Archive for the ‘BUSINESSES’ Category

Shards

March 1, 2012

One of my favorite artifacts at Old World Wisconsin sits on a high shelf at one of the Finnish farms. Someone affixed bits of broken china to a crock—including a doll. Were the shards themselves treasured bits of something precious? Sad story. Was someone simply trying to make the crock more decorative with materials at hand? Happier story. Either way, it’s fun to wonder.

I’ve seen similar pieces elsewhere. Check out this one from  the collection of the Swiss Historical Village & Museum in New Glarus, WI.

Not too long ago, I traveled through Door County, WI, and stopped at a favorite cafe in Egg Harbor. I’ve visited several times, but only just noticed the decorative work on a couple of benches and a manhole cover just outside the door.

The pieces are unexpected, funky, cheerful.

I started to go back inside to ask the proprietors the story behind the artwork… but I decided not to. It’s more fun to wonder.

Joining The Club

October 12, 2011

People who live on Washington Island, off the northern tip of Door County, WI, have been known to tell newcomers that they won’t be true islanders until they stop at Nelsen’s Hall for a shot of bitters. I’d somehow missed the iconic tradition during my visits. But when I decided to place a scene at Nelsen’s in the third Chloe Ellefson Historic Sites mystery, The Lightkeeper’s Legacy, I had to remedy that omission.

A venerable landmark.

Danish immigrant Tom Nelsen built the tavern in 1899. He lived to be 90, and credited his long life to his habit of drinking nearly a pint of Angostura Bitters every day. When that pesky Prohibition law went into effect, Nelsen blithely applied for a pharmacist’s license and dispensed bitters as a stomach tonic—despite the fact that it’s about 90 proof. Today, Nelsen’s Hall has the honor of being the state’s oldest legally-operating bar.

The hall was much more then a tavern, though. Over the years it has served as a social center for the island community. Memorabilia that decorates the main room provides lots of reminders.

Photographs and old tools, mounted near the waitstaff station.

Some of the walls are of stovewood construction, as seen in the open section here.

Once, island residents came to Nelson’s to watch movies.  This equipment dates to 1910.

The original bar, dating back to 1850, now showcases old ads.

When my husband Scott and I  visited recently, we told the waitress that we wanted to try the bitters.  She served up two shot glasses filled with a dark reddish liquid, and we tossed ‘em back.  Not too bad, I thought.  A second later I realized that my nostrils felt hot.

Nelson’s serves more Bitters than any other location in the world.

We were invited to sign the Bitters Club membership book. The waitress pulled out two membership cards, dipped her thumb in the dregs of my glass, and provided the official seal. Each year more then 10,000 people visit Nelsen’s and join the Bitter’s Club.

Scott and I followed our initiation with dinner, which was quite good—definitely not your basic munchies. I won’t order bitters again, but it was a fun evening. Do you think the IRS will question our bar tab?

Anyway, I like businesses that celebrate tradition.   If you have a favorite, do let me know!  I’m always game for a new adventure.

The Road Once Traveled

May 10, 2011

I recently drove from Wisconsin to Maryland and back. I shunned the northern toll roads and instead followed the Highway 70/68/70 route, which cuts through central Ohio, swings around Morgantown, West Virginia, and heads on through Maryland’s western panhandle.

Redbud trees were in bloom through the mountains.

I’ve driven to Maryland almost every year since I moved to Wisconsin in 1982. These days, it’s highway driving all the way. It’s a long drive, and I’m usually in a hurry.  Still, I enjoy the trip.

This route is my own personal highway:  I worked summers at a summer camp near Frederick and a state park near Cumberland, in MD; went to college in Morgantown, WV; spent a summer teaching canoeing in Ohio, and got my grad degree from Antioch University (also in Ohio.) During my high school and college years I paddled, hiked, and biked throughout the area. Making this trip always brings back floods of good memories.

Last week, when I pulled off the highway to get gas in Grantsville, MD, I was struck with an almost-forgotten memory. Decades ago, I drove through the mountains in a bad snowstorm, in an old junker car. Christmas was a few days away, I was broke, and I wanted to reach Baltimore yet that night. Common sense finally prevailed.  I pulled off at the Grantsville exit, and followed signs to the Casselman Inn.

The inn has been welcoming tired travelers for almost two centuries.

Now, after tanking up, I decided to look for the Inn where I’d found shelter back then. The historic structure includes a restaurant and lodgings. I stayed in a modern motel on the rear of the grounds. Way back on that cold snowy night, the dining room was closed by the time I checked in—but the owners kindly offered to prepare a sandwich for me. I remember sitting in the dining room and eating with gratitude, taking in the ambiance of the lovely old inn.

