Sabots

April 22, 2019

When I went to work at Old World Wisconsin many years ago, one of my first assignments was working at the 1860 German farm. The curator who’d furnished the building left a couple of pairs of reproduction wooden shoes near the back door. “Aren’t those Dutch?” visitors often asked.

I explained that many rural people wore such clogs. (In this 1982 photograph I’m wearing a pair while knitting in the doorway of the 1845 Fossebrekke cabin, home to Norwegian immigrants.)

The clogs were sturdy, and kept the wearer elevated from muddy pastures and mucky barns. Most that I’ve seen are pretty basic.

This pair worn by a Swiss immigrant is on display at the Swiss Historical Village & Museum, New Glarus, WI.

I got a lot more interested in wooden shoes when I began learning about the Belgian immigrants who settled in northeast Wisconsin for the 10th Chloe Ellefson Mystery, The Lacemaker’s Secret. One man recalled:

While at work or at home the Belgians all wore wooden shoes…  When plowing, they wore them without socks, for the sabots soon filled up with loose soil.  …They were also worn in winter when logging or working around the sawmills.  They then tacked on long canvas leggings which made cheap and serviceable footwear.  The sabots of the women were fastened on the foot with a strap above the instep.  A few could even dance with them but that was exceptional.  (Hjalmar Rued Holand, Wisconsin’s Belgian Community, Door County Historical Society, 1933)

Belgians called their clogs sabots. The word can be traced to early 17th century France—a blend of savate (shoe) and botte (boot). (Most of the Wisconsin Belgians spoke Walloon, a language similar to French.)

By the early 20th century, another word had developed: saboter, which roughly meant “to kick with sabots, to willfully destroy.” These acts of willful destruction gave rise to one more term:  sabotage. One definition provided by Merriam-Webster is this: “destruction of an employer’s property (such as tools or materials) or the hindering of manufacturing by discontented workers.”

Early in my research I found a reference to poor tenant farmers in Belgium wearing their sabots to crush harvest crops if they were angry with their employers. How could I not use that in my novel?

Now that I was paying more attention to wooden shoes, I was attracted to a pair on display in the Belgian Farm at Heritage Hill State Historical Park. These are the sabots that are attributed to Seraphine in The Lacemaker’s Secret.

I love the decorative carving on these. The shoes are still practical, but beautiful too. (I don’t know what the small holes were used for—perhaps to tie the shoes together when not being worn?)

I’ve since read about other sabots that were carved or painted.  Some were evidently quite colorful.

These shoes, on display at building owned by the Peninsula Belgian American Club in Namur, inspired another pair mentioned in the mystery.

And here’s a beautiful pair:

Sabots

On display at the Peninsula Belgian American Club, Namur, WI.  I’m sorry I don’t know who made them.

Sabots popped up again when I read about the plight of Belgian civilians during the German occupation of World War I. This headline is from the September 25th, 1914 edition of the Green Bay Gazette:

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(Associated Press)

Every day at 5 o’clock a bell rings in the Exhibitions Hall of Alexandra Palace, whereupon 1,500 hundred women, children, and old men, with a scattering of youths, set up a clatter of wooden shoes.  This amusement park is now the largest camp for Belgian refugees in the London district….

The Belgian settlers continued to wear their sabots in Wisconsin. The photo below is one of my favorite images in the extensive Belgian-American Research Collection in the UW-Green Bay Archives (shown here on exhibit at the Belgian Heritage Center, Namur, WI.)

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(Mrs. Frank Martin pumping water for the cows.  Photo dated March 5, 1919)

Many Belgian people wore sabots as they met challenge after challenge. I was thinking about that when I wrote one of my favorite moments in The Lacemaker’s Secret, when Sharon makes a confession:

“Seraphine must have had a hard life. All of the earliest arrivals did. I probably shouldn’t admit this to a curator, but…sometimes when I’m facing a challenge I slip off my shoes and stand in Seraphine’s sabots.” Sharon’s gaze flicked to Chloe, then away again as if afraid she’d see mockery.

