The Heirloom Murders – A Retrospective

February 13, 2018

Welcome back to the behind-the-scenes look at the Chloe Ellefson mysteries! Up today: The Heirloom Murders, second in the series.

I knew where I wanted to go after wrapping up the first book, Old World Murder—Green County, Wisconsin, famous for its Swiss heritage. My father’s parents were born and raised in Switzerland, so that was a natural draw.

 

Fondue dinners in New Glarus became “research trips.”

Me and Mr. Ernst, New Glarus Hotel.

Spotlighting Swiss heritage, and places like the Swiss Historical Village & Museum and the National Historic Cheesemaking Center, satisfied my wish to celebrate Wisconsin’s cultural heritage and museums.

It was great fun to learn more about sap sago and other aspects of Swiss cheesemaking. And the timing was good—staff and volunteers at the Cheesemaking Center in Monroe were restoring the Imobersteg Farmstead Cheese Factory on their grounds while I was writing the book.

I knew nothing about heirloom plants, and how much diversity we’ve lost, until I went to work at Old World Wisconsin in 1982. I was fascinated by the topic, and the role historic sites around the world play in preserving genetic diversity. As I considered what aspect of museum work to showcase, heirloom plants and rare-breed livestock seemed like a good fit.

Antique apples like these may not look perfect, but they have more taste than some types bred to look good over long transports.

I’d known about the legendary Eagle Diamond, and thought it would be fun to fictionalize the story of its discovery and eventual theft. This book was the first in the Chloe series to include a thread of historical fiction, braided with the more contemporary plot strands. Reader feedback was positive, and I’ve used this approach in most of the later books.

Eagle Diamond

Five views of the Eagle Diamond. (Wikipedia)

Many authors say that the second book in the series is the hardest to write. (The first was written on speculation, without a contract; suddenly, there’s a deadline imposed on #2.)  The Heirloom Murders wasn’t harder to write, but it was challenging to market. The overall plot involved a woman’s death, a stolen diamond, Swiss green cheese, and heirloom gardening. Try summing that up in a concise but appealing way! And that’s without mentioning the main characters’ personal lives.

My original title for this book was “Deadly as Diamonds.” My editor changed it because another author with the same press had a book coming out with “diamond” in the title. When I saw him a few months later at a conference I gave him a hard time for “stealing” my key title word. Turns out his original title hadn’t included the word “diamond” at all, but it was changed for a similar reason!

SPOILER ALERT – plot points are discussed below!

The first thing I do when planning a book is think about the main characters’ emotional growth. Just when Chloe was finally moving on after what happened in Switzerland, Markus shows up. Chloe and Markus have a great deal in common.  Chloe and Roelke, not so much. That provided some good conflict.

A number of readers let me know that they particularly enjoyed meeting Johann and Frieda Frietag, even though they had a small role. That was a good reminder that minor characters need just as much care and complexity as the main ones!

I imagined Frieda bustling about this kitchen when Chloe and Markus visit. Swiss Historical Village & Museum, New Glarus.

The main mystery plot about Bonnie Sabatola’s death came from a late-night talk I had with an Eagle police officer. I was doing a second-shift ridealong and when we got back to the station, the conversation somehow turned to cases that had packed an emotional wallop. While working for another police department, he’d encountered a situation similar to what I described—a murder made to look like suicide.

The questions surrounding the case gave Roelke a lot to work with, and showed his tenacity. I’d already heard from readers who wanted to see more of him.  I hope his fans enjoyed his role in bringing the killer to justice. However, this book also revealed his trouble with anger management. Roelke threatens Markus with physical harm, and kicks Simon Sabatola. As an author, that may have been a risky choice, but I wanted Roelke to be a complex character, struggling with real issues.

So, what did you think? If read books one and two in order, did you want Chloe to end up with Markus, or Roelke? Did you understand Roelke’s anger, or was that indefensible? Was justice served? I’d love to hear your thoughts.

