Archive for the ‘Mill City Museum’ Category

Buttercup Cake – 1930s

May 20, 2015

Welcome to Cooking With Chloe! We’re still celebrating the baked goods explored in Tradition of Deceit. This week we have another tasty recipe from Gold Medal Flour, Buttercup Cake with Buttercup Icing. Michelle L. tried the recipe for us.

The verdict: Everyone in my family thought it was delicious, and it smelled heavenly.

Michelle documented the process, and shared the notes and photos below.

Buttercup Cake

Buttercup Cake

1. Gather all of the ingredients and necessary utensils.

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2. Cream shortening , add sugar gradually, and cream until fluffy.

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3. Blend in well beaten eggs.

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4. Sift flour, baking powder, baking soda, and salt together.

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5. Stir flour mixture and buttermilk alternately into creamed mixture.

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6. Blend in flavorings.

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7. Pour into greased and floured pan. (Recipe calls for 2 8-inch round cake pans, but I used a 13 x 9 inch pan.)

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8. Bake at 350° for 30 to 35 minutes.

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9. When cake is cool, spread Buttercup Icing on cake.

Buttercup Icing

Buttercup Icing

1. Combine egg whites, sugar, and water in top of double boiler and beat together until blended.

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2. Place over rapidly boiling water, and beat with a rotary beater until mixture is white and very light. Icing is done when it holds its shape when beater is pulled out. This will take about 4 to 5 minutes, depending on size of boiler and vigor of beating. Remove from heat.

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3. Beat in flavorings and then beat occasionally until icing is cool.

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4. When icing is thoroughly cool carefully fold in very soft (but not melted) butter.

 5. Spread icing on cake and enjoy!

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I wasn’t sure if the amount of flour was before or after being sifted. I looked in an old cookbook and decided it is after sifting.

It took longer for the frosting to hold its shape than the recipe said it would, but that is probably because I don’t have a rotary beater and used a wire whisk. (I would have tried using an electric mixer but there isn’t an outlet close enough to the gas stove.)

The blend of vanilla, almond, lemon, and orange extract smelled heavenly. I used the same blend in the frosting. (My husband said the frosting tasted just like his Grandma’s.)

I served the cake to after dinner to the family and everyone thought it was delicious.

I would definitely make this recipe again.

# # #

Huge thanks to Michelle for sharing her time and talents with us! I can’t wait to try this one.

Old-Time Molasses Cake – 1930s (Gluten Free)

May 12, 2015

Welcome to Cooking With Chloe! The celebration of food explored in Tradition of Deceit continues.  This week we have another wonderful recipe from Gold Medal Flour, Old-Time Molasses Cake. Colette B. tried the recipe for us.

Molasses Cake 1 Molasses Cake 2

The verdict: An absolutely delicious gingerbread…better than my great-grandmother’s recipe!

Colette adapted the recipe for those with a gluten intolerance. (In general I ask test-bakers to stick to the recipe, but I knew this would be helpful for many readers.)  Her notes and photos are below:

I just followed the directions! Super easy!

I did, however, make a few substitutions to this recipe. Because I have a gluten intolerance, I used gluten-free flour rather than Gold Medal flour and added 1 ½ teaspoons of xanthan gum. (I mix my own blend of GF flour, but I recommend using King Arthur brand of GF flour if you buy your flour.)

I also used butter rather than shortening and used plain, unsweetened kefir in place of the “thick sour milk” called for in the recipe. I read that buttermilk is also a common substitute for thick sour milk, so that might work too. I don’t think any of these substitutions had any effect on the recipe…it was great!

This recipe is quite similar to my great-grandmother’s gingerbread recipe, which is one of my family’s favorites, but it was a richer-tasting cake because of the “thick sour milk” (or kefir or buttermilk). The Gold Medal recipe was easy to follow and quick to make; it produced a very smooth batter and ultimately a moist gingerbread that had a lot of molasses and mild spice flavor. And the kitchen smelled wonderful while the cake was baking 🙂 We all loved it!

