At the heart of the heart of Icelandic North American culture is not Vikings, or horses or sheep, or fishing or Black Death or language, no, they are not the centre of our culture, nor is religion, Lutheran, Unitarian, nor the sagas, no, nope, the centre of all things Icelandic North American is vinarterta. Traditionally, it is a seven layer prune torte, with thin biscuit layers, sometimes iced, sometimes not.
In the old days, people were buried with a copy of the Passion Hymns. Nowadays, they’re buried with a slice of vinarterta to take to heaven with them.
There are sides, like the North and South in the American civil war, like Irish catholics and protestants, but the sides aren’t political or religious, they’re whether you eat your vinarterta iced or not iced. No icer has ever been known to convert to being a non-icer, although there have been rumours that a non-icer has been known to convert to being an icer.
It was discovered in recent years, that Icelanders in Iceland sometimes use a rhubarb filling. This is aposty of the worst sort. This is the betrayal of Icelandic culture to the same degree as comparing the sagas to Classic comics. There is a reason for everything and it may be that during WWII it was impossible to obtain prunes. Desperation can drive people to cannibalism or worse, to rhubarb filling.
That vinarterta is so culturally embedded made it all the more surprising that Melissa Macauley of Shorepoint Village was proudly standing behind a table laden with vinarterta. Not only that but people like her vinarterta so much that she sold all three dozen yesterday and had spent the evening and night making 15 more. If you have ever made vinarterta, mixing the dough, spreading the layers, cooking them to just the perfect texture, spreading them with prunes, building the layers, you will know that making 15 more vinarterta was an Olympic feat.
She says her husband is of Icelandic background. It’s amazing the magic marriage can do. There are rumours of local women of Icelandic background who can make peroghis that stick together when they are boiled. It doesn’t seem possible but the rumours are persistent.
Melissa says that making vinarterta is a labour of love. That certainly must be the case because as I stood at the table, customers came and went and she cautioned them that since the vinarterta was made only hours before that it needed to sit and ripen a bit before it was at its perfect best. But, from the look in the eyes of the customers, ready or not, the vinarterta was going to disappear with a mug or two of coffee.
Melissa is serious about her baking. She has a site on the internet www.sweetsbym. Ca She also makes birthday cakes and wedding cakes but those don’t underpin an entire culture, don’t bring men to blows over whether their cake should be iced or not iced or, heaven forbid, it should have cardamom in it.
Personally, I’m icer and no cardamom. When I was a teenager, a quarter of a cake (now 8.00) could disappear with two cups of coffee. Those were, of course, the days when I had a twenty-eight inch waist and a bottomless stomach.