As soon as the snow melts in North Dakota and Minnesota, it’s shorts season – other places call this summer.
The Northern Midwest doesn’t get as long of a summer as other regions, so locals covet the warm weather and celebrate with a very specific set of must-dos. Here’s how to summer like a true local.
What to eat
Locals uncover their gas/electric/coal-fired grills and go to town on outdoor barbeques and backyard parties. Hamburgers, steaks, brats, hotdogs, kebabs, and pretty much any vegetable (and sometimes fruit) get thrown on and grilled up.
A classic summertime sandwich in the Midwest, everyone’s family has a different style and flavor they prefer. Messy, but delicious, these sandwiches are great for a buffet or backyard gathering.
Several berry varieties specific to the region crop up as soon as the sun is shining, and Midwesterners will take any opportunity to throw something into a pie.
Lingonberries are one such berry, and are an ode to the Swedish and Norwegian heritage of the area (coming from the Swedish word lingon). Locals use them in everything from jellies and jams to cheesecake and tarts.
Likewise, chokecherries have been on the plains before settlers ever crossed the Mississippi, and were a staple of the diets of Native Americans of the area.
Still grown by locals today (and officially dubbed the state fruit of North Dakota!), chokecherries make tasty dessert fillings, too.
With 10,000 lakes in Minnesota and several large lakes in North Dakota, fishing is a major pastime in the summer months for Northern Midwesterners.
One of the best varieties caught in these parts are walleye, a succulent, not-so-fishy fish that give you a healthy option for mealtimes.
Anything on a stick
It’s a well-known fact that Midwesterners love any food on a stick. State fairs are a major indicator that it’s summer, and stick foods are never far behind.
Corn dogs, cookies, and even scotch eggs have been served this way, and we get more and more inventive every season.
A good bonfire always includes s’mores. Want to fit in at a locals’ party? Bring the marshmallows, chocolate bars, and graham crackers.
Ice cream becomes a must-have dessert when the heat hits. In Fargo, the local open-air Dairy Queen in our sister city, Moorhead, opens in spring with lines around the block.
In the Midwest, ‘bars’ are not only drinking establishments, they are incredible desserts generally brought to a group meal or potluck. Scotcharoos (also known as Special K bars) are a very common type of bar. With a base made of Special K cereal and peanut butter topped with a layer of chocolate, you’re pretty much guaranteed to like them.
Anything from a farmer’s market
In such an agricultural area, we would be remiss if we didn’t mention farmer’s markets.
Fargo has the fastest-growing urban farmer’s market every Saturday of the summer in the downtown district. Grab something fresh to eat, or buy locally-sourced souvenirs to take home with you.
What to drink
We grow wheat, barley, and oats on the Great Northern Plains and in the Red River Valley, and then we use these products to brew incredible craft beers.
Pickles or olives in your beer
True to our ‘North of Normal’ ideals, locals add some strange things to their beer. Give a group of Minnesotans or North Dakotans some Coors Light, and it’s almost guaranteed that they’ll ask for pickles and olives to go in it.
Don’t knock it ’til you try it… you’ll be surprised by how refreshing it is on a hot summer’s day.
While originally concocted in Canada, you’ll find plenty a Midwesterner with Caesar in hand at brunch or even out at the bar.
Similar to the commonly known Bloody Mary, Caesars are made with a blend of tomato juice, vodka, and clam broth. The clam broth distinguishes it from a Bloody Mary, though it’s still mixed with Worcestershire sauce, and other spices.
Ice Hole schnapps
This liquor comes in a multitude of flavors from fan-favorite Plum to sweet Butterscotch. Most locals drink it straight from the bottle or in a shot.
What to say
While Midwesterners on the whole love the summer season, we also love to complain about the weather and debate whether or not there will be a big storm rolling through.
Try these phrases on for size:
“Uffda, it’s a scorcher out there.”
“We’re headed up north this weekend.” (Up north refers to northern Minnesota’s lake region… probably only use this if you are actually heading ‘up north’)
“Looks like a big one is rolling in.”
Want to master the Fargo movie accent? Check out this post.
What to do
Attend a bonfire
On warm summer evenings, Midwesterners love to circle up around a fire, roast marshmallows, swap stories, occasionally sing songs, and laugh together.
It’s pretty much a rite of passage to becoming a local.
Partner up for a game of cornhole/bags
Sun breaks through the clouds, and Midwesterners break out the yard games.
Cornhole (as North Dakotans call it) or Bags (as Minnesotans say) is a game that involves two teams of two players. Teams toss bean bags at an angled board with a hole near the top in an attempt to score points by landing on the board or in the hole.
It’s like the arcade game skee-ball but more fun and with a beer in hand (not required).
A second classic yard game is Norwegian golf.
Two racks are set up with three levels each. Teams toss a string with a golf ball on each end toward the rack. If the balls-and-string wrap around one of the levels of the rack, you get points… we promise it’ll make sense once you see it played.
Head to the water
Lake life is a major part of the culture, especially in Minnesota. With so many to choose from, people head to their favorites on the weekends (and some permanently move to lake cabins in the summer) for days of boating, fishing, and relaxing by the shores.
In Fargo, the Red River is great for fishing, kayaking, and boating.
Ignore the wind
If there’s one consistent thing about North Dakota and Fargo in particular, it’s the wind. In summer, you’ll find that locals pretend the occasional 30 mph gusts are light breezes and continue their regular activities.
Enjoy a sunset
Fargo has wide open skies spanning for miles – ideal for appreciating our gorgeous summer sunsets.