Photo 1: Butter, sugar, molasses, egg. If it wasn’t for the raw egg, I would have eaten this…it smelled so good!

Molasses Cake 1

Photo 2: Dry ingredients ready to be mixed in.

Molasses Cake 2

Photo 3: Batter all mixed and ready to pour into pan.

Molasses Cake 3

The only issue I had was the baking time. The recipe says to bake at 325 for 50 minutes, so I did. After 50 minutes, the edges looked and felt like they were done, but the center still was not fully baked; the cake had a dip in the center because of this. I put the heat up to 350 and left the cake in for another 15-20 minutes. At that point, the center was baked but still dipped; I felt that it could have used a bit more cooking but didn’t want to leave it in any longer since the edges were a bit crisp on top. I think that baking the cake at 350 for maybe 40-50 minutes would result in a more even bake.

Photo 4: The cake at the end of the baking time called for in the recipe. It’s a little hard to see, but you can just make out the dip in the middle of the cake where the batter isn’t quite set.

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Photo 5: The finished cake. Yum!

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Many thanks to Colette for doing a trial run of this recipe for us—and especially for making a gluten-free version!

Ginger Creams – 1929

April 22, 2015

Welcome to Cooking with Chloe! Alice and Elizabeth, another mother-daughter team, tested Ginger Creams for us, a Gold Medal recipe.

Ginger Creams

This cookie was named a Betty Crocker Prize Recipe in 1929.

The verdict:  The cookies were delicious, and got even better the next day. 

The notes and photos below are from Alice and Elizabeth:

image1 Ginger Creams

First step was to cream the shortening, adding sugar gradually. Key components to cookie baking include using mixing bowls that belonged to Alice’s grandma and the oldest wooden spoon in the house.

image3 Ginger Creams

We followed the directions exactly. Lots of flour!

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We chilled the dough for about 30 minutes. Chilling longer between batches did not make a difference—it’s soft dough.

We made the frosting and ate lunch while dough chilled.

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The frosting was delicious. We recommend sifting the powdered sugar, but it works fine if you don’t. Be sure to use heavy cream!

image4 Ginger Creams Check oven. Bake cookies at 400 degrees for about 7.5 minutes. (We started with 8 minutes but reduced the time.) It smelled like Christmastime while they baked!

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There was no difference between using parchment paper or greasing the cookie sheet. Make sure to remove the cookies from the sheet immediately after they come out of oven.

Frost while still warm.

image7 Ginger Creams

The cookies were delicious, and got even better the next day.  Elizabeth found them tasty with red wine.

***

Alice and Elizabeth were kind enough to bring these to a Chloe program I gave at a local library, so I can attest that these are delicious! The light glaze provided the perfect complement to the spices in the cookies, and the soft texture was a pleasant change from traditional gingersnaps.

Ginger Creams

Huge thanks to Alice and Elizabeth for trying the recipe, and sharing the results! These cookies would be the perfect accompaniment to a book group discussion of Tradition of Deceit, but your family will thank you for baking them too.

Apple Pie With Cheese Crust – 1934

April 16, 2015

Welcome to Cooking With Chloe!

I love collecting historic and/or ethnic recipes while working on each Chloe Ellefson mystery. Since Tradition of Deceit features the flour mill that gave us Gold Medal Flour and Betty Crocker—not to mention the Mill City Museum, which also celebrates the history of Pillsbury and other mills—I ended up with stacks of recipes.  Fortunately, some adventurous readers volunteered to test some for me.

The mother-daughter team of Jen and Brianna wondered if I might have a recipe that would connect both the Chloe Ellefson mysteries and an American Girl character. Well, in 1936, Gold Medal Flour celebrated Betty Crocker’s 15th anniversary with a special booklet featuring a single prize recipe for each year, 1921-1936.

