Springerle

November 29, 2016

I love including food traditions in the Chloe Ellefson mysteries.  A Memory of Muskets features German heritage. Rosina, the main character in the historical plotline, brings her Bavarian mother’s springerle mold as a treasured memento when she immigrates to America.

People have been making beautiful springerle for centuries. Some food historians believe these cookies originated in pagan times among Germanic tribes. During Julfest, in the darkest days of the year, rich farmers sacrificed animals to the gods. Peasants made token sacrifices by offering cookies shaped like or decorated with animal designs.

The design is made in the surface of the cookie by pressing a mold onto rolled dough. (Or using a rolling pin carved with the patterns.) Today clay and wooden molds have been replaced by resin, and modern bakers make many different flavors.

springerle molds

I had never baked springerle before, and was eager to try it. My friend Andrea, an experienced springerle baker, gave me some tips. It didn’t sound too difficult, and I decided to bake them for the book’s launch party.

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A sample of Andrea’s beautiful springerle.

I made two kinds. The first was a version made with whole wheat flour and sweetened with sorghum, which was an approximation of what my character Rosina might have been able to make in the 1860s. The second was a fancy anise-flavored batch made with white flour and powdered sugar.

The project was a little trickier, and took a lot longer, than I’d anticipated.

I have limited counter space and use a narrow rolling pin. The first challenge was figuring out how thin to roll the dough, and getting it rolled perfectly evenly.

springerle

The second challenge was figuring out how hard to press the mold into the dough. The mold I’d chosen featured a woman spinning flax, which was perfect to reflect A Memory of Muskets. However, I had some trouble getting all the fine details to show up in the cookies.

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springerle

The final challenge was producing cookies with neat edges. I don’t own a pastry cutter, so I used a pizza cutter and a paring knife.

First try. My edges need some work.

First batch after baking. My edges need some work.

I’m sure I just need more practice. Also, there are helpful tools available for purchase, such as rolling pin guides to ensure even (and proper) dough thickness, and cutters that eliminate the need for trimming the cookies.

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Historically springerle were leavened with hartshorn salt, also known as baker’s ammonia (ammonium carbonate). Experts say that cookies made with hartshorn salt have a crisper design, but a softer texture than those made with baking powder.

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I ended up taking three days to make each batch.  Day 1, make the dough and refrigerate overnight.

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Day 2, roll the dough, mold and cut the cookies, transfer to a cookie sheet, and let dry overnight. This step helps keep the design sharp during baking.

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Day 3, bake, cool, store.

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There are an amazing number of mold designs available, including many reproductions of historic molds. If you’d like to try making springerle, a quick Google search will provide recipes and all the information needed to mail-order molds and other supplies. A good place to start browsing is http://www.springerlejoy.com, but there are other good ones.

I can see why people get hooked on springerle. And yes, I did serve them at my launch party. Not one person mentioned crooked edges.

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Are you planning to bake springerle this holiday season? If so, I’d love to see pictures!

Gratitude Giveaway Winners!

November 21, 2016

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Congratulations to:  Rita AguilarGloriasue ArrizaSusan CarozzaKathi O’Brien HackettAngela-Scott HollandMelissa Keith, and Lois Scorgie. Each will receive a free trade paperback Chloe Ellefson mystery book of their choice, signed and personalized.

Thanks to all who entered the A Memory of Muskets 75 Days in Top 1% Gratitude Giveaway!  Winners were chosen at random from all entries here and on my Facebook Author page.

Gratitude Giveaway!

November 18, 2016

Thanks to my most wonderful readers, the seventh Chloe mystery is doing well!

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In honor of A Memory of Muskets ranking in the Top 1% of all US Book Sales for 75 days, seven lucky people will be chosen to receive a signed and personalized trade paperback copy of one of my seven Chloe Ellefson mysteries—winners’ choice.

To enter, leave a comment below before Midnight US Central time this Sunday, November 20th. Winners will be chosen at random from entries here and on my Facebook Author page. Winners will be announced on Monday.

You can learn more about the Chloe series on my website. Good luck!

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The Schulz Farm – Part 2

November 11, 2016

The Schulz Farm at Old World Wisconsin is featured in my latest Chloe Ellefson Mystery, A Memory of Muskets. Last time, I shared photos of the house.

Schulz Farm, Old World Wisconsin

But if you’ve read the book, you know that some of the action takes place in the yard.

