Archive for the ‘BOOKS BY KATHLEEN ERNST’ Category

Colonial Girls At Work

February 23, 2017

While doing research for Gunpowder and Tea Cakes:  My Journey With Felicity, I discovered that a few girls in colonial Williamsburg may have been doing work I once thought was open only to boys.  Cool!

Certainly, girls were involved in traditional roles. I had the chance to ask interpreters at Colonial Williamsburg questions about cooking, for example.

The kitchen at Great Hopes Plantation.

The kitchen at Great Hopes Plantation.

And I saw several young women working in a dressmaker’s shop. Milliners specialized in making hats, and mantua-makers stitched gowns and accessories. Like all skilled trades, this work usually required an apprenticeship.

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An experienced seamstress would hire younger women, and teach them her skills.

Colonial Williamsburg has a modern program that allows men and women to become apprentices and learn a specific skill.  After learning the basics, apprentices graduate to journeywoman or journeyman status. The most skilled may one day become masters and run a shop.

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Hard at work.

 

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An example of the fashions produced in such a shop.

I also saw several women who were apprentices in nontraditional roles. The young woman below was in the 2nd year of a 7-year apprenticeship at a joinery.  Joiners produced things like window frames, doors, and shutters.

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Apprentices usually started at age 14. They had to be tall enough to work at the bench, and spent 12-hour days in the shop.

 

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A master craftsman would rule a shop like this. A journeyman, who had some skills but had not finished his or her apprenticeship, would help train the apprentices.

I discovered female apprentices learning to make wagon wheels,

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An apprentice watches as the master craftsman checks her saw.

 

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The final product.

and tinware.

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The man interpreting here told me that he’s not aware of official female tinsmith apprentices in the colonies, but he has seen women mentioned in records—probably all family members who learned the trade from their husband or father.

 

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Some of the finished products, ready for sale.

And this woman was helping a man make a saddle in the military artificer’s shop.  (An artificer, pronounced ar-TI-fi-cer, had the skills to make different items the army needed.)

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“There were women in almost all the trades, if help was needed and they could do the work,” one interpreter told me.

If you had lived in colonial times, would you have wanted to become an apprentice? What skill would you like to learn?

* * *

Gunpowder and Tea Cakes

To learn more about Gunpowder and Tea Cakes:  My Journey with Felicity, click here

 

Bringing Laura Ingalls Wilder’s Stories to Life in Quilts – Part 2

February 21, 2017

DeathOnThePrairieCoverWebI’m proud to have talented quilt teacher, designer, and historian Linda Halpin visit Sites and Stories. Last time, Linda wrote about how she came to study the quilts referenced in the famous Little House books by Laura Ingalls Wilder.

She also helped me out when I decided that a quilt would be at the center of Death on the Prairie, the 6th Chloe Ellefson mystery.

 Here’s Linda’s story.

* * *

It turns out my connection to Laura wasn’t done. Many years after Quilting With Laura was published, I met Kathleen Ernst in one of my classes. Kathleen had written several books for the American Girl company. My daughter was a big fan of American Girl. It was a line of book characters and dolls that taught history through different eras. Their stories were rounded out by books on cooking, period clothing, and current events. The dolls encouraged imagination as they taught history.

Fast forward several years after that first encounter to when Kathleen contacted me about a new project she was working on. She had expanded her writing to include books for adults with a line of mystery books based on a woman named Chloe Ellefson. Chloe worked at a living history museum, and like the American Girl characters, she brought artifacts to life by studying what life was like when the artifacts were used, who used them, how they were used, what life was like at the time.  It was all the things I loved about Little House and American Girl, but this time geared towards adults.

Chloe Ellefson mysteries

I love Kathleen’s story telling style. She interweaves story lines back and forth from historical to present day as Chloe investigates her artifacts. Kathleen’s new project was a story in which Chloe is given a quilt said to have been made by Laura Ingalls Wilder, and she sets out to investigate if this could really be true. What Kathleen wanted from me was a quilt that could help tell Chloe’s story, one that incorporated the blocks Laura talked about in her books.

My prior investigation told me that there were only three patterns Laura mentions by name:  Nine Patch, Bear’s Track, and Doves in the Window. My quilt research taught me that at the time Laura was learning to quilt, patterns didn’t have specific names the way they do today. They were simply called ‘patchwork.’ It wasn’t until 1889 that patterns began to be identified by different names, mostly as a marketing tool for Ladies Art Company, a mail order catalog where people could order patterns.

Prior to that, patterns were spread person to person, or blocks were printed in women’ magazine of the day, such as Godey’s Ladies Magazine. Interestingly enough, sewing was so much a part of every day life that only an ink drawing of the blocks were given. No templates, no directions. Women were able to draft their own patterns and figure out the construction on their own just by looking at the pictures.

