Curious about the roots of Minnesota’s diverse food traditions, The Growler embarked on a trip back through time, starting with the state’s earliest inhabitants, to understand the moments in history that shaped how and what Minnesotans eat today.
9000–5000 BC: Paleoindians in this part of the world hunted large game animals, such as mammoth, mastodon, and extinct species of large bison. Minnesota’s first humans roamed large open territories in their quest for food.
5000–500 BC: As the climate changed and big game animals became scarcer, early Minnesotans began to consume a greater variety of foods, like small mammals, birds, fish, amphibians, reptiles, and plants.
500 BC–400 AD: Woodland traditions of the Ohio and Illinois River Valleys spread into Minnesota. Ceramics are introduced, as well as an increasing focus on horticulture.
400–1500: Semi-permanent villages are established around shallow lakes and marshes where wild rice grows. Tribes like the Dakota hunted, fished, and cultivated crops like corn, squash, and beans, made maple syrup, and harvested wild rice. They spent the winter living off stores of supplies built up during the year.
1500: The Anishinaabe, or Ojibwe, settled in Minnesota after a migrating from the east. Ojibwe hunted and fished, made maple sugar and syrup, and harvested wild rice, much like the Dakota.
1679: In one of earliest moments of European contact with Native Americans in Minnesota, Daniel Greysolon, Sieur du Lhut, lands in modern day Duluth and conducts peace talks between the Dakota and the Ojibwe to solidify the French fur trade. Greysolon follows the Dakota to their primary settlement near Mille Lacs and claims all the Dakota lands for Louis XIV of France.
1825: Fort Snelling is established as a military outpost. Soldiers’ daily rations were made up of salted pork or beef, flour or cornmeal for bread baked in the fort’s bake shop, dried peas or beans, and four ounces of whiskey, brandy, or rum. Soldiers supplemented their rations by fishing the river and hunting. Elsewhere, early European settlements in Minnesota are founded by French Canadians, Scots, and Welsh.
1838: Canadian voyageur Pierre “Pig’s Eye” Parrant is forced out of the Fort Snelling settlements due to the problems that surround his alcohol trading business and establishes his own settlement known as Pig’s Eye and later as St. Paul.
1849: Bavarian immigrant, Anthony Yoerg, starts a brewery in St. Paul and launches the first commercially brewed beer in Minnesota.
1851: Treaty of Traverse des Sioux and Treaty of Mendota opens wide tracts of land in Minnesota to immigrants. In the next 40 years, thousands of Germans, Swedes, and Norwegians come to Minnesota and establish farms, cementing their food traditions in the state and laying the foundations for the state’s agricultural economy.
1856: Minneapolis Mill Company builds a flour mill on the banks of the Mississippi River, and begins an era of milling that would make Minneapolis famous.
1858: Minnesota is officially admitted as the 32nd state of the U.S.
1859: The first Minnesota State Fair is held in Minneapolis. The fair hosted agricultural exhibitions and competitions to help encourage farming in the newly formed state. (It’d be another 80 years before Pronto Pups, which some claim to be the first food on a stick, are sold at the Fair.)
1865: Hamm’s Brewery and August Schell Brewing Company are both founded.
1872: More than 61 percent of the Minnesota’s cultivated acreage are dedicated to growing wheat.
1873: Red Wing becomes the world’s largest primary wheat market in 1873. The city exported 1.8 million bushels, valued at more than two million dollars.
1880: Minneapolis becomes known as the “Flour Milling Capital of the World,” or more informally as the “Mill City.” Washburn Crosby Company wins a gold medal at the first Miller’s International Exhibition for one of its flour blends, giving birth to the Gold Medal Flour brand.
1883: Woo Yee Sing and his younger brother Woo Du Sing open the Chinese restaurant Yuen Faun Low in Minneapolis, more commonly known as “John’s Place.” At that time, most of the state’s 100 or so Chinese immigrants ran restaurants and laundromats, and later hotels in the Iron Range, due to restrictive job opportunities and discrimination. Yuen Faun Low was in business until 1967.
1884: Mining begins in the Iron Range drawing a large number of immigrants searching for work. Foods like Finnish môjakka, Slovenian potica, and Cornish pasties enter the foodways of the Iron Range. After 1900, the population expanded, with Italian, Croatian, Polish, Montenegrin, Serbian, Bulgarian, Romanian, Slovak, Hungarian, and Greek immigrants filling mining jobs. A sizeable Jewish population starts main street businesses.
1887: German immigrant George Benz’s liquor wholesale business, Geo Benz & Sons, is established. Benz becomes a major player in the state’s alcohol industry, holding stake in several distilleries around the country including Old Blue Ribbon Whiskey from Kentucky’s Eminence Distillery.
1887: The Agricultural Experiment Station is created by the University of Minnesota with the goal of finding a hardy apple variety suited to Minnesota’s climate. In the years following, the program yields a variety of cold-hardy apples, such as the Beacon and Haralson.
1889: Italian Macaroni and Vermicelli Company is founded in St. Paul. From 1899 to 1914, over three million Italians would immigrate to Minnesota and bring pastas, pastries, and other foods to the state.
1889: The Dawes Act is passed dividing communal tribal lands of Native Americans into household plots of land for farming and private ownership. The remaining “surplus” land is made available for sale to non-Indians. The Dawes Act also creates federally funded boarding schools designed to assimilate Native American children into white society. Family and cultural ties are practically destroyed by the now-notorious boarding schools, in which children were punished for speaking their native language or performing native rituals.
