Over the years, three of my posts have consistently drawn the most visitors. One provides a recipe for West Texas cowboy biscuits along with the description of a cowboy cookout. The second is about my son-in-law’s spin on leftover lamb shanks. By far, the most popular has been a recipe for the unofficial, unacknowledged state dish of North Dakota, kas knephla. (Please note that there are several variants of spelling, but they are commonly known as cheese buttons.)
While unpacking my books during our recent move, I came across a thin red volume entitled “Dorcas’ Treasured Recipes.” So far as I can tell, the book was published around 1955 by members of the Dorcas Society of the Kulm, North Dakota Congregational Church. Kulm is the closest town near my grandmother’s family farm at Wirch, sits in the southeastern part of North Dakota and has a population of around 350. The town was founded in 1892, reached its greatest population of around 700 at the 1930 census, and claims Angie Dickinson as its most noteworthy citizen. (She moved elsewhere at age 11.) Her father apparently worked as an editor of the town newspaper, The Kulm Messenger. Kulm is not too far from Strasburg, the hometown of Lawrence Welk, and likely was an early venue when Welk began his orchestra.
“Dorcas’ Treasured Recipes” is a tidy little book with pages that have become brittle and yellow with age. The print, published in offset by the Kulm Messenger from a typewritten manuscript, has faded. What has not faded is the spirit of the women who pulled the book together. There are poems, prayers, and recipes that provide insight into the daily lives of these prairie women and testimony to their skills as good cooks.
Leafing through the pages I found several recipes for hamburger casseroles and one for corn dogs. The recipe that caught my eye was contributed by Mrs. Mathilda Brost, titled KAS KNEPHLA. Here is the recipe as published, followed by my recipe for quick and absolutely not authentic North Dakota Cheese Buttons.
3 c. flour For filling
½ tsp. B.P. 1 pt. cottage cheese
2 tsp. salt yolk of 2 eggs
2 egg whites ½ tsp. salt
2/3 c. cold water pepper and diced onion
Mix all together into a firm dough. Add more flour if necessary. Divide into 3 parts and roll each out like a pie crust. Cut into about 16 squares. Put about a heaping tsp. filling in each. Press edges together to seal. Boil a few at a time for 5 min. in about 2 qts. boiling water. Drain and pour the following sauce over: – optional –
Brown a few bread crumbs in a half stick of butter. Or: — Make a sour cream gravy as follows: Melt 2 tbsp. butter, add 1 tbsp. flour. pour in ½ c. milk and 1 c. sour cream, and a little chopped onion.
Quick North Dakota Cheese Buttons
- 1 pint, small curd cottage cheese
- 2 eggs
- 1 teaspoon salt
- ground black pepper to taste
- 12 ounce package wonton wrappers (about 60 wrappers)
- 12 ounces bacon, cut crosswise into ½ inch pieces
- 1 cup dried ½ inch bread cubes
- 8 tablespoons (one stick) unsalted butter
- In a fine-mesh cheesecloth or a fine-meshed large strainer, drain and squeeze as dry as you can the cottage cheese.
- Combine the drained cottage cheese, two eggs, salt and pepper.
- In batches, spread the wonton wrappers on a flat work surface. Place about 1½ teaspoons of the cottage cheese mixture in the center of each wonton wrapper. Fold into triangles and seal the edges by painting them with water and pressing them firmly between your fingers. Once you have formed the cheese buttons, you should cook them fairly quickly as the cottage cheese will soak through the wrappers. You should be able to make about 40 cheese buttons.
- Bring 3 quarts of salted water to the boil, and in batches, boil the cheese buttons for about 5 minutes. They should float to the surface when they are done. Remove with a slotted spoon, drain on paper towels, and keep warm in a 200°F oven until you have boiled all of the buttons.
- Meanwhile, fry the bacon over medium-low heat until it is lightly browned and crisp. Remove the bacon and stir in the bread cubes, frying them until they are lightly browned. Be careful not to burn them. Combine the bread cubes with the bacon.
- In the same pan, melt the butter and stir it until it is browned and fragrant. Stir in the bacon and bread cubes.
- Combine the cheese buttons with the bacon, bread and butter mixture. Serve immediately.