But Chloe was anything but amused, or annoyed. “Standing in her shoes,” she said softly, with complete understanding.

“Exactly.” Sharon’s shoulders relaxed. “Seraphine—all of the women who came in those early years—they were so courageous. Their faith was so strong. It’s inspiring.”

Artifacts are most precious for the stories they can tell, and the people they represent.  Belgian sabots are a wonderful example.

Large Print Giveaway Winners!

March 28, 2019

Congratulations to Dianne Martingano, Miriam R. Nelson, and Kathleen Newberg! Each won a signed, hardcover copy of the large print edition of the 9th Chloe Ellefson Mystery, The Lacemaker’s Secret.

Winners were chosen at random from all entries here and on my Facebook Author Page.

Thanks to all who entered!

Large Print Giveaway!

March 26, 2019

This week a large print, hardcover edition of my latest Chloe Ellefson mystery, The Lacemaker’s Secret, is being released.

Would you like to win a signed copy? For yourself, a loved one, or your local library?

“In this heartfelt tale of labor and love, Ernst produces one of her most winning combinations of historical evocation and clever mystery.”  —Kirkus Reviews

Enter to win by leaving a comment below before 11:59 PM Central Time on Wednesday, March 27th. Three winners will be chosen at random from all entries here and on my Facebook Author Page.

One entry per person, please. The winners’ names will be posted here and on my Facebook page the following day.

Good luck, and happy reading!

Fiddling With Fate

March 3, 2019

Is there anything more exciting for an author than turning in a manuscript for a new book? Yes! Anticipating publication day.

The 10th Chloe Ellefson mystery will be published on September 8, 2019—just six months away.

Chloe has a devil of a time unraveling the mysteries of Norway’s fiddle and dance traditions.

After her mother’s unexpected death, curator Chloe Ellefson discovers hidden antiques that hint at family secrets. Determined to find answers, Chloe accepts a consultant job in Norway, her ancestors’ homeland. She’s thrilled with the opportunity to explore Hardanger fiddle and dance traditions . . . and her own heritage.

Once their plane lands, however, Chloe and her fiance, cop Roelke McKenna, encounter only disharmony. Chloe’s research reveals strong women and the importance of fiddle music in their lives. But folklore warns against “the devil’s instrument” and old evils may yet linger among the fjords and mountains. As Chloe fine-tunes her search for the truth, a killer’s desire to stop her builds to a deadly crescendo.

I hope you’ll join Chloe and Roelke on this special trip to Norway!

Hardanger Folk Museum

Fiddling With Fate is available for preorder from your favorite vendor.

Happy reading!

Our Lady Of Good Help

February 22, 2019

Adele Brise was born in Belgium in 1831, and immigrated to Wisconsin with her family in 1855. The Brise family settled about 16 miles northeast of the city of Green Bay in Robinsonville, now Champion, Wisconsin.

Little is known of Adele’s early years, but she was remembered as a devout young woman.

Our Lady of Good Help
(Photo on display at Our Lady of Good Help)

In October, 1859, apparitions of the Virgin Mary occurred to Adele as she was walking through the woods. Mary instructed Adele to teach local children in the faith. Adele devoted the rest of her life to that charge.

AdeleBriseStudents
Adele Brise with students. (CatholicLane.com)

Many church leaders doubted the veracity of Adele’s story. Her friends and neighbors believed, however, and Adele’s father built a chapel nearby. In time it was replaced with a larger chapel, and facilities for students.

In 1871, during the Great Fire, some area residents fled to the grounds. They processed around the chapel carrying the statue of Mary. Conditions almost overwhelmed them, but Adele instructed them to pray. When the firestorm finally passed, everything around the chapel grounds had been destroyed. The outside of the fence was charred, but the grounds were undisturbed. 