Solomon Sterner constructed the wonderful Federal-style building in 1824, using bricks built on the property. The inn faced the National Road, and served passing travelers. The building was known by a variety of names over the years.

Earlier days.

Now, I was reminded that the National Road—now Route 40—generally parallels Highway 70. In its heyday the road was crowded with drovers herding bawling livestock, travelers in jouncing stagecoaches, farm families taking produce to market in wagons, immigrants heading west in covered wagons. Many similar inns were built along the way.

After years of speeding past on the freeways, I decided to travel a few short stretches on the old National Road. In rural areas, the drive is slower and windier. It also provides a much better opportunity to see the local landscape, imagine the past… and sometimes even dredge up a personal memory or two.

The Sugar Bush

March 26, 2011

Like countless other children, I was introduced to maple sugaring in the pages of Laura Ingalls Wilder’s Little House in the Big Woods. I was a suburban kid. Descriptions of “sugar snow,” and Garth Williams’ delightful illustrations, were magical.

I was reminded of Wilder’s charming tale last week while visiting Washington Island, WI.  I saw lots of maple trees being tapped, and the air smelled like woodsmoke.

As far as I know, the people who make syrup on Washington Island do so for themselves, their families and friends, or a local restaurant. Two years ago a friend on the island gave me a Snapple bottle filled not with tea, but with syrup. It was a little thinner and paler than what I was used to, and tasted divine.

The sap is as thin and clear as water.

Each year I spend a week writing near Egg Harbor, also part of WI’s Door County peninsula, in late winter or early spring.   That’s how I discovered Jorns’ Sugar Bush.

The home-based outlet is always open.

The Jorns family has been making maple syrup in this area since 1857!

Ferdinand Jorns emigrated from Hamburg, and eventually settled in Door County,

After Ferdinand died, Dora Dow Jorns raised twelve children. One of them was Roland Jorns’ father.

The current master, Roland Jorns, has been making syrup since he was ten years old. The work agrees with him:  Mr. Jorns is 82, and would much rather be working outside than anything else.

Today, with the help of his youngest son, he taps about 6,000 trees. They could double that if they had enough workers. (It’s not just the work of tapping and condensing. Every one of those pails must be washed.)

Mrs. Jorns showed me how the spiles (spouts) have changed over time.

A lot has evolved over the years. Among other updates, Mr. Jorns introduced a reverse osmosis machine in 1978, an innovation that removes 80% of water from the sap and therefore reduces resources needed to produce syrup. His light amber syrup has won many awards. He has also served as president of the Wisconsin Maple Syrup Producers Council, and represented our state at the North American Maple Syrup Council.

I love stocking up at Jorns’ Sugar Bush, which is open year-round.  I love chatting with Mrs. Jorns, and picking out my purchases in a simple space made special by family mementos.

I love seeing maples being tapped, knowing that spring must be right around the corner.

Two of the thousands of buckets used each year.

And I love the taste of maple syrup so much that I rarely cook or bake with sugar anymore.  I’ve shared the following recipe with readers, and it’s received  rave reviews.

First in the Chloe Ellefson Series

Chloe Ellefson, the protagonist of my series, is not an autobiographical character. We do have a lot in common, though! She’s a curator at Old World Wisconsin, a large living history museum where I was once a curator. And we both spend a lot of time in the kitchen. Like me, Chloe loves to cook and bake with local ingredients.

This cake is easy and luscious. I use whole wheat flour, farmers’ market blueberries, free-range eggs from a local farm, and Jorns’ maple syrup. Substitute as your options dictate; the cake will still taste great.


Chloe’s Maple Blueberry Cake

2 c. blueberries, fresh or frozen (don’t thaw)
3 c. flour
½ c. butter, softened
4 oz. cream cheese, softened
¾ c. maple syrup
2 t. vanilla
3 eggs
1 t. baking soda
½ t. salt
6 oz. vanilla yogurt
2 T. lemon juice

Glaze (optional)
½ c. confectioners’ sugar
4 t. lemon juice

In a small bowl, combine blueberries and 2 T. flour.  In a separate bowl, combine the baking soda, salt, and remaining flour.

In a large mixing bowl, cream butter and cream cheese.  Add maple syrupe, lemon juice, and vanilla, and beat until mixture is light and fluffy.  Add eggs one at a time, beating well after each addition.

Add the dry ingredients to creamed mixture alternately with the yogurt.  When everything is well blended, fold in the blueberries.

