In Memory’s Dining Hall: “Ma” Young and Lushburgers

Posted on October 28th, 2009 by

Evelyn Young, pulling a batch of cinnamon rolls out of the oven. Photo courtesy of Steve Waldhauser, Director of Publications

(First in a series)

The history of Gustavus is populated by characters. Individuals whose names always float to the surface when  folks who have been here A Certain Length of Time start to reminisce; persons who, if they’d been around in the Facebook era, would have the sort of page you’d visit, just to see what they’d got up to this time; people you’d have wanted to know, if even half the stories about them were true.

If there were a pantheon of such Gustavus figures, Evelyn Young, the woman for whom the college dining room is named, would certainly be in it. “Ma” Young was, for more than thirty years, the legendary director of food service at Gustavus. She retired[1] from that position in the early 80s, while I was a Gustavus student.

Even while she was still around, the stories about her had assumed tall-tale proportions (“Did you know she and that Cadillac of hers had more speeding tickets on 169 between Edina and St. Peter than anyone else, ever?” “Did you know she used to get ejected from basketball games for challenging the refs’ calls?”).

Ask anyone who was a student during any of those thirty years what they remember about the food in the ‘caf, and chances are good they’ll be able to conjure up a few very vivid memories—some of them lovely (rye bread! almond cream pie! chicken Kiev!), some of them not quite so lovely (Lushburgers—more about those in a minute), and some of them (to eighteen-year-olds not raised in Swedish households) a bit odd (Who knew you could cream celery and call it Christmas? And what the heck is krem when it’s at home?).

My vivid memories involve the aforementioned Lushburgers—and also steak and batnog. I’ll get to the Lushburgers today. Steak and batnog will have to wait.

Lushburgers could have been the food about which Calvin Trillin quipped “leftovers…for which the original meal has never been found.”[2] In that era (1978-1982), the cafeteria menu was on about a seven-day rotation. At least it seemed as if Toasty Dogs and Lushburgers appeared once a week. Toasty Dogs were the skinniest hot dogs you’ve ever seen, wrapped in a slice of regular white bread, sprinkled with paprika, and baked in the oven.  I always thought of them as a kind of poor man’s pig in a blanket.

Lushburgers, on the other hand, were a kind of barbecue or sloppy joe that, to use the eco language of today, involved lots of carbon-footprint-reducing recycling. Recycling, that is, of all the meat that we’d (not) eaten that week, chopped fine and bound together with some tomato-ey sauce, spread on hamburger bun halves, sprinkled with cheese…and, yes, baked.  They were, frankly,  just a little scary. Not I’m-being-poisoned scary, or this-is-unsafe scary. More like category-mistake scary, like Sesame-Street-one(or more)-of-these-things-is-not-like-the-others scary.

I don’t think there was a recipe for Lushburgers in her wonderful cookbook, All This and Rye Bread Too. There does appear to be a 90s New Zealand alternative band by the name, however. Were they perhaps inspired by a late-1970s cafeteria dish from the U.S.?

Next up: Steak!??

[1] While she retired from that job, she wasted little time in assuming another, in the Development Office of the college. Evelyn Sponberg Young died in 2005, at age 93.

[2] “The most remarkable thing about my mother is that for thirty years she served the family nothing but leftovers. The original meal has never been found.”


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