Adele Brise, Our Lady of Good Help
Adele Brise was not a nun, but she adopted attire similar to a nun’s habit. (Photo on display at Our Lady of Good Help)

Adele’s vision was not accepted by the church before she died in 1896. Finally, over century later in 2010, the apparitions were formally approved. Today, The National Shrine of Our Lady of Good Help is the only Marian shrine in the United States on the site of an approved apparition of the Blessed Virgin Mary.

I read about Adele while doing early research for The Lacemaker’s Secret, the 9th Chloe Ellefson mystery, which focuses on Belgian immigration to Northeast Wisconsin. I wanted to include Adele’s story. As a non-Catholic, I also wanted to be respectful.

Before making any final decisions, I visited the site itself.

Our Lady of Good Help

It includes a small museum that tells Adele’s story.

National Shrine Of Our Lady Of Good Help
The apparition appeared between a maple tree and a hemlock tree. These are pieces of the roots of those trees.
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The site includes a contemporary church, home to an active congregation. The sanctuary is beautiful.

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Around a corner and down some stairs is the Apparition Oratory.

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These crutches near the entrance are testament to reports of visitors being healed of illness or affliction after a visit.

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To me, even more powerful was the absolute, reverential beauty of the small chapel.

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I knew that if Chloe visited the chapel, she couldn’t help but be moved as well. I decided to have her visit at an emotionally low point, so she could find solace.

The grounds are also peaceful and inviting.

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This is Adele’s grave.

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The building below is a roadside chapel that was moved to the site and restored in 2003.

Our Lady of Good Help

Visitors are welcome to visit any day of the year, from 7 AM to 7 PM.

* * * 

Print

To learn more about The Lacemaker’s Secret, or my other books, I invite you to visit my website.

Click here for a more detailed account of Adele’s story.

Giveaway Winners!

January 31, 2019

Congratulations to Jacki Bedworth, Sue Gallagher, Kay Johnson, Karen Mayers, Hope McLeod, Cindy Patterson, Linda Roehrig, Beth Rogers, and Margaret Wurth! Each has won a signed and personalized copy of the 9th Chloe Ellefson Mystery, The Lacemaker’s Secret.

Winners were chosen at random from all entries here and on my Facebook Author Page. Huge thanks to all who entered! Your interest and lovely comments warmed my heart on this frigid winter day.

The Lacemaker’s Secret Giveaway!

January 29, 2019

I’m celebrating last fall’s successful launch of the ninth Chloe Ellefson Mystery with a Giveaway! Nine winners will receive a signed and personalized trade paperback copy of The Lacemaker’s Secret.

To enter the Giveaway, leave a comment here before 11:59 PM (Central US Time) on Wednesday, January 30, 2019. One entry per person, please.

Nine winners will be chosen at random from all entries here and on my Facebook Author Page. Winners will be announced here on Thursday, January 31. Good luck!

Chloe Ellefson Mysteries Update

January 25, 2019

The 10th Chloe Ellefson Mystery, scheduled for release in September, 2019, will be the last one released by publisher Midnight Ink—which is shutting down.

The setting for book 10!

While that isn’t good news, since the announcement I’ve been overwhelmed by the support from wonderful Chloe and Roelke fans. Thank you!

I do want to continue the series. My upbeat and savvy literary agent has already sent a proposal to a press which has expressed interest. The publishing industry wheels can grind slowly, but—fingers crossed!

In the meantime, I’m focusing on finishing Chloe 10. The manuscript is due to my editor on March 1. My recent Chloe books have been about 95,000 words in length, and I’m at 85,000 words now. I’m getting there!

Mr. Ernst and I also want to do everything we can to demonstrate to potential publishers that the series is still going strong. Thanks to you, we had a very successful launch of the 9th Chloe mystery, The Lacemaker’s Secret, in October. Now we want to keep expanding the circle of Chloe Ellefson Mystery readers.

To that end, next week we’re going to hold, here and on my Facebook page, a special Giveaway for The Lacemaker’s Secret. We hope that loyal readers who have already read the book will encourage friends to enter.