Betty Crocker's 15 Prize Recipes

Jen and Brianna agreed to try the 1934 star recipe, Apple Pie With Cheese Crust, in honor of Kit, AG’s Depression-era character.

The verdict:  It turned out to be the best apple pie I have ever made.

Here’s the recipe, with Jen and Brianna’s photos and tips:

Apple Pie With Cheese Crust
2 cups Gold Medal “Kitchen Tested” Flour
1 t. salt
5/8 cup shortening (10 tbsp.)
Ice water (about 6 tbsp.)
½ cup grated Wisconsin cheese
2 tbsp. butter
7 large sweet apples
1 cup sugar
1/8 to ¼ cup water (depending on how dry the apples are)
1 tsp. cinnamon
1 tbsp. butter

METHOD: Sift flour once before measuring. Sift flour and salt together. Cut in shortening with two knives or a pastry blender leaving it in lumps about the size of large peas.

Cut In Shortening - Apple Pie

Add just enough ice water to make dough stay together.

Pat together and round up on cloth-covered board (using flour rubbed into the cloth to keep dough from sticking). Divide dough in half, and roll out one-half to fit the pie pan. Put into pan very loosely to avoid stretching. Let pan rest on table while cutting off extra dough beyond edge of pan. Put in refrigerator to chill.

Roll out other half of dough and sprinkle with the grated cheese. Dot surface with 2 tbsp. of butter.

Sprinkle Butter Cheese

Roll up like a jelly roll.

Jelly Roll Cheese - Apple Pie

Fold so that the two ends meet in the center and fold again—chill.

Fold In Sides

Peel apples and cut into thin slices. (Put in cold salt water to keep apples from discoloring.) Make a syrup of the sugar and water, add the apple slices and cook just long enough to soften and slightly glaze the apples—about 10 minutes. (Avoid stirring so that slices will hold their shape.)

Fill pastry-lined pan with the drained cooked apples (save remaining syrup). Sprinkle with cinnamon and dot with the tbsp. of butter.

Roll out cheese pastry to fit top of pie.

Roll Top Crust - Apple Pie

Fold in half making several cuts through which steam may escape. Lay folded crust gently on top of filling, unfold so that entire surface is covered. Press the 2 edges together firmly and build up a fluted edge.

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Bake. When baked pour the remaining syrup through the slits in the pie.

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TIME: Bake 30 minutes.
TEMPERATURE: 350 F., moderate oven.
SIZE OF PAN: Deep 9-inch pie pan.

Here are notes from Jen:

I was extremely skeptical about this recipe from the start, and all the way through the process actually!  I have made apple pie many times from scratch, but this 1934 recipe was pretty different from any others I have seen.  It also turned out to be the best apple pie I have ever made.

My daughter, age 10, and I worked together on the recipe.  We prepared it 1934-style, with no food processor and our dishwasher was broken to make things even more realistic!

The crust came together easily and rolled out nicely.  We sprinkled the top crust with the required Wisconsin cheddar and diced butter, rolled the whole thing up jelly-roll style, and folded the ends in (think of a snake’s head meeting its tail) to make a new ball of dough.  We chilled it well.

When it was time to roll out the top crust for the second time, the cheese and butter integrated very well.

As for the apple filling, skepticism also reigned here.  I used a combination of Granny Smith and Golden Delicious apples, as each were on sale for $1.00 a pound.  I was doubtful about fitting seven apples in my pie dish, but indeed, when cooked down that quantity works.  I had a lot of liquid released by the cooked apples.  I drained the apples with a slotted spoon.

The recipe asks you to place and crimp the top crust and then put the liquid back in through the holes cut in the top crust.  This was difficult and trying.  I would suggest letting your apples cool, and then adding them and whatever amount of sugary liquid you wish to add, and then put the top crust on.  I think that this would be difficult with hot apples, thus the need to cool them first.  I estimate I got about 1/4 cup of liquid in through the holes, and my filling was not runny or watery.