Transfer to a 10-inch fluted pan well coated with butter or cooking spray.  Bake at 350 degrees for 65-70 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted near the center comes out clean.  Cool for 10 minutes.  Remove from a pan to a wire rack.

If desired, whisk glaze ingredients until smooth and drizzle over cake.  Enjoy!

The Nite Cap Inn – Then and Now

February 21, 2011

Before Old World Murder was published, several people asked if writing about real places made me nervous. I have a simple rule:  I only write about real places that I love. Old World Wisconsin obviously fits that description—if I didn’t love the place, I wouldn’t have set a book there.

Another real place that gets mentioned in the book? The Nite Cap Inn, in Palmyra, WI.

The inn is a great cream city brick structure.

Last summer, Scott and I stopped to photograph the Nite Cap. When a woman came outside to ask what we were doing, I explained that I had happy memories of eating at the Nite Cap back in the ’80s. Turns out the woman’s parents, Helmut and Suzie, owned the inn then—and they still do today. “We’re having a fish fry tonight,” she said. “Why don’t you come inside and have dinner?”

I wondered if a new experience would overwhelm my memories. Still, we couldn’t ignore the invitation. Happily, stepping inside only brought my memories into sharper focus.

Fish fry patrons place their order, then relax at the bar while a table is prepared.

A century or more ago, many guests traveled to Palmyra by train. Some were day visitors; others lodged in one of the rooms upstairs.

The inn has been a Palmyra institution for many years.

When I moved to Wisconsin, I quickly learned the cultural importance of fish fries. “We attach meaning to our ritual beer batters and potato pancakes,” wrote Ann Christenson in Milwaukee Magazine. She went on to name the Nite Cap’s fish fry as a favorite:  “Palmyra’s Nite Cap Inn is nothing fancy, but a place doesn’t have to be if the food is good.

“…The potato pancakes were grease-free, with crunchy edges and soft-potatoey center – the way a pancake should be. The coarse-chopped coleslaw was lightly dressed, with a peppery kick. Chunky applesauce laced with cinnamon was perfect slathered on the pancakes. And for once (we’ve had bread issues at our other fries), the light and dark rye was fresh and moist.”  (3/1/2004)

When I lived in the area, friends often invited me to join them at the Nite Cap. In addition to fish, the potato pancakes were famous. (I used those memories to describe the scene in Old World Murder when Roelke and Chloe meet Libby for a fish fry.)  Occasionally an interpreter rented one of the Nite Cap’s rooms for the season, too.

Back in the '80s, I always ordered schaum torte. It's still on the menu!

 

Scott opted for the German chocolate cake.

The evening that Scott and I dined there, the couple at the next table was from Milwaukee. They’d been driving to the Nite Cap on Friday nights for decades.

While we enjoyed our meal, Helmut settled at the piano.  One piece flowed effortlessly into the next.  It was delightful.

It’s not often we can revisit favorite spot from the way-back days in any place but our memories.

Do you have a favorite long-established eatery?  If you haven’t been there in a while, it might be time to go back.

The Tea Room

December 9, 2010

A familiar logo for Baltimore residents.

When I was a child growing up in the Baltimore  suburbs, going to a department store was a major treat.  My family favored Hutzlers, a Baltimore institution founded in 1858. On special occasions my older sister and I were treated to lunch at the store. Models circulated among the tables of well-dressed diners. After our meal I was allowed to eat one or two sugar cubes from the sugar bowl. I can taste them even now!  Hutzlers is gone now, but memories remain.

In Indianapolis, L.S. Ayres & Co. Department Store offered similar service from 1905 to 1990. Today the Indiana State Museum displays photographs and artifacts from this local institution. Shopping and dining at Ayres must have been similar to what I remember at Hutzlers.

The Ayres Tea Room offered an upscale dining experience for customers, and helped keep them from leaving the store for lunch.

Hats and gloves were required for women dining in the Tea Room into the 1960s. As at Hutzlers, models often showed customers the latest fashions.

A few of the artifacts transferred to the museum when the Tea Room closed.

Today, museum visitors can do more than reminisce. Ten years after its demise, the Ayres Tea Room was reborn within the Indiana State Museum—not as an exhibit, but as a working restaurant.

The Tea Room today. The menu offers both traditional and new fare.

Painted murals suggests the scene guests originally saw through the windows.

I recently visited the Tea Room with my husband Scott and his mother, who grew up in Indianapolis. She had many memories of meals at the original restaurant. Well-behaved children received a special gift from a Treasure Chest after their meal—or, during the holiday season, from a decorated Christmas tree. We saw that tradition continue with the kids at the next table, who seemed pleased with wooden yo-yos and puzzles.