Goody's Lady's Book, 1840 (Wikimedia Commons)

Godey’s Lady’s Book, 1840 (Wikimedia Commons)

When Laura was learning to quilt in the 1860s and ’70s, patterns weren’t identified by specific names. By the time she sat down to write her stories in the 1930s and on, pattern names were widely used. What she called Doves in the Window in her stories could have been one of several different designs, as several different patterns share that name. When writing Quilting With Laura, the intrigue for me happened when I tried to determine just which Doves in the Window pattern Laura had used for her wedding quilt. There was no real quilt to look at. Very early on in their marriage, a house fire destroyed most of Laura and Almanzo’s belongings, including her wedding quilt.

At the time my book was published, I found what I thought for sure was the correct Doves in the Window pattern. It was one that, like Bear’s Track, had lots of bias edges. It’s the one I could see Caroline making Laura take out over and over again until she had it right. And it looks like doves. Surely that must be the pattern she was talking about.

Doves In The Window

Doves In The Window

Or, could it have been this one, also called Doves in the Window, but that was very similar to Bear’s Track?

Doves in the Window block.

Doves in the Window block.

 

Bear's Paw block.

Bear’s Track block.

That would certainly explain why she called it Bear’s Track in On The Banks of Plum Creek, but Doves in the Window in These Happy Golden Years.

But wait! Could it have been this one –

quilt block by Linda Halpin

– very similar to a block made by Laura on display at the Laura Ingalls Wilder Park and Museum in Burr Oak, IA?

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Quilt block on display in the Master Hotel, Laura Ingalls Wilder Park & Museum, Burr Oak, IA.

In making Chloe’s Quilt for Kathleen, I had the opportunity to create a little mystery of my own. For the front of the quilt, I combined Nine Patch, the pattern both Laura and Mary made (and the pattern Mary continued to make even after she lost her eyesight), Bear’s Track, and the Doves in the Window that resembles the Bear’s Track.

I used reproduction fabrics that mimicked the fabrics Laura would have used as a child. I even used the construction technique seen so often in antique scrap quilts of piecing together tiny fragments of cloth until they were large enough to cut out the small pieces needed to make the block.

When I was done, I had created this quilt for Kathleen.

Linda (on the right) and I took the gorgeous quilt she made for me to the Ingalls family's dugout site on Plum Creek (small sign in the background marks actual spot). Just because.

Isn’t it beautiful?  Linda (on the right) and I took Chloe’s Quilt to the Ingalls family’s dugout site on Plum Creek. Just because.

But for my mystery, I couldn’t resist also including the Burr Oak Doves in the Window variation, as I felt it told a story of its own. The back of Kathleen’s quilt shows a variation of the Burr Oak block (lower left in photo below), as well as another Doves in the Window design. The Burr Oak block is very similar to a pattern I discovered in an old quilting book from 1929, where author Ruth Finley collected patterns and stories and recorded them in one of the first books written on quilting. In the Finley book, Doves in the Window appears as the block shown top right below.

Doves in the Window

Is it possible that this was the pattern Laura made? Was she trying to recreate it from memory, thereby making one so similar to the Finley block by making the Burr Oak block? We may never know, but it sure is fun to speculate!

Linda Halpin

* * *

Linda Halpin has been teaching quiltmaking across the United States and Canada for over 40 years. She is one of a handful of teachers certified by the Embroiderer’s Guild of America as a Quiltmaking Instructor. In addition to Quilting with Laura, which focuses on hand piecing, the way Laura would have done, she has also written several other quiltmaking books as well as The Little House Sampler pattern, which is geared toward today’s machine piecing techniques. She was invited both in 2015 and 2016 by Andover Fabrics of New York to make quilts for them using their Little House on the Prairie inspired lines of fabrics, available in quilt shops nationwide. To see more of Linda’s work, or to learn about the classes and lectures she offers, visit her website at www.lindahalpin.com.

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Learn more about Death on the Prairie, and all of the Chloe Ellefson Mysteries, on my website.

Gunpowder and Tea Cakes

February 15, 2017

Gunpowder and Tea Cakes is my first book about Felicity Merriman, the American Girl character who lives during the Revolutionary War. It also features a modern girl who travels back in time and meets Felicity in her home town of Williamsburg, Virginia.

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This was a special project.  I’ve been visiting Williamsburg for a long time!

That's me proudly wearing a tricorn hat in Williamsburg when I was about six years old.

That’s me proudly wearing a tricorn hat in Williamsburg when I was about six years old.

Colonial Williamsburg is a living history museum—the largest in the world! Historians saved many old buildings there and restored them to look as they did in Felicity’s time. Interpreters wearing reproduction clothing help visitors understand what life was like for the people living there over two hundred years ago.

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Williamsburg was the capital of the Virginia colony. Some of the things that happened there led to the Revolutionary War between Great Britain and the American colonies. After American Girl invited me to write this book, I went back to Colonial Williamsburg to do research.