You can explore relevant people, places, and the past on my webpage for The Heirloom Murders. Resources include a Google map, a Locations Guide, full Discussion Guide, a recipe for Swiss Pear Bread, and links to lots of additional background material. Happy reading!

National Historic Cheesemaking Center. Photo by Mr. Ernst.

Chloe 9 Reveal!

February 6, 2018

Last week I zipped the manuscript for the 9th Chloe Ellefson mystery off to my publisher. This week, it’s available for pre-order! I’m excited to provide a peek at the next adventure for Chloe and Roelke.

Curator Chloe Ellefson needs distraction from the unsettling family secret she’s just learned. It doesn’t help that her boyfriend, Roelke McKenna, has been troubled for weeks and won’t say why. Chloe hopes a consulting job at Green Bay’s Heritage Hill Historical Park, where an old Belgian-American farmhouse is being restored, will be a relaxing escape. Instead she discovers a body in a century-old bake oven.

Chloe’s research suggests that a rare and valuable piece of lace made its way to nearby Door County, Wisconsin, with the earliest Belgian settlers. More importantly, someone is desperate to find it. Inspired by a courageous Belgian woman who survived cholera, famine, and the Great Fire, Chloe must untangle clues to reveal secrets old and new . . . before the killer strikes again.

The Lacemaker’s Secret will be published in October, 2018.  You can pre-order now:

IndieBound – Trade Paperback
https://www.indiebound.org/book/9780738753546

Amazon – Trade Paperback
https://www.amazon.com/Lacemakers-Secret-Chloe-Ellefson-Mystery/dp/0738753548/

Amazon – Kindle
https://www.amazon.com/Lacemakers-Secret-Chloe-Ellefson-Mystery-ebook/dp/B0795R5H4C/

Books-A-Million (BAM) – Trade Paperback
http://www.booksamillion.com/p/Lacemakers-Secret/Kathleen-Ernst/9780738753546?id=7179386161819

The story of Wisconsin’s Belgian immigrants is compelling, and I hope The Lacemaker’s Secret honors those early settlers—and the many people who have worked hard to preserve and interpret their history at Heritage Hill, and the Belgian Heritage Center in Namur.

Old World Murder Giveaway Winners!

February 1, 2018

The lucky winners of my first monthly Chloe Ellefson Mysteries Giveaway are Sharon Butera, Sandra Redford Griswold, and Maryjean Samer. Congratulations!

Each will receive a signed and personalized trade paperback of Old World Murder, the first book in the series. Winners have been contacted by email.

Stay tuned for a giveaway of the second book, The Heirloom Murders,  in late February!

Old World Murder Giveaway

January 30, 2018

Heads-up everybody!

For the next 8 months I’m giving away trade paperback copies of my 8 Chloe Ellefson mysteries, starting now, with the first book in the series.

Graphic showing Chloe Ellefson mystery book covers overlaid with the front cover of Old World Murder, and labeled 8 Monthly Giveaways.
To enter this month’s Old World Murder giveaway, just leave a comment below before 11:59 PM (Central US time), Wednesday, January 31, 2018.

Only one entry per person, please.

Three winners will be chosen at random from entries here and on my Facebook Author Page, and announced Thursday. Good luck everybody!

Researching Old World Murder

January 27, 2018


St. Peters Church at Old World Wisconsin in 1982.

 

Mr. Ernst here. Extensive research is an important element in crafting the ‘people, places, and the past’ that appear in every Chloe Ellefson mystery, starting with the first, Old World Murder (OWM).

As the author, Kathleen does the vast majority of research. But as her spouse (and “partner in crime”) I enjoy the great good fortune of being allowed to help. It’s something we both really enjoy doing.

 

OWM takes place during May 1982. Key scenes are set in southeastern Wisconsin at real places, including Old World Wisconsin (an outdoor history museum) and the nearby towns of Eagle, La Grange, and Palmyra.

View of the Crossroads Village at Old World Wisconsin in 1982.

Kathleen tasked me with three types of research and documentation.