The farm features many Old World elements. One change, however, is evident in the layout of the outbuildings. In Pomerania, the buildings would likely have formed a closed square. In Wisconsin, where available land was still plentiful, farmers kept the square formation but often spread the buildings out. (Another outbuilding would have formed the 4th side of the square.)

In the map of Old World Wisconsin’s German area below, the Schulz Farm is on the left. The farm at center bottom is the Koepsell Farm. It’s also Pomeranian-style, and shows a complete courtyard arrangement.

Old World Wisconsin

(Map courtesy of Old World Wisconsin.)

The building below is the Koepsel Stable (not to be confused with OWW’s Koepsell Farm. Farms exhibited at the site are named for the family that lived in the house; usually outbuildings came from different families). It was built in the Town of Lebanon, Dodge County, c. 1855.

Like the house, it is half-timbered. It features an exterior stairway and 2nd story exterior walkway. In the Old Country, when the courtyard was enclosed, animals kept there could take shelter from sun or rain beneath the overhang.

Loyd Heath - Stable b on the Schulz farm. By Loyd Heath.

(Photo by Loyd Heath.)

Notice the darker mortar on the 2nd story? That’s actually the original mud and straw mixture from the 1850s. The lighter color is mortar replaced at the time the building was moved to the site.

Koepsel Stable, Old World Wisconsin

 

Schulz Farm, Old World Wisconsin

A Memory of Muskets readers – this is the end of the stable featured in chapter 1.

The other impressive structure on the Schulz Farm is the Grube Barn, from the Town of Emmet, Dodge County, c. 1855.  Architectural historians consider this a transitional structure because it was built with a half-timbered frame, then covered with siding.

This is a grain barn, reflecting the period when wheat was Wisconsin’s cash crop. It has a central drive-through (the big center doors are closed in the photo). The two side areas were used for grain storage.

Grube Barn, Old World Wisconsin

 

Both of the outbuildings on the Schulz Farm have thatched roofs. The traditional thatch was rye straw, which has a waxy coating. German farmers grew rye for their own needs, and saved the straw for thatching or basket-making.

Old World Wisconsin

German women used coiled rye straw baskets to hold round loaves of bread while rising prior to baking in a brick bakeoven.

In this interior shot you can see the barn’s half-timbered frame, and the underside of the thatched roof.

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After harvest, men used the central floor of such grain barns for threshing.

Old World Wisconsin

(Photo by Loyd Heath.)

Here, a farmer uses a flail to beat kernels of grain from the stalks spread on the floor. Some men also led horses or oxen over the grain to trample kernels free.

I hope this gives you a better understanding of one of the fascinating farms at Old World Wisconsin!

Special thanks to my talented friend Loyd Heath for permission to use his photographs.  See more of his work HERE.

The Schulz Farm – Part 1

November 2, 2016

The protagonist of my Chloe Ellefson mysteries is employed as a curator at Old World Wisconsin, an open-air museum near Eagle, WI. Although most of the books are set at other sites and museums, Old World’s 67 historic structures give me lots to play with when I do set a mystery there.

In the new book, A Memory of Muskets, I featured one of my favorite places at the museum, the Schulz Farm. Come with me on a virtual tour!  (I hope that readers within driving distance will also visit in person.)

Schulz Farm, Old World Wisconsin

The Schulz Farm

It was one of the first places I worked when I started as an interpreter way back in 1982.

Schulz Farm, Old World Wisconsin

The house was built in the Town of Herman, Dodge County, in 1856, and has been restored to its 1860 appearance. The half-timbered (fachwerk) architecture reflects what the family had known back in Pomerania, where natural resources were already in short supply. The spaces between the timbers were filled with a mud/straw mixture, preserving wood.

KAE photo. Back of Schulz house.

The back of Schulz house.  The small opening on the left was a pass-through.  Vegetables could be passed into a pantry, and then down through a door in the floor leading to a root cellar.

The concept of a front lawn seemed wasteful to new arrivals.  The vegetable garden is in front of the house.

Schulz Farm, Old World Wisconsin

Probably the most famous feature is the black kitchen, or Schwartz-Küche—a huge walk-in chimney constructed in the center of the house.

This photo was taken inside the black kitchen, looking back at the front door.

This photo was taken from the back of the house,  looking through the black kitchen to the entry and front door.

Inside the black kitchen is the entrance to a brick bakeoven. Below, the wooden door to the oven is sitting in the fire pit.

Schulz Farm, Old World Wisconsin

On baking day a fire was built in the oven.  When the bricks were hot enough, the woman would rake the coals into the cooking pit below, rather than wasting them.