In this picture, a man who is ready to fight the British is arguing with a man who wants to try harder to work problems out peacefully.

A volunteer soldier who is ready to fight the British argues with a man who wants to work problems out peacefully. This type of program helps visitors understand the conflict.

I learned a lot about the Revolutionary War, but I also needed to know everyday things, such as how to describe the city…

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Two riders travel down the Duke of Gloucester Street in front of old homes and shops.

and Felicity’s father’s store.

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The items on the shelves all might have been sold in the Merrimans’ store.

I visited busy kitchens,

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An interpreter demonstrating cooking over an open fire.

and shops.

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The shoemaker at work.

 

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This lady is an expert wigmaker.

I especially wanted to learn what life was like for girls like Felicity in the 1770s.

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Flying a kite on the Duke of Gloucester Street.

 

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The type of doll Felicity might have played with.

I also paid attention to what kids visiting today were most interested in.

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A young visitor asks an interpreter a question at the apothecary.

 

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Two girls getting into the spirit of colonial life in their pretty hats!

As I explored Williamsburg, I started imagining scenes I wanted to write.  Since Gunpowder and Tea Cakes is a time-travel book, I also imagined how a modern girl might react to everything.

And I asked lots and lots of questions.  The interpreters I met were great!

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Before writing the book I did lots of other kinds of research too. But we’re lucky that Colonial Williamsburg exists as a living museum, to help provide just a glimpse of an important time in America’s history.

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Bringing Laura Ingalls Wilder’s Stories to Life in Quilts – Part 1

February 14, 2017

I’m delighted to welcome my talented friend Linda Halpin to the blog! Linda is a quilt instructor and historian—and a Laura Ingalls Wilder fan.

* * *

Linda Halpin Pepin

Linda Halpin with one of her beautiful quilts at the replica Ingalls cabin in Pepin, WI.

Like many, my adventure with Laura started in grade school when I was captivated by her stories. This was long before television brought her to life. She lived in my head, made real by her story telling. As a child, I too began sewing at an early age, so whenever Laura mentioned sewing, it struck a chord. I remember her telling of how Ma expected her to do her job over until it was done well.

That pesky Bear’s Track quilt block she was making in On The Banks of Plum Creek, with so many bias edges that had to be done over and over until it was right.

The Doves in the Window quilt she made as a little girl that she packed into her trunk in These Happy Golden Years as she gathered belongings for her new life as Almanzo’s wife.

And it all started with the Nine Patch blocks she and Mary learned their sewing skills on.  What were these patterns?  What did they look like?

Nine patch quilt (National Museum of American History, 321804.)

Nine patch quilt, c. 1890-1900, maker unknown.  (National Museum of American History, 321804.)

Fast forward many years:  I had become a quilt teacher, leading classes for quilt shops and guilds across the country.  One day, a young mom came into a shop where I was teaching.  She was looking for a book that had patterns that tied in with the Little House stories.  They were her daughter’s favorite books, and she wanted to teach her daughter how to quilt.  What better way than to do it through quilt blocks that told Laura’s story?

Why hadn’t I thought of it before?  It was the perfect project for me to undertake.  I began with re-reading the entire Little House series of books, this time making note of all the times Laura mentioned quilts and fabric and sewing.  Imagine my surprise to find over 70 references!  Stitching truly was a part of her every day life.

As I made note of the patterns Laura mentioned, her adventures also brought to mind several quilt blocks that would be perfect to help tell her story:  Log Cabin, Schoolhouse, Trail of the Covered Wagon.

Log cabin quilt,1850-1875, maker unknown. (National Museum of American History, 234821)

Log cabin quilt,c. 1850-1875, maker unknown. (National Museum of American History, 234821)

By the time I was done, I had gathered 14 patterns that I thought would be perfect as a teaching tool that linked quilting and Little House.  Quilting with Laura:  Patterns Inspired by the “Little House On The Prairie” Series was published in 1991, with revisions and reprinting in 2015.

quilting with Laura

It has been the perfect way to tell Laura’s story in fabrics, picking and choosing the block designs most appealing to the maker.

* * *

Here are some of the quilts Linda has made to show how the individual block patterns in her book can be put together in different ways.

Andover Fabrics has twice invited Linda to make a display quilt using their Little House on the Prairie-inspired line. The 2015 quilt is shown at the top of the page; this one was created in 2016.

Andover Fabrics has twice invited Linda to make a display quilt using their Little House on the Prairie-inspired line. The 2015 quilt is shown at the top of the page; this one was created in 2016.

 

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This one uses 9 of the block patterns available in Linda’s book, Quilting With Laura.

 

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A sampler using some of the blue and red tones that would have been available for Laura’s use.