General Background

This one’s a bit of a ‘guess as you go.’ All I usually begin with is the story’s time period, locations, and featured ethnic group. (Kathleen doesn’t talk about her works-in-progress, which I fully respect; I rarely get to read a manuscript until just before she sends it to her publisher.)

For OWM I read local newspapers published during the first half of 1982. This involved days spent squinting at microfilm scrolling by on a viewing screen at the Wisconsin Historical Society in Madison.

While hard on the eyes, some interesting and/or potentially relevant details were uncovered about the story’s time period and locations. Kathleen used a few of them in the book. Others weren’t included, but ended up influencing the story. Most served  neither purpose.

Old World Wisconsin Museum Seasonal Employment ad in Waukesha Freeman Newspaper, March 6, 1982 issue.

Waukesha Freeman Newspaper, March 6, 1982.

As Old World’s newly hired Curator of Collections, Chloe would have had benefits and a salary of about a dollar more than the $3.43/hour and no benefits that Guide/Interpreters received in 1982.

Kathleen started as a Lead Guide/Interpreter at Old World in 1982, earning $3.80/hour (equal to $9.70 in 2018) without benefits.

Eagle Police pay raise OK'd article, Waukesha Freeman Newspaper, February 5, 1982 issue.

Waukesha Freeman Newspaper, February 5, 1982.

In 1982 Roelke McKenna held a temporary Patrolman 1 job with the Eagle Police Department (EPD) earning $6.00/hour (equal to $15.35 in 2018) without benefits. He worked extra shifts whenever they were available, and dreamed of securing a permanent EPD position, if/when one opened up. His boss, Chief Naborski, was paid $8.50/hour.

(If you are surprised by the 8% raise the village board gave out, consider that in the previous year the US inflation rate hit 11%.)

Specific Objects

Kathleen also asked me to research and recommend suitable objects for characters, together with details and images. Here are three that met her approval and ended up being written into the story.

Photo of a 1975 Buick Electra Limited. Source: SunAutoWorld.com.

1975 Buick Electra Limited. (SunAutoWorld.com)

Mrs. Berget Lundquist drove this to Old World to ask Chloe to return a valuable antique Norwegian ale bowl she had donated. Berget could barely see over the steering wheel of her 2 ton, 19 foot long behemoth.

Smith & Wesson Model 10 Revolver. (Photo by Scott Meeker.)

While on duty as a Village of Eagle police officer, Roelke carries a 6-shot, .38 caliber, Smith & Wesson Model 10 service revolver like this. First introduced in 1899, it was still being carried by police in the 1980s.

A Piper J-3 Cub. (Barnstormers.com.)

A Piper J-3 Cub. (BarnStormers.com.)

Having previously earned his single engine private pilot’s license, Roelke dreams of buying a “sweet little” Piper J-3 Cub he sees at the Palmyra, WI, airport.  Note from Kathleen: Mr. Meeker loves to fly, and has a pilot’s license, so I gave that attribute to Roelke.

Visual Documentation

Kathleen does a fair amount of research ‘in the field’ and I am usually along to take photos and video of potential story locations and objects. These can often be valuable references when she writes scenes, sometimes months later.

We also used them in the illustrated programs she gives, as well as on her website, Facebook Author page, Pinterest boards, and this blog.

And we used them to create a short video about researching ale bowls at Vesterheim Norwegian-American Museum. Kathleen wrote the script and appears on-screen; I taped and edited. It was our first such effort.

Still image of the Migration of a Tradition video. Kathleen Ernst, LLC. Copyright 2010. All rights reserved.

Migration of a Tradition. Copyright 2010 Kathleen Ernst, LLC.

Based on what she learned studying Vesterheim’s extensive collection, Kathleen imagined the bowl at the center of the mystery. Here it is.

Photo of the antique Norwegian ale bowl in Old World Murder. Author's collection.

Reproduced antique Norwegian ale bowl. Author’s collection.

This is what Mrs. Lundquist donated to Old World. This copy was created by two Vesterheim Gold Medalists, wood carver Becky Lusk and rosemaler (rose painter) Janet Kjenstad.

