Take Native and Spanish influences, intermix with ingredients from across the Pacific, add a dash of good old American cowboy western and… Eureka!, it’s California.
Diversity aside, we never expected to stumble upon a big dollop of Denmark right in the middle of Santa Barbara County.
Eureka!, it’s Solvang.
Here’s the scoop: A few Danish teachers got sick and tired of the brutal winters in the Midwestern United States and decided warmer climes must be attained.
A pioneer spirit and disdain for layering clothing brought to California the Danish Capital of America.
Solvang, Danish for sunny field, was founded in 1911 by these intrepid educators and they set about building a Danish folk school and a little slice of Scandinavia on the former Spanish land grant Rancho San Carlos de Jonata.
Now that’s cultural diversity.
The town really began to flourish after the Saturday Evening Post exposed their secret to the world in a 1946 article.
Curious tourists arrived in droves and soon hotels, restaurants, attractions and the inevitable crap shops sprung up to serve them and remove the funds from their pockets.
However, these establishments have not overpowered the charm of the town. Solvang doesn’t seem feel like a big tourist trap.
The architecture is authentic, not movie-set-false-front-ish, and the cultural roots feel nourished and well watered.
We noticed that most of the gift shops were sporting wooden shoes.
This seemed out of place because lumber clod-hoppers are generally considered to be Dutch, not Danish. We investigated, google-style.
Turns out the Danes had a flourishing wooden shoe industry back in the late 1800s, they just didn’t get famous for it. Same situation with the windmills.
Whew, we could relax knowing there was no breach of culture. Solvang’s got more Danish flavor than a Sara Lee breakfast.
The town’s not large, just a little over 5,000 folks, so we could dawdle a bit and still hit all the hot spots.
We started with a stroll through the downtown area among the charming old world-style buildings surrounding Hans Christian Andersen Park.
A statue that we thought might be Gene Wilder as Willie Wonka, turned out to be good old Hans himself. Duh./em>
These Solvangites, Solvanginians, Solvangers… um, residents of Solvang are really into Mr. Anderson. They even created a museum in his honor.
We figured that should be our next stop.
Any kid growing up within the last century has been exposed to Hans Christian Andersen, learning valuable life lessons from the fellow that made the fable famous.
The Little Mermaid, The Princess And The Pea, Thumbelina, and The Ugly Duckling are all from his pen and the little museum features these along with lesser known yarns. Many in first editions.
In addition to his writings, Hans was also pretty handy with a pair of scissors and several of his paper cutouts and silhouettes are on display along with sketches, artifacts, and Anderson-related memorabilia.
As usual, food became our focus before too long. Maybe it was all the talk about peas with that princess.
So with peas on the brain (as opposed to pea-brained) we headed just up the road to Buellton and Pea Soup Andersen’s.
Andersen’s has been serving up All You Can Eat of the green broth for over eighty years.
Famous cartoon chefs Hap Pea and Pea Wee greet guests and entertain with their crazy pea splitting antics.
Veronica put a serious hurt on their profit margin with that offer — learning that the old elementary school joke was accurate — “what you have for lunch? Pea green soup. What did you do all night, pee…”
Sorry ’bout that.
Pea Soup Anderson’s is a Southern California institution. Ask around, everyone’s been here.
By the way, we didn’t get the name turned around. For some reason Andersen’s decided to put the Pea Soup in the front.
They don’t claim to be related to Hans Christian, but you never know.
David & Veronica, GypsyNester.com