Those who have visited Norway may very well be familiar with a magnificent landscape known as Pulpit Rock, a popular attraction near Geirangerfjord. Simply a big cliff overlooking one of the thousands of fjords in Norway, Pulpit Rock is shaped like a church pulpit.
It should come as no surprise then, for those visiting Decorah Iowa, to stumble upon a micro-brewery called Pulpit Rock. A lovely campground on the Upper Iowa River nearby is also called Pulpit Rock. The rugged landscape of northeast Iowa created by glaciers millions of years ago left a micro-version of the original Pulpit Rock in Norway.
These are two of the many connections between this Iowa town of 8,000 residents and the magnificent Scandinavian country. If you’ve always wanted to visit Norway, a visit to Decorah Iowa certainly is as Nordic as you can get on this side of the pond.
A Big Slice of Norway
Decorah was founded by immigrants from the Kingdom of Norway and while the people who live here now are as all-American as fellow Iowan Grant Wood, neither have they forgotten the beautiful land from which their ancestors came.
The Vesterheim Norwegian-American Museum is the largest ethnic museum in the United States and does a fabulous job of documenting the immigrant experience in the U.S. from the mid-19th century. But it’s not one of those stuffy, dreary museums. The Vesterheim has a great collection of folk art, including woodcarving and textile arts. There are also a number of authentic buildings, either built in the 1850s by Norwegian immigrants, or built in Norway in that period and then brought to Iowa and reconstructed by Norwegian carpenters.
Experiencing Norwegian Foods in Iowa
The Vesterheim offers cooking classes that feature authentic Norwegian foods. Rømmagrøt is one of the foods that many immigrants ate was they crossed the ocean to a new land and survived their first lean years in America. Made of barley, flour, butter and cream, it will stick to your ribs and raise your cholesterol about 100 points. Sprinkle it with a little cinnamon for a bit more flavor.
Or for a little Norwegian/Iowan cultural immersion, consider visiting Decorah in the autumn months for lutefisk dinners held at traditional Lutheran churches throughout the area. There are dozens of them. Not sure what lutefisk is? It’s basically a dried Norwegian cod fish soaked in a lye solution. Yummm.
Or, if you’re not that adventurous, simply enjoy a hearty Iowa-grown meal at Restauration, the restaurant located in the Hotel Winneshiek, where the King and Queen of Norway stay when they come to town.
The hotel restaurant takes its name from the Restaurationen, a ship that brought Norwegian immigrants to the U.S. in 1825. In the Norwegian culture, the Restaurationen is known as the Mayflower of the Norwegian/American culture.
As the Norwegians would say “Vær så god.” It basically means – good eating or Bon Appetit.