotdish that’s good on a cold northern Minnesota night.
It’s not surprising that the recipe comes from a senator. As I discuss in my book, there has long been a close connection between politics and iron mining in Minnesota. For DFL politicians like Klobuchar, the Iron Range is a crucial voting bloc that can potentially swing a statewide election. Yet it has been difficult to solve the region’s longstanding economic woes with public policy, which makes cultural appeals to the Iron Range, like taconite-themed recipes, more important than ever for Minnesota’s politicians.
If you need a drink to go with your hotdish, try the taconite special. This was a cocktail made by a Silver Bay bar specifically for engineer Edward W. Davis in the 1960s. After working for decades to perfect the taconite process, Davis retired to Silver Bay in the 1950s to be close to the Reserve Mining Company plant named in his honor: the E. W. Davis Works. He joked to reporters that he was the “undisputed patriarch” of Silver Bay and a bar in town made the taconite special just for him. According to Davis, the recipe was “plenty of gin and orange juice, with a maraschino cherry for trim” (Carl Hennemann, “He Hopes Amendment Will Pass-Dr. Edward Davis: ‘Mr. Taconite,’” St. Paul Dispatch, October 21, 1964).
Jeff Manuel is author of Taconite Dreams: The Struggle to Sustain Mining on Minnesota’s Iron Range, 1915–2000. He is associate professor of history at Southern Illinois University Edwardsville.