Thirty minutes might be too little time for some bakers. I baked my pie for an hour.

You must try this technique for the top crust!  It was flavorful, a bit savory, and vaguely like a cheese straw.  It would also be amazing as a top crust to a pot pie.

We are converts to this recipe from Kit’s era.  When I told my Grandmother, age 94, about it, she said she remembers dried apple pies being popular during Kit’s time.  Another recipe to track down!
***
Huge thanks to Jen and Brianna for kitchen-testing the recipe for us!  You may also want to check out their fun website, Dolls Between Us.

Cooking With Betty Crocker—and Chloe

April 14, 2015

When I was writing Tradition of Deceit, I marveled at the connections between the the Mill City Museum, one of the settings, and popular American culture. The museum was created within what was once the Washburn-Crosby A Mill. You may not have heard of Washburn-Crosby, but chances are good you’ve heard of Gold Medal Flour.

Gold Medal Flour

The company also created Betty Crocker, one of the most successful advertising personas of all time.

As early as the 1890s, the company published recipe pamphlets and cookbooks to promote their products.

1910 Cookbook - Version 2

1910 Cook Book

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This one isn’t dated.

But things didn’t really get rolling until 1921, when an ad featured jumbled puzzle pieces. Anyone who arranged the pieces and returned the puzzle would receive a pincushion resembling a tiny Gold Medal Flour Sack. Advertising staff were astonished to receive 30,000 completed puzzles!

Gold Medal Flour puzzle

A facsimile of the original puzzle, now available for visitors to assemble at the Mill City Museum.

Many of the women who sent in the puzzle were looking for baking advice in addition to the token prize. The company made a decision to create a fictitious woman to reply to queries. Betty Crocker was born—a single face and name to represent the women of the Gold Medal Home Services staff.

In 1921, women were generally expected to know how to manage a kitchen and feed her family. Betty Crocker became a trusted source of accurate information, and soon became known for “kitchen-tested” recipes. In 1926, Betty offered homemakers a wooden recipe box filled with “delightful new recipes” for 70 cents.

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A few years later, cooks could tune into the Gold Medal Radio Station to hear  “The Betty Crocker Service Program” and “The Betty Crocker Cooking School of the Air.” Both were huge hits.

Radio program ad

Mill City Museum exhibit.

Cooking School

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A few of the cards I’ve collected have this typewriter look. I’m not sure what that signifies.  (If you know, please share!)

Betty Crocker proved herself able to change with the times. During the Great Depression, she helped cooks prepare thrifty meals for their families.  When World War II brought rationing, Betty was ready to provide appropriate recipes.

In the beginning, Betty Crocker’s “identity” was a deep, dark secret. Many home cooks assumed she was a real person. In time, as media changed, the company revealed that Betty was a fabrication representing the collective wisdom and practical experience of the company’s home economists.

Betty’s look also evolved over the years.

Betty Crocker exhibit

The changing faces of Betty Crocker. Mill City Museum.

The Mill City Museum includes a Baking Lab, open daily, where guests can learn more. Special events often feature particular recipes or trends.

Baking lab, Mill City Museum

If you’d like to read more about the history of Betty Crocker, I recommend Finding Betty Crocker:  The Secret Life of America’s First Lady Of Food, by Susan Marks (University of Minnesota Press, 2007). If, like me, you grew up with Betty Crocker cookbooks, you’ll likely enjoy discovering the backstory as much as I did.

***

I’ve always looked for relevant ethnic and/or historic recipes while researching and writing the Chloe Ellefson mysteries, and love hearing from readers who shared the dishes with family or friends. Well, I collected a lot of old recipes while working on Tradition of Deceit. With help from some wonderful reader-volunteers, I’ll be sharing more recipes here. The first “Cooking With Chloe” post will go up later this week.  Enjoy!