We all enjoyed a wonderful meal!

Recreating a working restaurant was a stroke of genius. As we ate our meal I watched older adults nearby reminiscing, sharing the experience with their children and grandchildren. Those guests who have no memories of the Tea Room learned about, participated in, an Indianapolis tradition.

Do you have memories of special restaurants or department store luncheons? Are those experiences still available today? Sometimes it’s not just fun and informative to visit the past, but delicious as well.

Last Link In The Chain?

September 15, 2010

Are any traditional industries or skills in your area disappearing?

Ken Koyen, commercial fisherman, preparing a traditional fish boil at his restaurant.

Last week Scott and I vacationed on Washington Island, WI, off the tip of Door County in Lake Michigan.  While having dinner at KK Fiske Restaurant, we heard something startling.  The owner, Ken Koyen, is the only full-time fisherman left on the island.  Three fish tugs are in the water this year, but the other men fish part-time.

Mr. Koyen and his family own these two tugs. The Welcome (on left) was built in Jackson Harbor by Rasmus, Hans, & Art Hanson in 1926.

It seems that a once flourishing profession and skill is in danger of becoming locally extinct.

Native peoples have fished these waters for centuries.  In 1850 the Town of Washington was founded—actually on Rock Island, the next island to the north.  A small fishing village briefly flourished on the east side of Rock Island.  Coopers made barrels to hold fish.  Children salted and packed them.  Women mended nets for their men to cast each day.  Within a few decades, though, most residents moved to Washington Island, which had deeper harbors.

This peaceful meadow on Rock Island was once the site of a bustling fishing village.

Many of the whites who settled this area were Norwegian, Danish, Swedish, or Icelandic, and they were primarily fishermen.  Once, a fleet of nearly fifty commercial boats cast their nets for chubs, whitefish, and herring.   Ships docked in Washington Harbor to pick up barrels of fish, which were exported to Green Bay and Milwaukee and Chicago.

The skills needed for this arduous profession were passed down. Laurence Daubner, a long-time Door County fisherman, once explained, “You know when I decided to go into fishing it was like on the job training; you couldn’t find out anything about fishing by books, but rather you had to have it by experience. And that was handed down from the older generation to the younger generation.” (Quoted in Wooden Boats & Iron Men: History of Commercial Fishing in Northern Lake Michigan & Door County 1850-2005, by Trygvie Jensen.)

Today the fish tugs leaving Washington Island do so from beautiful Jackson Harbor.

The village’s commercial fishing legacy is preserved at a Maritime Museum.  When we visited the museum a few years ago, a retired fisherman showed us around.  Who better to tell stories of days on the water?

The museum, which is funded only by donations, continues to grow; this year I enjoyed seeing a restored fisher-family’s cottage.

This tidy fisherman's cottage faces the water.

But I suppose the day will come when the volunteer guides can relate only those stories they’ve read or heard.  The first-hand knowledge will be gone.

For now, Mr. Koyen heads out into Lake Michigan, summer and winter, and sets his nets.  Sometimes the catch is good; sometimes it isn’t. Fishing doesn’t pay well enough to let him hire a partner, so he usually goes alone. And patrons at his restaurant know they are getting fresh fish.

The huge kettle holds fresh whitefish, potatoes, and onions.

From the lake (and garden) to the table.

A few years back, a newspaper reporter called Mr. Koyen “the last living link in a chain of commercial fishermen that stretches back into the 19th century.”

Are there industries at risk in your community?  Are the traditions and folklore being documented?

Some things are harder to preserve than others.

Weston’s Antique Apples

February 11, 2010

Earlier today I posted an update about my search for Astrachan apples, which tied back to my “Immigrant Apples” post on January 14th.  A kind reader checked the website for Weston’s Antique Apples, where she found them listed.  I’d heard of Weston’s, but have never visited the orchard.

Well, after I posted that, a friend popped me an email.  She was an interpreter at Old World Wisconsin when I worked there, and she said she thought that Weston’s came to Old World during Autumn on the Farms.  I checked last year’s event schedule on OWW’s website, and she was right.  Ken Weston brought some of his apples to sell at the Visitor Center (where some of the site’s own heirloom produce is also offered for sale.)

Talk about full circle!

Many thanks to all who have contacted me, on the blog or via email, with tips, suggestions, and reminiscences.  Oh, and if you haven’t tried Otto Hilgendorf’s Sour Cream Apple Pie recipe (posted on 1/14/10), check it out.   It’s getting rave reviews.


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