(Photo by Loyd Heath)

(Photo by Loyd Heath)

At the same time, meat could be hung overhead to smoke. One fire, three jobs.

Schulz Farm, Old World Wisconsin

Looking straight up, inside the black kitchen.

As you can imagine, it was a difficult place for women to work—unhealthy and dangerous. Although common in Pomerania, historians know of only four homes in Wisconsin built with black kitchens.

Interior of the black kitchen in the Schulz farmhouse.

This photo conveys what it is like to work in the black kitchen.  (Photo by Loyd Heath.)

Women also had a separate cooking niche for smaller jobs.

An interpreter prepares dinner in the 1860 Schulz kitchen.

(Photo by Loyd Heath)

 

Schulz Farm, Old World Wisconsin

The cooking niche.

In 1860 the Schulz family had only been in Wisconsin for four years.  Their status is reflected in the furnishings.

Schulz Farm, Old World Wisconsin

An immigrant trunk sits in the parlor, covered with a cloth. In time the family would have purchased new furniture.

The family could not set a space aside to use only as a formal parlor. This room was used for entertaining and sleeping.

Schulz Farm, Old World Wisconsin

Kids might have slept here.

The largest room in the house is shown as a workroom.

Schulz Farm, Old World Wisconsin

Weaving linen cloth.

I hope you’ve enjoyed this glimpse of the Schulz House at Old World Wisconsin.  Next time—the rest of the farm.

Special thanks to my talented friend Loyd Heath for permission to use his photographs.  See more of his work HERE.

Why A Memory Of Muskets?

September 11, 2016

Readers often ask why I chose a particular historic site and theme to feature in a new Chloe Ellefson mystery. It has become tradition to share what I found special in each new book. Here are some of the elements found in the 7th mystery, A Memory of Muskets.

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After four adventures away from home Chloe is back at her own site, Old World Wisconsin. I chose in particular to feature the Schulz Farm, which has been restored to its 1860 appearance. This is a fabulous collection of historic buildings, one of my favorite exhibits at Old World. The architecture reflects building styles in Pomerania.

Schulz Farm, Old World Wisconsin

The German Schulz Farm, 2016. If you look closely you’ll see gardeners repairing the woven garden fence, right by the house.

It was also one of the first buildings I ever worked, way back when. Flax processing is one of the major activities at the Schulz Farm. I was so excited to finally learn to weave!

Kathleen Ernst, Schulz Farm, Old World Wisconsin

That’s me weaving linen, 1982.

After delving into Chloe’s background in earlier books, it also felt like a good time to learn about her friend Roelke McKenna’s heritage. The book includes a plotline that shares the story of the first of Roelke’s German ancestors to immigrate to Wisconsin—just as the American Civil War begins.

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Bishop & Son, Watertown, WI.  (Author’s collection)

Wisconsin has a strong German-American population, and I was pleased with the opportunity to share a bit about that cultural group. A key scene takes place at German Fest, Milwaukee’s huge annual celebration of all things German.

Welcome to German Fest

The book is set in 1983, the year  German-Americans celebrated the tricentennial of German immigration to America.

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The premise of A Memory of Muskets involves preparations for Old World’s first Civil War reenactment. This was fun because I once was responsible for coordinating Civil War events at the site. Activities often involved the German Schulz Farm. The 3rd Wisconsin Regiment and other top-notch groups presented thematic programs that reflected different aspects of the war on the Wisconsin homefront.

Civil War event, Old World Wisconsin

Reenactors marching through Old World Wisconsin’s Crossroads Village, sometime in the 1990s.

I was a reenactor myself for over a decade. It was a wonderful hobby. I learned a lot, had some amazing experiences, and made some special friends.

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Interpreting refugee life in  Tennessee with Sue (L) and Yulanda (R), 1995.

I also met my husband, “Mr. Ernst,” through reenacting. So yes, I have lots of special memories!

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We were wearing 1860s attire when we met in the Sanford House driveway at Old World. Two years later we revisited the spot before our period wedding at the site’s restored church. (I’m afraid I don’t recall the name of the tintype artist who took this image.)

In the coming weeks and months I’ll share more detailed behind-the-scenes photos and stories. In the meantime, I hope this serves to pique your interest in Chloe’s latest adventure! Happy reading.

Ten ARC Giveaway Winners Named

August 12, 2016

Congratulations to: Carol Burger, Jacki Evenson, Stephanie Lembke Flessert, Prentiss Garner, Kate Graczyk, Marge Kempft, Saralee Larson, Connie Bolick Lee, Anne Reese Marshall, and Rhonda Simatic Nall!