1890: Sam Cargill moves to Minneapolis to run the Cargill Elevator Company.
1891: George A. Hormel & Company, known now as Hormel Foods Corporation, is founded in Austin, Minnesota.
1893: University of Minnesota develops a hardy corn variety, Minnesota 13, that helps establish corn as a cash crop in Minnesota.
1899: Albert Mouchnotte starts growing mushrooms inside caves carved into the sandstone bluffs of St. Paul’s Mississippi River Valley. There were 50 caves in the area, which became known as Mushroom Valley. Throughout the years, the caves were also used for aging cheese, lagering beer, and as nightclubs. The company Mouchnotte started is still in business today as Lehmann Farms.
1903: Minnesota Valley Canning Company, better known as Green Giant, is founded in Le Sueur. Their earliest products are canned creamed corn and canned peas, though it wouldn’t be until 1935 that they’d introduce the Jolly Green Giant mascot.
1910: Now an established trader of grains in the Midwest, Cargill moves its headquarters to Minneapolis.
1911: Michael Cossetta starts a small Italian deli called Cossetta’s in St. Paul. It’s still in operation today.
1919: Prohibition is ratified and officially added as an amendment to the U.S. Constitution
1921: A group of 320 dairy farmers meets in St. Paul and forms the Minnesota Cooperative Creameries Association, known today as Land O’ Lakes.
1923: An employee contest at Washburn Crosby Company, the predecessor to General Mills, provides a new name for the company’s Gold Medal Whole Wheat Flakes: Wheaties. The cereal would go on to become a household name in the 1930s.
1924: The character of Betty Crocker is created by Gold Medal Flour to send personalized responses to consumers’ baking questions.
1928: General Mills is formed by the merger of five milling companies: Red Star Milling Company, Royal Milling Company, Kalispell Flour Mills Company, Rocky Mountain Elevator Company, and Washburn Crosby Company.
1937: Hormel introduces a new fully cooked canned meat product—SPAM. The new product achieves 18 percent market share within the year.
1945: Minnesota reaches its peak in cultivated farmland. Virtually all of Minnesota’s prairies had been cultivated by the turn of the 20th century.
1946: Art and Marie Murray found Murray’s Steakhouse in downtown Minneapolis.
1948: Mancini’s Char House opens in St. Paul, styled after the steakhouses of central Italy.
1949: Cecil and Faye Glickman open Cecil’s Deli in St. Paul’s Highland Park, a largely Jewish neighborhood, offering kosher deli meats imported from Chicago. There were several similar delis in Highland Park at that time serving the Jewish community, but Cecil’s Deli is the only one still in operation today.
1953: The Hamm’s beer bear is introduced in an advertising campaign developed by the brewery and its agency Campbell Mithun.
1953: Porky’s on University opens and becomes a destination in the Twin Cities drive-in scene.
1954: Kramarczuk’s delicatessen is founded in Minneapolis by Ukrainian immigrants Wasyl and Anna Kramarczuk.
1960s: Hotels and resorts develop restaurants around cultural themes such as the Viking Room at the Radisson, the Norse Room at the Leamington Hotel, and the Waikiki Room at Hotel Nicollet.
1965: The Immigration Act of 1965 eases restrictions for Chinese, Japanese and Filipinos immigrants, who establish strong communities in Minnesota and carry on their own cultural food traditions.
1965: The Pillsbury Doughboy is created and becomes a nationwide icon.
1970s: Vietnamese, Laotians, Cambodians, and Hmong refugees immigrate to the Twin Cities area beginning in the late 1970s, bringing the cuisines of Southeast Asia to the state. Today, Minnesota has the second largest Hmong population in the United States.
1986: Summit Brewing is founded in St. Paul.
1990: African immigrants, many of whom are fleeing persecution in their home countries, begin settling in Minnesota in large numbers. A growing number of African immigrant–owned restaurants and grocery stores bring East and West African food traditions to the Twin Cities and beyond.
1991: The University of Minnesota develops the Honeycrisp apple.
2005: Midtown Global Market opens in the Midtown Exchange building on Minneapolis’ Lake Street, housing restaurants serving African, Mexican, Italian, Greek, Vietnamese, and Indian food, as well as gifts and other merchandise from diverse cultures.
2011: The “Surly Bill” is signed into law, allowing breweries to open onsite taprooms and sell beer directly to consumers. The law sparks an explosion of craft breweries in the state that continues to this day.
2010: The Hispanic population in Minnesota surpasses 250,000—up from 54,000 in 1990—further growing the already-established Hispanic food scene. The number of Latino owned-businesses in Minnesota grows by 25 percent from 2005-2010, nearly double the rate of overall business growth in the state.
2013: Minnesota’s first legal whiskey distillery after the repeal of Prohibition, Panther Distillery, begins production.
2015: Perhaps Minnesota’s most lauded fine dining restaurant, La Belle Vie, closes its doors after 17 years in business. The closing is indicative of a trend that’s seeing diners increasingly opt for more casual, chef-driven restaurants over traditional fine dining establishments.
2016: Minnesota has over 9,700 eating and drinking establishments, which accounts for roughly 10 percent of the state’s employment. The restaurant industry was expected to generate $9.5 billion in sales. In the beverage industry, by year’s end, Minnesota had around 117 breweries in operation with more on the way this winter. The brewing industry had an economic impact of over $1.3 billion in the state.
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