Explorer shares recipes from Minnesota homestead

Sharyn Jackson
Star Tribune

Simplicity and sustainability are the main themes running through a new cookbook written with Will Steger’s niece Rita Mae.

What do you eat when you’re a larger-than-life polar explorer, kayaker, dogsledder, educator, homesteader and climate advocate? Like many people, Steger enjoys a good apple pie, meatloaf and watermelon.

It’s where he ate those favorite foods that sets the Minnesota-born explorer apart.

He devoured the melon on the banks of the Mississippi River after a motorboat adventure from Minnesota to New Orleans at age 15. The meatloaf was stuffed into sandwiches that would last him through three days of hitchhiking and hopping freight trains, his preferred way to get around as soon as school let out for the summer.

And his beloved apple pie, a gift from his mother Margaret, dropped from a resupply plane delivering provisions to the North Pole. The frozen pie sprung out of the box and rolled down the runway. Steger chased it until it landed in a snowbank.

Stories about the sustenance that powered Steger through his awe-inspiring achievements in exploration accompany recipes in “The Steger Homestead Kitchen: Simple Recipes for an Abundant Life.”

There are the homemade granola bars he’d pack for students on his Outward Bound expeditions. The warming stew he would serve his friends who come up once a year to help him cut ice from nearby Picketts Lake and haul it to the icehouse at his Ely homestead as an alternative to refrigeration. The gingersnaps – one of many recipes from his mother’s spiral notebook – that he puts out for guests on retreat at his isolated conference center, the Steger Wilderness Center.

This transporting collection, which Steger wrote with his niece Rita Mae Steger and local cookbook author Beth Dooley, is as much a cookbook as it is an argument for eating whole, clean and local during a time of environmental strife.

“I think one of the solutions of climate change is to be sustainable as a life, as a person,” Steger said. “You don’t have to look at coal or whatever the polluters are. It’s a matter of living sustainably. That’s a joy, and that’s the life we need to survive what’s ahead of us.”

The recipes are rooted in simplicity. Most dishes ask for few ingredients and fewer steps. Because when delivery doesn’t reach your address, be it Ely or Antarctica, working with what you have is the only way to survive.

Mom’s Gingersnaps

Makes about 3 dozen cookies.

Note: A favorite from Will’s mom’s cookbook. “We make these cookies every week,” said Steger. From “The Steger Homestead Kitchen” (University of Minnesota Press, 2022).

2 cups flour

1 teaspoon ground ginger

1 teaspoon cinnamon

1/4 teaspoon ground cloves

1 teaspoon baking soda

1/2 teaspoon salt

1 cup maple or brown sugar

1 cup (2 sticks) butter, softened

1 egg

2 tablespoons sorghum or molasses

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

Granulated sugar, for coating

Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Line several baking sheets with parchment, or lightly grease.

In a large bowl, stir together flour, ginger, cinnamon, cloves, baking soda and salt.

In a separate bowl, cream together sugar, butter, egg, sorghum or molasses and vanilla.

Form a well in the center of the dry mixture and add the creamed butter mixture. Mix together until everything is well combined.

Pour a little granulated sugar on a plate. Using a teaspoon, form the dough into 11/2-inch balls and roll in sugar to coat. Place cookies on baking sheet, leaving about 2 inches between each one. Press down slightly with your fingers to flatten the dough.

Bake until the edges have just begun to crisp and center is soft, about 12 to 15 minutes.

Remove the baking sheet from the oven and allow the cookies to sit for about 1 minute. Using a metal spatula, transfer cookies to a cooling rack.