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These ten readers were chosen at random—from over 500 entries!—to win an Advanced Review Copy of the next Chloe Ellefson mystery, A Memory of Muskets.  Huge thanks to all who entered!

Next Chloe Mystery Ten ARC Giveaway!

August 10, 2016

I’m doing something I’ve never done before.

Ten lucky people are about to win their very own signed Advance Review Copy of my next Chloe Ellefson mystery.

Want to read one before the book officially ships this fall?

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It’s quick and easy to enter. Just post a comment below.

The entry deadline is Thursday, August 11th, at Midnight.

I’ll pick ten winners at random from all entries here and on my Facebook Author Page. The winners names will be posted both places on Friday. You could be one of them!

Good luck!

Chloe’s Book Club: The Long Winter

August 9, 2016

The Long Winter has always been one of my favorite books in the Little House series. A number of readers have mentioned that they loved it too.

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Weather dominates the book from the first chapter, when—on a hot day—Pa predicts a hard winter, based on the thickness of muskrat houses. The author made additional use of foreshadowing when she describes a wonderful October dinner in their claim shanty:

That was such a happy supper that Laura wanted it never to end. When she was in bed with Mary and Carrie, she stayed awake to keep on being happy. She was so sleepily comfortable and cosy.

They wake to a blizzard. The shanty isn’t an ideal place to wait out a storm, but the family has food and fuel–and Pa keeps everyone’s spirits up by playing the fiddle. No problem.

Uneasy about the weather, Pa moves the family into town for the winter. The blizzards keep coming, and the supply train can’t get through. Valiant and increasingly desperate attempts are made to clear the tracks—all without success.

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A train stuck in snow in southern Minnesota, March 29, 1881. Photograph by Elmer and Tenney. (Wikipedia; Minnesota HS)

As always, the descriptions are vivid:

All day and all night, the house trembled, the winds roared and screamed, the snow scoured against the walls and over the roof where the frosty nails came through.  

Some of the Little House books are episodic. You could pluck a single chapter out of a volume and the book would still read just fine. I think one of the reasons The Long Winter is so gripping is that the tension and dread build from Chapter 1.

Later, we also learn of the psychological toll of enduring endless blizzards:

Even after Laura was warm she lay awake listening to the wind’s wild tune and thinking of each little house, in town, alone in the whirling snow…  And the little town was alone on the wide prairie. Town and prairie were lost in the wild storm which was neither earth nor sky, nothing but fierce winds and a blank whiteness.  …No light and no cry could reach through a storm that had wild voices and an unnatural light of its own.

The blankets were warm and Laura was no longer cold but she shivered.

Another reason the book is so compelling is that the outcome the Ingalls family and their neighbors are trying to avoid is intense:  death by starvation. We watch food and coal supplies dwindle. Surely a train must come before the last bread was gone, Laura thinks, but over and over hopes are dashed.

When the coal runs out, Pa and Laura twist hay into sticks, which burn as quickly as kindling. It was difficult work:  Their hands were red and swollen, the skin was cold, and covered with cuts made by the sharp slough hay.

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A hay twist on display in a restaurant in De Smet.

When Laura asks Pa to play the fiddle, he tries…and he can’t.

“My fingers are too stiff and thick from being out in the cold so much, I can’t play,” Pa spoke as if he were ashamed.  He laid the fiddle in its box.

Pa’s fiddle has seen the family through many difficult moments. The scene is one of the low points in the entire series.

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In this early cover, Pa plays the fiddle as the family huddles around the stove.

The Long Winter is not without its high moments. Throughout, the author balanced hardship and despair with family togetherness and perseverance. Another day, knowing Pa can’t play, Laura sings to cheer him up. The Christmas chapter is (as always) uplifting, even though the train hasn’t come.

And when rumors pass of a farmer who might have wheat to sell, Almanzo Wilder and Cap Garland risk their lives to go get it. They almost get caught in a blizzard on the open prairie…but they make it back to town: “Cap and I figure we’ll do what we set out to do,” Almanzo said. This book provides our first look at Almanzo the man. He’s a heroic, capable hero, and it’s rewarding to see that the boy in Farmer Boy turned out so well.

By spring the family has nothing to eat but coarse bread, made by grinding wheat in the coffee mill. The family is suffering from malnutrition, cold, and probably depression:  (Laura) did not ever feel awake. She felt beaten by the cold and the storms. She knew she was dull and stupid but she could not wake up. Both Ma and Pa, uncharacteristically, have moments of despair.

