Sunday, February 15, 2015

Dining In-A Culinary Tour of America: Valentine, Nebraska

The City: Valentine, Nebraska, aka, "America's Heart City"
According to the 2010 census, the population of this town is 2,737. Of this total, 86.3% is white and 9.1% is Native American. As of the 2000 census, the per capita income was $22.715, and 6.4% live below the poverty line.

Valentine, just north of the Niobrara River, was founded in 1883 when the Sioux City and Pacific Railroad came through that part of the country. As we saw last week in Pocatello, Idaho, railroads were a big factor in when and where cities in this country were established.

The city was named after Congressman E.K. Valentine, who won an election just prior to the city's founding. During its first few years, the population tripled, which brought with it a huge increase in violent crime. Eventually, a "no guns in the saloons" policy was enforced, and helped to curb violent crime.

Fun Fact: Valentine participates in a mail rerouting program. During the time before Valentine's day, mail is rerouted through the city's post office, where it is given a special Valentine postmark as well as a Valentine's day message stamp.

The Dish: Runza
I had never heard of this food before I started looking around for cities that I could associate with Valentine's Day. When I ran across Valentine, Nebraska and started researching foods of Nebraska, this word popped up over and over again. Runzas are apparently so popular in Nebraska that there is even a chain of fast food restaurants name after it. When I looked it up I got really excited because of its history and knew I had to do it. Runza, also known as bierock, fleischkuche, or Kraut Pirok, is a meat and cabbage-filled bread dough that hails from the same German colony in Russia that my great grandfather and his family were from.

Almost every culture has a dish like this. Think of pierogies of Poland, humbow from China, or pasties from Britain. Samosas and empanadas are other examples. A dish that is small enough to be held in your hand, has a hearty filling, but with a casing that keeps it from making a total mess when you eat is important. You can make them ahead of time and take them to work or school and eat them on the go if need be. I was very happy to see that my own heritage has its own contribution to this delicious and practical culinary tradition.

And now a bit of a tangent in which I wax poetic about Volga Germans and my own background. Back in the mid 1700's, Catherine the Great, who was German but had married into the Russian royal family, took over as Queen(apparently there was a whole thing and a deposition of her husband and a conspiracy to assassinate him and all sorts of drama) and invited Germans into the country to settle the vast prairie-like lands along the Volga river. They were given complete autonomy and did not have to pay taxes or serve in the military. They spoke their own language, established their own churches, and kept to themselves. My great grandfather was born in Saratov, Russia, which was in the middle of this area. When he was a very young child, the attitude in Russia was changing towards the Volga Germans. They were told they had to start paying taxes, serving in the military, and basically to completely assimilate with the greater Russian population. Many of the people, my family included, didn't want to do this, so they left. Many of them settled in the Midwestern states of the US, but my family want to Canada and settled in Calgary, Alberta. These areas in both the US and Canada have a similar environment to the land they had known in Russia. Not everybody left, however, and the majority of those who stayed behind would end up being rounded up during the Second World War and shipped off to Siberia, seeing as Germany was an enemy state to Russia. A lot of people died there, but those who survived ended up staying and there is still a large population of ethnically German Russians in Siberia today.

Ok, now that I am finished with that, I can get back to the actual dish. I found a few good recipes online and used those to base mine off of. I had planned to make the bread dough myself but I had a time crunch at the last minute and when I compared prices to buying a bag of bread flour versus buying those bags of frozen dough(I used Rhodes brand) and seeing it was pretty much the same price, decided to get the already made dough instead. I would like to do this again sometime and make the dough myself.

The filling was really simple. I switched out ground chicken for the ground beef and kept the seasonings exactly as it called for in the recipe. I used only fresh cabbage in mine but I can see how using sauerkraut or a mixture of both could be amazing. If you like sauerkraut, that is. Which I do. You could even add diced cooked potato in this too if you wanted, but then you'd be dangerously encroaching into pasty territory.
 After being filled and resting a second time. Just before putting them into the oven. I wasn't sure how big they'd get so I put them on two sheets.
After coming out of the oven. I moved them all onto one sheet to rest for a few minutes before trying one.

I wasn't able to fit as much filling in them as I would have liked. The recipe said to divide the dough into 8 pieces and it's possible that if I'd made the dough myself it would have made enough to create bigger pieces, but it was still filling. The cabbage is slightly bitter which works well with the salty, savory flavors mixed with it. The dough was delish and held its own against the filling. There was no mess and it was really easy to eat. I am not going to write out the recipe since I largely used one I can link to, so I will post the link to it here.
These were amazing! I forgot to add the egg wash on the top like the recipe said to do. Obviously it looks different without it and it might have been a bit crunchier with it, but I didn't miss it, personally. I followed the bread package instructions for cooking temp and time and did 25 minutes. I think the full 30 would have been too much time.

The next time you have a hankering for German food but want to try something a little different, I would highly recommend this. It was pretty simple to make and really good. I was originally going to serve this with roasted potatoes with caraway seeds, but I just made soup instead. Two of these plus the soup was a perfect-sized meal.

Sources: Just a reminder that I am not posting anything from Wikipedia, just assume that I use that as the base of my research and it's easy enough to look it up there so I don't feel the need to post a link to it. I just post links to the other sources.

The Recipe

Runza History

Valentine City History


City Picture


  1. How fun to find a city called "Valentine"! And then to realize there is a food-history connection to our family history? Double-score! The dish looks pretty simple but tasty so I'll have to try making it someday. Grandad would be proud!

  2. My hubby would like these if you make another round and have extra someday! ~G

  3. Very cool to find something that tied into your family history that way. Sounds like a great experiment!