Note from Kathleen: After the book was published, Mr. Ernst secretly had the one I described reproduced, and gave it to me for my birthday. We display it when giving my Chloe Ellefson program

Odds & Ends

And as always, I discovered items that grabbed my attention, but ended up having no connection to the story. Here are three.

Ad for Kringles from Larsen's Bakery in Racine, WI being sold by Girl Scout Troop 369. Waukesha Freeman, April 17, 1982.

Waukesha Freeman Newspaper, April 17. 1982.

If you are not familiar with this delightful Danish delicacy, then you have my sincere condolences. Those of us in Badgerland who do, know that Larsen’s Bakery in Racine, WI, is the source for some of the very best Kringle available outside of Denmark. Ah, if only Girl Scouts still sold them door-to-door!

Eagle Bank Robber Gets 16-Year Term article, Page 2., Waukesha Freeman, March 16, 1982.

Waukesha Freeman Newspaper, March 16, 1982.

I’m with the judge, this fellow’s life was “most incongruous.” BTW, his total take of $28,881 is equal to $66,208 in 2018.

Three Candidates Say There Are No Issues article headline from the Waukesha Freeman, March 23, 1982 issue.

Waukesha Freeman Newspaper, March 23, 1982.

This headline is from an article about two incumbents and a challenger competing to fill two seats on the Town of Eagle Board. Most of the article consists of candidate bios, but two sentences stood out. The reporter wrote that “All three said there were no issues in the race.” And the challenger said he only ran to create competition, adding “It’s such a small town and life seems to go on.”

But Wait, There’s More

Hopefully this research has piqued your interest in discovering more about the ‘people, places and the past’ in Old World Wisconsin.

There’s a whole page full of information about it on Kathleen’s website, including a discussion guide for the book, a custom Google map showing story locations, a recipe mentioned in the book, a slide show of objects featured in the story, a public radio interview with Kathleen, additional blog posts, her video introduction to Old World Wisconsin, and links to booksellers that carry OWM. To explore them, click HERE.

Next month I’ll post an article about researching The Heirloom Murders, the second book in the Chloe Ellefson Historic Sites mystery series.

Old World Murder – A Retrospective

January 16, 2018

Thanks for joining me as we take a behind-the-scenes look back at the Chloe Ellefson mysteries! First up: Book 1, Old World Murder.

A little backstory: I worked at Old World Wisconsin, a large outdoor museum near Eagle, from 1982 through 1994. The first two years I worked as an interpreter; the rest of the time I served as curator of interpretation and collections.

Me at Old World Wisconsin’s Koepsell Farm, 1983.

The next decade was spent developing and scripting children’s educational programs for Wisconsin Public Television. I also started publishing historical fiction for young readers during this period, including mysteries for American Girl. These were great opportunities! But I missed the historic sites world.

What better way to reconnect than to write about a curator who visits different sites and museums? The Chloe Ellefson series was born.

Since I was writing “on speculation,” meaning I had no contract, it took seven years to complete the manuscript for Old World Murder because I had to work around projects with actual deadlines. Not ideal, perhaps, but it did give me lots of time to conceptualize the book and the series. In each story, Chloe’s passion for history would be needed to solve modern crimes.

Chloe is a lot like me, but she is definitely fictional! I did not grow up in Wisconsin, or move to Europe. And I have no Norwegian ancestry. Chloe also has slightly heightened powers of perception, which occasionally enable her to experience strong emotions resonating in old buildings.

I needed a character to provide the necessary law enforcement perspective. Fortunately the Village of Eagle Police Department’s chief was open to working with me, and got me started on ride-alongs. Officer Roelke McKenna would not exist without the department’s help.

Eagle Police Department.

I decided to start the series in 1982 because that’s the period I remember. Also, it seemed wise to put some space between visitors’ modern experiences at the sites and even fictional murder and mayhem. Finally, that period makes it necessary for characters to solve mysteries without cell phones and Google, which is a plus for plotting.

