Washington Island Cook Book

I was thrilled to receive a copy of this community cookbook from a thoughtful reader. It’s a first edition, copyright 1947, compiled by the Trinity Lutheran Ladies’ Aid.

Washington Island Cook Book

“At long last your requests for favorite recipes of discriminating hostesses have been compiled in a ‘Washington Island Cook Book.’ The Island has been known for its outstanding homemakers, who specially (sic) delight in serving coffee to all who cross their thresholds.” (From the Preface)

Several scenes from The Light Keeper’s Legacy are set on Washington Island, and the rest are set on Rock Island—visible in the upper right corner of the map on the cover. Both are off the tip of Wisconsin’s Door County peninsula.

Light Keeper's Legacy by Kathleen Ernst

My husband and I have served as volunteer docents at Pottawatomie Lighthouse, in Rock Island State Park, for the past seven summers.

Pottawatomie Lighthouse

The lighthouse has been restored to its 1910 appearance, when Charles and Mollie Boshka lived there with their two children.

Charles and Mollie Boshka

This cookbook is a treasure for several reasons. First, it includes a number of recipes submitted by Mollie Boshka. Each one is a  tangible link back to that lovely woman in the photo.

Ice Box Rolls

MB's Sour Cream Cookies

MB's Corned Beef

It also reflects the families who settled on Washington Island in the mid-late 1800s and early 1900s.  Many of the women’s surnames are still common on the island today. Many of the recipes reflect Norwegian, Swedish, Danish, and Icelandic heritage.

Swedish Tea Ring

Icelandic Pancakes

Toward the end of The Light Keeper’s Legacy, a Washington Island friend makes Icelandic Pancakes for Chloe.

The recipes also capture an era when old traditions were blending with new.  The cookbook includes recipes for things like head cheese and vinerbrod (Danish pastry), and many include little or no instruction. The assumption was that anyone using the cookbook would just know how to put the ingredients together, or how hot the oven should be.

But the book also includes recipes for dishes like Texas Hash (which calls for 3 Tbsp. of something called “Spry”), Spanish Noodles, and several versions of Chop Suey.

Chop Suey Cake

In addition to several main dish recipes for Chop Suey, this one caught my eye. I have no idea how it got the name.

Finally, the book tells a story about the woman who once owned it.  I’ll never know her name, but I’ve got glimpses of her. She received the book from for Christmas in 1848; the inscription is Norwegian.

Washington Island  Cook Book inscription

And she used the book a lot.  Pages are dog-eared and sometimes stained, and she added notes by some of the recipes. It’s fun to imagine her flipping pages, deciding what to prepare for family or friends.

Pineapple Salad Cream Ring

This one made me smile because I grew up eating similar Jello salads.

I’m so grateful that this particular cookbook got saved, and passed from hand to hand…and ended up in my kitchen.

* * *

To read more about the Boshkas, see Making Jam for Mollie.  To learn more about Pottawatomie Lighthouse or Rock Island history, follow The Light Keeper’s Legacy link on the right side of this page.

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8 Responses to “Washington Island Cook Book”

  1. Kathleen Says:

    FYI… Spry was a brand of vegetable shortening which was a competitor of Crisco.

  2. Kathy Coolbaugh Says:

    My great grandfather, Goerge Nelson, came to the Island from Norway in 1888 when he was 18. My grandmother (Virginia Nelson, aka Young, Bjarnarson) and mom were born and raised on the Island. I had all my grandmother’s cookbooks until this last move where they all disappeared. This cookbook was my favorite to use along with the one published in 1964. If you ever come across either, I would be extremely interested in buying them as I have been looking for them for years.

    • Kathleen Ernst Says:

      Kathy, I will keep my eyes open! I’m sorry yours disappeared.

    • Jo Mercer Says:

      Hey, Kathy! I lost my copy of the Early 1970’s WI Cookbook, too. Have you found one yet?Send me your contact info on Facebook Messenger and I’ll let you know if I find a copy.

      Jo Mercer

      • Kathleen Ernst Says:

        Jo Mercer – I had trouble connecting on Messenger, so I hope you see this. I’m in good shape on the cookbook, but if you ever find a spare copy of the Washington Island Cook Book, let me know so I can tell the descendant who’s looking for one. Thanks!

  3. Rob Davis Says:

    I have a recipe from my great grandmother called Washington Island Cake, but the ingredient list and instructions are incomplete. Might you have this recipe in your book?

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