Writing online reviews, and recommending the books to your local library, are also enormously helpful.

Over the past decade, Mr. Ernst and I have had an amazing time exploring historic places and meeting new reader-friends. We’re grateful! We’re optimistic that with your help, the adventures will continue.

Libby’s Legendary Banana Bread Pudding

January 22, 2019

PrintSometimes you just need some comfort food—something steaming and fragrant and utterly delicious.

The 9th Chloe Ellefson Mystery, The Lacemaker’s Secret, begins at just such a moment.

   “Something is burdening you,” Libby told Roelke McKenna. “Spill it. Now.”

   “Nothing’s wrong.”

     Libby’s eyes narrowed. “I don’t believe you.”

   Roelke turned to the kitchen counter where an old-fashioned percolator burbled with promise. Trust his cousin to just know. He’d had another rough night, but he didn’t want to talk about it.

   . . . Libby turned and cracked the oven door. A rich wave of banana, vanilla, and cinnamon swirled into the room.

   “Please tell me that’s Libby’s Legendary Banana Bread Pudding.” Roelke’s favorite Sunday-morning treat at his cousin’s house.

I came up with this recipe for Banana Bread Pudding on a frigid Wisconsin morning. It pairs beautifully with the delectable maple sauce, so don’t skip that step! 

Pudding Ingredients
3-4 ripe bananas
4 c. 1-inch bread cubes (French, Italian, or any other sturdy type)  
3 large eggs
2 cups milk (soy or dairy)
2 t. vanilla extract
1 t. ground cinnamon
1/2 t. ground nutmeg
1/2 t. ground cardamom (optional)
1 c. chopped walnuts (optional)

Note: Because the sauce is sweet, I used no sugar in the bread pudding itself. If you prefer a sweeter version, add 1/4 c. or 1/2 c.

 Maple Sauce Ingredients
3 T. butter

2 T. sugar (raw or granulated)
1 T. cornstarch
3/4 c. milk
1/4 c. maple syrup
1-1/2 t. vanilla extract

Instructions
Grease a 2-quart casserole. Pre-heat oven to 375.  

Place the bread cubes in a large bowl.

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I used half a small loaf of Italian bread. Bread that’s a day or two old will retain its texture better than soft bread.

In another bowl, beat the eggs with a whisk. Stir in milk, vanilla, and spices. Add sugar, if using.  

Set one banana aside, slice the others into this mix, and stir to coat. Add this mixture, and walnuts if using, to the bread cubes. Gently stir.

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Stir the pudding into the casserole dish. Slice the final banana over the top.

Banana Bread Pudding

Use banana that are ripe but firm if you want to retain their texture. Over-ripe bananas can be mashed and mixed with the bread mixture.

Bake for about 40 minutes. Towards the end of the bake start the maple sauce (directions below).

Remove the casserole when the pudding is golden brown and a skewer inserted into the center emerges clean.  

Banana Bread Pudding

Fresh from the oven.

When the pudding is partly baked, begin the Maple Sauce by melting the butter in a small saucepan. Mix the sugar and cornstarch together and stir into the melted butter.

Add the milk and maple syrup, whisking continuously. Continue stirring until the mixture comes to a low boil. Let simmer until thickened, about a minute or so.

Banana Bread Pudding sauce.

The silky-smooth sauce just coming to a simmer.

 Remove from heat and stir in the vanilla extract.

Serve the pudding warm, topped with the warm maple sauce.

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I think Libby and Roelke would enjoy this version of Banana Bread Pudding. I hope you do as well!

Belgian Spice Cookies

January 8, 2019

The latest Chloe Ellefson Mystery, The Lacemaker’s Secret, celebrates Belgian heritage, so of course my research included foodways. I quickly came across references to Belgian Spice Cookies, also called Speculoos.

These crisp spiced shortbread cookies are also popular in the Netherlands, where they’re called Speculaas. Children in both countries often receive the cookies on St. Nicholas Day in early December.

