Leon was born in Copenhagen in 1955 and immigrated to Canada by the time he was three. He doesn’t speak much Danish, probably because his parents decided their children would be real Canadians and spoke only English at home. I like to tease him that he probably sounds like a 3 yr old when he speaks Danish, which would account for his accent not being understood when he tries to converse in his native tongue. So maybe that is why he decided to buy a book called How to be Danish?
We were stopped at a rest area in Iowa when he saw an ad for Elk Horn, the largest Danish settlement in the US. Along with its sister town, Kimmbalton, it holds the largest Danish population outside Denmark. It wasn’t much of a drive off highway 80 to get there, so we decided to investigate. A certain Mr. Jensen immigrated to the area in the late 1800s and persuaded other Danish families to join them. In the 1970s, another Danish family had the idea of having an authentic windmill brought from Denmark to Elk Horn. So the town raised the funds, the windmill was purchased and dismantled, and then shipped to Iowa to be reassembled there. Today, it stands at the entrance of the town, along with a lovely gift shop, a Danish café, a museum and assorted other Danish flavoured shops. Of course, we recognized all the Danish family names like Larsen, Jensen, and so on.
Our first stop was the gift shop where we purchased a number of items we thought the family might enjoy. That’s where Leon found the book!
We had a look in the local antique store, more like a flea market. So much stuff you would have to be an expert to spot anything valuable. Then we dropped in to the Danish Inn for a Kringle, a piece of layered cake and some coffee. The Kringle is something like a flaky Danish pastry with almond paste inside and a few almonds on the outside. The cake was my favourite with layers of jam and a bit of almond icing on top. Unfortunately, the restaurant has seen better days. One shudders to think was Gordon Ramsay would say!
Next, we visited the Danish Country winery where we had a great long conversation with Loren Christensen, the host and sales manager, while I sampled the wine. It must have been too early in the day as I really wasn’t in the mood to finish any of the wines, but we did stay quite a while, discussing the history of the winery and the area, and purchased some great wine charms as well as a bottle of Danish Country wine. Loren showed us the lovely reception room above the tasting room where the view of the countryside was fantastic. I never though Iowa would be so hilly.
We told Loren about Harvest Hosts, an organization that compiles a list of farms and wineries that allow self-contained campers to stay the night for free. That’s how we had come across the Chateau de Pique winery. As we left Elk Horn to return to the interstate, we consulted our Harvest Host listing and decided to stop in Friend, Nebraska for our next night as guests in a local winery.