Jonathan Crowe

My Correct Views on Everything

I’m Thinking About Some Vínarterta

A Winnipeg Free Press article that tries to define Winnipeg’s signature dish came up with the impossibly fusion pancit with kubasa and goldeye, which I think is entirely too earnest, but also mentioned that several readers suggested vínarterta.

Ah, vínarterta. It’s been five years since I was last in Manitoba, and examples of my homesickness continue to manifest themselves, one of which is a craving for vínarterta. If you’re from Manitoba, you probably know what this is; if you’re not, you probably haven’t, unless you’re of Icelandic extraction and can pronounce “Eyjafjallajökull” without batting an eye.

Vínarterta is a torte of many layers with prune filling. It’s apparently a Christmas cake, like plum pudding or fruitcake. To say that it is rich is an understatement. Cheesecake is ephemeral by comparison. It’s the neutronium of desserts. Austrians take one look at it and say, you know, that’s a bit much.

Gimli, Manitoba is the locus of the Icelandic-Canadian diaspora. When I was last there, five years ago, I went to the Central Bakery and bought me some vínarterta. Then I tried to share. My father is diabetic and wouldn’t dare. Jennifer is not fond of excessive sweetness and refused to eat much of it. Which left me with the whole damn thing to eat on the trip back. Now it’s lovely stuff, in my sweet-toothed opinion, but you can’t eat much of it. Finishing it off was, shall we say, a bit of an effort.

It’s been five years and I think I’ve finally digested it all, so of course I’m starting to think about vínarterta again. We think we might manage a trip west this summer (we’re mulling it over) and if we stop by Gimli I’ll probably pick some up again — albeit a much smaller piece, since I’ll have to eat it myself.

A more dangerous option would be to try to make my own. There are several recipes online; John Anderson’s is thorough, looks authentic and has lots of pictures. It might be cruel to inflict vínarterta on my friends, but it’s not the worst Icelandic delicacy out there. It’s quite likely the best.