My first job, of course, was to tell a good story. But I also developed some goals for the series:

  1. Introduce readers to wonderful historic sites and museums.
  2. Celebrate Wisconsin’s heritage and cultural diversity by featuring different ethnic groups.
  3. Spotlight folk arts and food traditions.
  4. Explore different chapters of Wisconsin/Midwest history.
  5. Provide a peek at museum work.
  6. Fill in gaps in the historical record with fiction.
  7. Honor everyday individuals who faced and surmounted incredible challenges.

Old World Murder is set at Old World Wisconsin. I featured a Norwegian story in part so it had personal relevance for Chloe, and in part because I had loved working at the two Norwegian farms restored at Old World.

That’s me heading into the 1845 Fossebrekke cabin, 1983.

And I chose to feature a missing ale bowl because this one in the Kvaale Farm had always intrigued me.

I created Gro Skavlem and her story to fill in one of those gaps I mentioned. So often as a curator I was frustrated by some gorgeous piece of folk art with no documentation. Who had created the piece? How did they feel about it? How was it used? Finding women’s stories is always challenging. Gro gave me the chance to suggest a smart, talented, capable woman.

SPOILER ALERT – some plot points are discussed below!

When I started writing mysteries, I learned to quickly identify anything that could be used to get a character in trouble. Sheep shears could do damage. So could Ossabaw hogs.

Ossabaw Hog, Old World Wisconsin.

The storage trailers described in the book were those I inherited when I was given collections care responsibilities. (Please note: for many years now OWW has had a dedicated full-time collections curator, and a modern storage facility.)

Collections storage in the early 1980s. Old World Wisconsin photo.

Some readers have wondered whether there was actually a murder in Old World Murder. In the draft I submitted, a murder definitely took place in the book’s first chapter. However, the manuscript was 20,000 words too long for the publisher’s norms.  That first death could be snipped without impacting the overall story, so it was sacrificed. Did Joel kill Mr. Solberg, or was it an accident? That’s left open to interpretation.

A few readers were uncomfortable with a protagonist who’s recovering from clinical depression. I believe that everyone deserves to find themselves in a book, including those with mental health issues. Chloe’s depression also gave her a reason to risk her job by standing up to Ralph Petty.

And of course, Chloe’s depression gave Roelke a chance to step up in a big way! Old World Murder introduces the possibility of a relationship between Roelke and Chloe…if her ex, Markus, doesn’t get in the way.

So…what did you think when you met the characters for the first time? Did you know Chloe and Roelke would be good for each other, or did their differences appear insurmountable? Did Chloe’s ability to perceive strong emotions seem unlikely, or have you perhaps experienced something similar? Did you have a favorite—or least favorite—character?

You can explore relevant people, places, and the past on my web page for Old World Murder. Resources include a Google map, a Locations Guide, full Discussion Guide, and links to lots of additional background material. Happy reading!

Studying ale bowls at Vesterheim Norwegian-American Museum in Decorah, Iowa.

The Early 1980s – A Pop Quiz by Mr. Ernst

January 13, 2018

Do you remember the early 1980s? The Chloe Ellefson mysteries written by Kathleen Ernst (my wife and better half) are set back then. When she first began working on the series I volunteered to do some general background research about the time period. This short, purely-for-fun quiz is based on some of what I turned up. Enjoy!

Answers are at the bottom of the post.

US President Ronald Reagan official portrait.

1.  In 1980 Jimmy Carter lost the US Presidential election to Ronald Reagan. Who was Reagan’s Vice-President?

Image of a chart.

2.  What was the highest rate of inflation in the US during 1980?

H.Fonda+K.Hepburn-GoldenPond

3.  Which two Hollywood Legends earned Oscars for their roles in the 1981 film On Golden Pond?

Photo of the Jarvic 7 artificial human heart.

4.  In 1982 the first human successfully received a transplanted artificial heart to replace his failing heart. How long did he survive afterwards?

WheelOfFortuneActors

5.  Which female started on what TV show in 1982? (Hint: she was still a cast member as of 2017.)

LeonidBrezhnev

6.  The US and the Soviet Union were locked in the Cold War when this Soviet Leader died in 1982. What was his name? (Hint: he ordered the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan.)