 

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Linda designed this Wisconsin-themed quilt for Millhouse Quilts in Waunakee, WI.

* * *

Linda Halpin has been teaching quiltmaking across the United States and Canada for over 40 year. She is one of a handful of teachers certified by the Embroiderer’s Guild of America as a Quiltmaking Instructor. In addition to Quilting with Laura, which focuses on hand piecing, the way Laura would have done, she has also written several other quiltmaking books as well as The Little House Sampler pattern, which is geared toward today’s machine piecing techniques. She was invited both in 2015 and 2016 by Andover Fabrics of New York to make quilts for them using their Little House on the Prairie inspired lines of fabrics, available in quilt shops nationwide. To see more of Linda’s work, or to learn about the classes and lectures she offers, visit her website at www.lindahalpin.com

* * *

Next time, Linda will share how she came to create a quilt for my Chloe Ellefson mystery, Death on the Prairie!

Giveaway Winners

February 9, 2017

Congratulations to Jennifer Motl!  Jennifer won a personalized copy of Death on the Prairie:  A Chloe Ellefson Mystery.  (All of the other winners came from my Facebook page, where we had over a thousand entries!)

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Thanks to all who entered!

Gratitude Giveaway!

February 7, 2017

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Laura Ingalls Wilder was born on this date in a log cabin in the ‘big woods’ near Pepin, WI. Laura’s beloved Little House books were some of the earliest I read as a child, and certainly influenced my career.

In gratitude, I’m giving away 15 personalized copies of my Laura-related Chloe Ellefson mystery, Death on the Prairie.

To enter the giveaway, leave a comment below before midnight on Wednesday, 2/8/17. Winners will be chosen from entries here and on my Facebook page, and announced on Thursday.

Chloe’s Book Club Returns

February 6, 2017

I enjoyed discussing the Little House books with readers last year after Death on the Prairie:  A Chloe Ellefson Mystery was published. I’ve had some requests to pick up where we left off.  What better time to start than Laura Ingalls Wilder’s 150th birthday month?

Dust off your copy of Little Town on the Prairie, and in a few weeks we’ll chat. I hope you’ll join the conversation!

Little Town on the Prairie

Chloe 8 Reveal!

January 30, 2017

I am delighted to share the news that I hit “Send” last night, turning in the manuscript for the 8th Chloe Ellefson mystery, Mining For Justice.

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Chloe Ellefson is excited to be learning about Wisconsin’s early Cornish immigrants and mining history while on temporary assignment at Pendarvis, a historic site in charming Mineral Point. 

But when her boyfriend, police officer Roelke McKenna, discovers long-buried human remains in the root cellar of an old Cornish cottage, Chloe reluctantly agrees to dig into the historical record for answers.

She soon finds herself in the center of a heated and deadly controversy that threatens to close Pendarvis. While struggling to help the historic site, Chloe must unearth dark secrets, past and present . . . before a killer comes to bury her.

Pendarvis is a fascinating site, and Mineral Point is a fascinating town…perfect setting for a mystery!

Mining For Justice will be out in October, 2017, and is available for pre-order now (Amazon now; more vendors to come).

Gifts From The Heart

December 20, 2016

In A Memory of Musketsthe 7th Chloe Ellefson mystery, I had one of my Civil War-era characters, Rosina, make a housewife. In period parlance, housewives (or “hussies” as they were sometimes called) were little sewing kits. Women often made them as parting gifts for husbands, sons, or sweethearts who were leaving for war.

My dear friend Lynn has been studying antique housewives for years, and agreed to share photos of some of her favorites. The jpg files she sent were labeled “Gifts From The Heart.” I can’t think of any better title to convey the care and concern women stitched into these housewives.

Lynn wrote, “I love them all and often imagine the story in each one.” I’m grateful to her for sharing, and I hope they help you imagine the stories as well.

Look at the detail in this one.

Each housewife is unique. Lynn notes that the housewives were often the width they were because that is the exact size of bonnet ribbon ties, which were often used to line the housewives, along with fabric scraps.

Some women embroidered her soldier’s initials or regiment on the housewife. The stitching on this one identifies the owner as a member of the 1st regiment, company F. (State unknown).

By the end of the war, many of the housewives were well worn.

I love the fabrics used in this one—different, but clearly chosen to complement each other.

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This one was designed to be rolled up instead of folded.

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The strings on the first example below would tie the housewife closed. Pockets might hold a thimble, thread, a bar of soap, or some patent medicine. Flaps were added to store pins and needles. Some women tucked in a lock of their hair or a small image or note.

Lynn has also found newspaper clippings inside housewives. A clipping in one of the housewives in her collection was folded into a star shape.

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Each of these is a treasure. Each represents both the woman who made it, and the man who received it. In this holiday season, they are a reminder that gifts from the heart, however simple, are always the best.

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.

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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!