In North America the cookies are often known as Windmill cookies, because several bakeries produce them in that shape, or Biscoff cookies. (Delta Airlines has been handing out Biscoff cookies since 1986.)

Lotus

This company sells Speculoos as Biscoff cookies in the US. (Wikipedia)

Since Speculoos date back only to 1932, when a Belgian bakery started producing them, I included them in the mystery’s 1984 timeline. Chloe Ellefson enjoys a taste at a St. Nicholas celebration at Heritage Hill State Historical Park in Green Bay.  

Even though my maternal grandmother (who was famed for cookie-baking) had family roots in the Netherlands, I had never made Speculoos before.

None of the vintage Wisconsin/ethnic cookbooks on my shelf include a speculoos recipe. The Milwaukee Public Library’s wonderful Historic Recipe Collection turned up this recipe for Brussels Spice Cookies.

Belgian Spice Cookies

Milwaukee Journal, December 27, 1962.

A quick online search turned up lots of Speculoos/Speculaas recipes. The cookies themselves are pretty basic, but bakers use a lot of latitude with spices. The simplest use only cinnamon, while others call for various blends of cinnamon, nutmeg, cardamom, nutmeg, cloves, coriander, and/or pepper. Some people simplify by using Pumpkin Pie Spice.

(WIkipedia)

Traditionally, bakers used shallow wooden molds to imprint elaborate designs in the cookies. The dough can also be cut into shapes or decorated with a cookie stamps. Most recipes call for rolling the dough to no more than 1/8 inch.

However, Wisconsin’s fabulous New Glarus Bakery sells delicious Speculaas that are thicker and unadorned. 

Speculaas cookies from New Glarus Bakery

Speculaas cookies from New Glarus Bakery

Some recipes call for sliced almonds to be sprinkled on top of (or even on the bottom of) the cookies; some mix sliced almonds into the dough, as the New Glarus bakers did. And some substitute almond flour for some of the regular flour.

When I put out a call for favorite recipes readers recommended several sources, including the New York TimesA Spruce Eats.and Cooks Illustrated. (The latter requires membership for web access; a free trial is available.) You can also find good information in the September, 2018 print edition of Cooks Illustrated. Belgian Foodie is another good source.

After some experimentation I came up with my own favorite:

Speculoos
1-1/2 c. all purpose flour (I use white whole wheat)
1/2 t. baking soda
1/2 t. salt
1 t. ground cinnamon
1 t. ground ginger
1 t. cardamom
1 t. nutmeg
1/2 t. cloves
1/2 c. softened butter
1/2 c. dark brown sugar
1/2 c. raw sugar or Turbinado sugar
1 egg

Mix flour, soda, and spices in a bowl and set aside.

I particularly love cardamom, so I only buy whole pods and grind them just prior to baking.

Cream softened butter with the sugars.

I use raw sugar (left), but because the crystals are larger than regular sugar, I buzz them in a spice grinder until fine (right). Belgian bakers used a special dark sugar (sometimes beet sugar) that is not readily available in the US.

When smooth, beat in the egg.  Gradually add the flour mixture and mix until dough is completely blended. Place dough in an airtight container (or wrap in plastic wrap) and store in the refrigerator for at least several hours to allow spices to blend.  Note:  It will be easier to roll the dough if you flatten it into a disc shape before chilling.

Preheat oven to 350 and grease baking sheets.  Roll dough approximately 1/8 inch thick.  Use cutters or stamps as desired to shape the cookies.

Bake for approximately 10 minutes, or until cookies are a light golden brown around the edges.  Remove pans from the oven and allow the cookies to sit for two minutes before removing them to a cooling rack.

For my first batch I used antique cutters passed down from my grandma; for the second, I tried using modern stamps.  

cutters

I like soft cookies, so I didn’t worry too much about getting the cookies as thin as 1/8 inch.

With so much variety, you can’t go wrong. Try mixing up a batch for your book discussion group or family. I think they’ll be a hit!

belgcookies