SportsIllustratedBrewersCover1982

7.  The Milwaukee Brewers lost the 1982 World Series to the St. Louis Cardinals. What was the series called? (Hint: both cities were famous for beer.)

SueGraftonAuthor1983

8.  The first mystery in what grew to be a 25-book series was published in 1982. Who was the author? (Hint: she passed away in 2017.)

ArnoldInConanTheBarbarian1982

9.  The 1982 film Conan The Barbarian provided the breakthrough role for which actor? (Hint: this immigrant later became a US politician.)

AppleLisaDesktopComputer1983

10.  The Apple Lisa Desktop Computer was commercially released in 1983. What two revolutionary features did it introduce? (Hint: almost all computers now use them.)

NewsweekFeb1983Cover

11.  How many viewers watched the broadcast of the final episode of this popular, long-running TV comedy in February 1983?  

MotorolaDynaTAC1983MobilePhone

12.  In 1984 the Motorola DynaTAC 8000X became the first commercially available cell phone. What did it cost when first released?

 Answers

  1. Reagan’s Vice-President from 1981-1989 was George H.W. Bush, who then served as President from 1989-1993. His son George W. Bush was President from 2001-2009.
  2. In 1980 the official US inflation rate soared to a high of 13.5%.
  3. Katharine Hepburn won an Oscar for Best Actress and Henry Fonda won an Oscar for Best Actor for their work in the film On Golden Pond. Henry was the father of actress Jane Fonda, who was also featured in the film.
  4. The first patient to have his failing heart successfully replaced with an artificial one survived 112 days after receiving a Jarvik 7.
  5. The popular TV show Wheel Of Fortune debuted in 1982 and actress Vanna White has been turning letters on it for thirty-five years as of 2017.
  6. Leonid Brezhnev was the Chairman of the Soviet Communist Party from 1964 until his death in 1982. He started the Soviet War in Afghanistan, which ran from 1979-1989.
  7. The 1982 baseball World Series was nicknamed the “Suds War” because Milwaukee and St. Louis were both known for making beer.
  8. Bestselling author Sue Grafton published “A” is for Alibi in 1982. It was the first book in her popular, long-running mystery series about private eye Kinsey Millhone. (Note: in the third Chloe Ellefson mystery, The Light Keeper’s Legacy, Roelke gives Chloe a copy of “A” is for Alibi to take to the lighthouse on Rock Island.)
  9. Austrian-born bodybuilder Arnold Schwarzenegger launched his film career in Conan The Barbarian. He later used his fame to become Governor of California.
  10. Apple’s Lisa Desktop Computer was the first commercially available computer with a Graphical User Interface (GUI) and a mouse. The Lisa cost $9,995 when introduced in 1983, equal to $24,600 in 2017.
  11. The final episode of M*A*S*H in February 1983 was watched by over 120 million viewers, more than any other US broadcast TV program. (Note: in the fifth Chloe Ellefson mystery, Tradition of Deceit, Roelke’s best friend Rick Alverez and his finance Lidia are planning a ‘M*A*S*H Bash’ party to watch the final episode.)
  12. The Motorola DynaTAC 8000X commercial portable cellular phone had a retail cost of $3,395 when commercially released in 1984, equal to $9,410 in 2017 dollars. Charging the battery took roughly 10 hours and provided 30 minutes of talk time.

I hope you enjoyed the quiz. Over the next few months I’ll be back on this blog posting about things that turned up while doing detailed research about the historic timelines featured in each of Kathleen’s now eight published Chloe Ellefson mysteries.

Eight Books in Eight Months

January 9, 2018

My 9th Chloe Ellefson mystery will soon zip off to my publisher, and I’m already planning the 10th! That’s a milestone, and it seems like a good time to take a look back. My husband (AKA Mr. Ernst) and I have decided to do just that this year, with some treats along the way for readers.

Here’s how “Eight Books in Eight Months” will work.

