It’s been a tough stretch in North Dakota recently.

Low crude oil prices have created a boon for consumers as the cost to fill up at the pump has plunged. The extra cash in the pockets of millions of motorists is often likened to an unexpected tax cut, which could help stimulate the economy.

But that collpase has also been a huge blow to areas where oil extraction and associated industries are the bread and butter of the economy.

North Dakota is one such place that has been vulnerable because of low oil prices. The economy is there smaller and thus more dependent on the oil boom than other places, such as Texas.

The result is lean times – a time to hunker down. A time for comfort food.

In North Dakota and neighboring Minnesota a traditional comfort food in times like these is the hotdish.

Hotdish is a variety of casserole which typically contains a starch, a meat or other protein, and a canned or frozen vegetable, mixed with canned soup.  Hotdish is cooked and served hot in a single baking dish and commonly appears at communal gatherings such as family reunions and church suppers. It features a combination of meat (chicken or tuna), canned soup, a starch (frequently tater tots or pasta), and peas or corn. 

The history of the hotdish goes back to when “budget-minded farm wives needed to feed their own families, as well as congregations in the basements of the first Minnesota churches.” According to Howard Mohr, author of How to Talk Minnesotan, “A traditional main course, hotdish is cooked and served hot in a single baking dish and commonly appears at family reunions and church suppers.”  The most typical meat for many years has been ground beef, and cream of mushroom remains the favorite canned soup. In past years a pasta was the most frequently used starch, but tater tots and local wild rice have now become very popular as well.

Hotdishes are filling, convenient, and easy to make. They are well-suited for family reunions, funerals, church suppers, and potlucks where they may be paired with potato salad, coleslaw, Jello salads and desserts, and pan-baked desserts known as bars

Hotdish frequently appears, along with other stereotypical Minnesotan dishes such as lutefisk, in the radio program A Prairie Home Companion. Hotdish is also described in Howard Mohr’s book How to Talk Minnesotan. Hotdish is an integral element of the book Hotdish to Die For, a collection of six culinary mystery short stories in which the weapon of choice is hotdish.

The hotdish traditionally came from home, but these days it may be found outside too. It is served up in a most unique fashion at  Sickies Garage, a burger restaurant a pub with locations in Fargo and Bismark. There one of their 5- burgers is a Tater Tot Hot Dish Burger. It includes French Cut Green Beans, corn, cream of mushroom soup and tater tots – described by Fargo Monthly as “a most unique burger”.

For the more domestic and conventional here is a North Dakota Hotdish recipe.

No matter how you  may partake, may you be comforted.