The cover art for this recent edition is one of the few that depicts challenge instead of something more fun or cozy.

The cover art for this recent edition is one of the few that depicts challenge instead of something more fun or cozy.

When the train finally comes, the relief for readers is all the greater because the situation had been so dire. The book ends on a joyous note.

Is The Long Winter one of your favorites too?  What did you like, or not?

***

Note: I am a former curator and love research, but I am not a Laura Ingalls Wilder scholar. For more academic information, see titles by William Anderson, Pamela Smith Hill, John E. Miller, and others. To learn more about the Chloe Ellefson Historic Sites mysteries, please visit my website.

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I had hoped to discuss each book in the series, but I need to move on to other topics, and so am out of time (at least for now). Many thanks to everyone who read along and shared their thoughts.  It’s been thought-provoking–and fun.

Chloe’s Book Club: By The Shores Of Silver Lake

July 22, 2016

A reader last time mentioned that she felt On The Banks Of Plum Creek was the last “childhood” book. To build on that idea, I think of By The Shores Of Silver Lake as a transitional, coming-of-age book.

By The Shores Of Silver Lake

The book opens with a bit of backstory, explaining that everyone in the family except Laura and Pa had been stricken with scarlet fever. The neighbors had been sick too, so there had been no one to help. Mary has gone blind. Bills are mounting. After this experience, Laura is certainly no longer a child.

Then Aunt Docia arrives and offers Pa a job in a railroad camp in Dakota Territory. Before the family leaves—in a scene I can’t read without getting a lump in my throat—Laura’s beloved dog Jack dies.

In the camp Laura meets her cousin Lena, who has an appealing wild streak. Lena represents the last of Laura’s childhood.

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Garth Williams illustration.

The girls set out in a buggy to deliver laundry:

The trotting ponies touched noses, gave a little squeal and ran.  …The ponies were stretched out low, running with all their might.

They’re running away!” Laura cried out.

“Let ’em run!” Lena shouted, slapping them with the lines.

And when the girls hear about a thirteen-year-old getting married: “May I drive now?” Laura asked. She wanted to forget about growing up.

When Lena takes Laura riding on the ponies, Laura confesses that she’s never ridden before. That leads to one of my favorite lines: (The pony) was big and strong enough to kill Laura if it wanted to, and so high that to fall off it would break her bones. She was so scared she had to try.

Later, when Ma admonishes Laura against spending time with Lena, we realize that Laura’s exuberant fun is behind her.

 

When the family spends the winter alone in a surveyors’ house beside Silver Lake, we see more of Laura’s spirit.

The Surveyors' House

 

No matter how cold the weather, she loves to go outside and slide on the ice:  Those were glorious days when they were out in the glitter of sharp cold. One moonlit night, when Laura is too restless to settle, she talks Ma into letting her and little sister Carrie go outside to run on the ice. The girls cross the frozen lake, see a wolf, and run home. Pa announces that he’ll hunt the wolf.

“I hope you don’t find the wolf, Pa,” Laura said.

“Whyever  not?” Ma wondered.

“Because he didn’t chase us,” Laura told her.

I didn’t have strong feelings about this book one way or another as a child. Now, I find myself lamenting Laura’s inevitable slide toward adolescence, duty, and domesticity. Ma wants her girls to behave properly, with decorum. She wants them to have gentle manners and always be ladies.

For example, one of my favorite passages comes toward the end of the book:

Laura spread her arms wide to the wind and ran against it. She flung herself on the flowery grass and rolled like a colt. She lay in the soft, sweet grasses and looked at the great blueness above her and the high, pearly clouds sailing in it. She was so happy that tears came into her eyes.

But we don’t get to enjoy Laura’s joy for long:

Suddenly she thought, “Have I got a grass stain on my dress?” She stood up and anxiously looked, and there was a green stain on the calico. Soberly she knew that she should be helping Ma, and she hurried to the little dark tar-paper shanty.

Although I find some of the themes sad, I also admire the author’s ability to beautifully convey fictional Laura’s complexities. Re-reading, I found lovely symbolism and language I’d missed earlier.

How did you react to reading By The Shores Of Silver Lake? Is it one of your favorites, or not so much?

***

Note: I am a former curator and love research, but I am not a Laura Ingalls Wilder scholar. For more academic information, see titles by William Anderson, Pamela Smith Hill, John E. Miller, and others. To learn more about the Chloe Ellefson Historic Sites mysteries, please visit my website.

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Next up for discussion:  The Long Winter.