Every month, from January through August, I’ll feature one Chloe Ellefson mystery here on Sites & Stories. I’ll start by posting  a reminder about the next book to be featured. I hope you’ll read along!

The second week, I’ll look back at my process for approaching the book, share insights about the topics and places covered, and prompt some discussion. We’ll see how Chloe and Roelke have evolved over time, both individually and as a couple.

Mr. Ernst always helps me with research, and every third week he’ll post about some of the interesting tidbits he’s discovered—many of which didn’t make it into the stories.

And every fourth week, we’ll give away copies of the featured book.

Many of you have told me you started the series in the middle, or read the books out of order. This is a great time to go back to the beginning and follow, or revisit, the adventures.

So dust off your copy of the first Chloe Ellefson mystery, Old World Murder. Happy reading!

Figgy Hobbin

December 28, 2017

I love exploring traditional foodways, especially if they have an ethnic flair. Not surprisingly, the protagonist of my Chloe Ellefson Mysteries does too. The latest book in the series, Mining For Justice, is all about the Cornish miners and their families who helped turn rough mining camps in what would become southwestern Wisconsin into communities.

One of the Cornish treats Chloe discovers is figgy hobbin—although historically, it wasn’t actually a treat. Her hostess, an elderly Cornish-American woman named Tamsin, explains that in old Cornwall needy people ate hoggans:

“Oh course, the truly poor people had to make do with hoggans,” Tamsin said. “Flatbread with a morsel or two of pork baked into it. My father said they were hard as rocks. Women made them of barley flour when wheat was too dear.”

Mine workers like these men and women might have made a meal of hoggans.  (“Dolcoate Copper Mine” engraved by J.Thomas after a picture by Thomas Allom, published in Devon & Cornwall Illustrated, 1832. Steel engraved print with recent hand color.)

Food traditions are not static. Hoggans evolved into figgy hobbin, a dish similar to mince pie, made with beef suet, lard, and raisins in a pastry, served with perhaps a little milk and sugar. (In parts of England “figgy” means raisins or currants, and some linguists believe “hobbin” is a diminutive of “oven.”)

The dish has evidently almost disappeared from Cornish tables, but an even sweeter version is alive and well in Mineral Point. Mining For Justice is largely set in that charming Wisconsin town. If you visit, stop by the Red Rooster Cafe for some figgy hobbin. Their dessert is topped with caramel sauce and whipped cream.

At the Red Rooster Cafe on High Street, Mineral Point, WI.

With advance planning you can also enjoy figgy hobbin at The Walker House.

Figgy hobbin is easy to make at home, too.  Here’s a basic recipe.

1 batch of your favorite pie crust
extra flour for rolling
1 T. grated orange peel or 1 T. orange marmalade (optional)
3  T. cinnamon
1/4  c. brown sugar or raw sugar
1/2 c. raisins or dried currants
1/2 c. chopped walnuts or pecans
3 T. melted butter

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Roll pastry into a rectangle about 10 x 8 inches. Brush pastry with the melted butter. Mix orange peel, cinnamon, sugar, dried fruit, and chopped nuts and spread in an even layer over the crust. Leave some open space around the perimeter to facilitate rolling.

Roll gently into a log.

Place on an oiled cookie sheet with the seam at the bottom. Bake until crust is golden brown, about 30-40 minutes. (Note:  I brushed the top of my roll with egg white, something several of the recipes I consulted recommended. For my taste, that created a too-brown top, so I wouldn’t do that again.) Slice and serve.

If desired, top with warm caramel sauce and/or whipped cream.

Enjoy!

Giveaway Winners

December 1, 2017

Congratulations to Bethany Davis, Deborah Schindler Dingledy, Stephanie Romig, Rosanne Tucker-Gilliam, Madelon Willard, and Michelle Vechinsky! Each of these Giveaway winners will receive a complete set of six signed, personalized, first-release Caroline Books, published by American Girl.

Winners were chosen at random from all entries here on Sites & Stories and on my Facebook Author page.  Thanks to all who entered!