Tunnel of Fudge Cake

April 7, 2015

I had not heard of the Tunnel of Fudge Cake until I began doing research while writing Tradition of Deceit (the 5th Chloe Ellefson mystery), which celebrates Minnesota’s flour milling history and the Mill City Museum. As soon as I heard the name, I knew Chloe would love it. When I heard it was probably the most popular recipe in the history of Pillsbury’s famous Bake-Off, I knew I wanted to include it in the book.

The recipe was developed by Ella Helfrich of Houston. In 1966 it placed second in the Bake-Off, but was chosen to grace the cover of that year’s recipe booklet.  Baked in a bundt pan, the cake emerged with a molten center. The recipe was a sensation.

BakeOffCover Cake - Version 2

It also made the bundt pan, invented in 1950 by H. David Dalquist (who with his brother founded Nordic Ware) a sensation. His lightweight version of a heavier European ceramic version had seen disappointing sales, but after the Tunnel of Fudge Cake became a phenomenon, sales boomed. Pillsbury alone received 200,000 requests for the pan.

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Original cast-aluminum bundt pan, now in the Smithsonian Institution collection.

The original recipe called for Pillsbury’s Double Dutch Frosting mix. Great consternation ensued when, some years later, Pillsbury stopped production of the packaged mix.

Pillsbury has produced an updated recipe, available HERE on their website. Their photo (below) shows a gooey center completely surrounded by chocolate cake.  That’s the recipe I decided to try.

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(Pillsbury.com)

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I of course used Pillsbury BEST flour.

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As directed, I did not skimp on the nuts.

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I baked the cake the allotted time, and let it cool as directed.

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I finished it off with glaze—a new twist in the updated version.

All seemed good, so at long last and with great anticipation I cut a slice of cake.

The expected tunnel of gooey fudge was not in evidence. At all.

I reviewed the recipe. I’d measured ingredients exactly. I’d even checked the oven temperature with a thermometer.

However, I had strayed in one regard. The recipe calls for using an electric mixer to blend butter, sugars, and eggs, and then stirring in flour, cocoa, and nuts by hand. I have limited hand strength, and so always use my mixer on lowest speed when recipes call for stirring something in by hand. It’s never presented a problem before.

Since I couldn’t see where else I might have gone wrong, however, I started over. This time the appropriate ingredients were duly stirred by hand.

tunnel of fudge cake

Cake #2 cooling in the pan.

tunnel of fudge cake

I decided to skip the glaze this time.

The recipe calls for cooling the cake in the pan for 1-1/2 hours, then on a wire rack for at least 2 hours. Bloggers don’t agree on the best route to true gooeyness—some said the rest time is essential; others, that the fudge factor is highest if the cake is not allowed to cool completely. I was impatient by this time, so I decided to cut the cake after it came out of the pan.

tunnel of fudge cake

This time there definitely was a gooey center surrounded by a cakey edge. It didn’t look nearly as pudding-like as the photos showed, but it tasted good.

Would the tunnel have been more pronounced if I’d let the cake cool for another two hours? Perhaps. I don’t pretend to understand the chemistry involved. Pillsbury’s test bakers say the nuts are essential; a few bloggers claim success without including nuts. The cake is very rich and sweet, but I didn’t tinker with the quantities (I often cut sugar in recipes by as much as half) because that, too, affects the chemistry.

For the moment I’ve declared victory, but I do intend to try again. If you try the recipe, or have memories of it, I hope you’ll let me know!

The Mill City Museum occasionally features the recipe in their baking lab. I’ve never been able to visit on Tunnel of Fudge day, but I expect that many question could be answered there. The next Baking Memories:  Tunnel of Fudge Cake event is coming up on Saturday, May 2, 2015.

 

The Grand National Recipe and Baking Contest

March 11, 2015

Although housed in the former Gold Medal Flour mill, the Mill City Museum interprets the broader story of flour milling in Minneapolis. The old Pillsbury Flour mill sits right across the river.

View from the observation tower at the Mill City Museum.

View from the observation tower at the Mill City Museum.

And you can’t talk about Pillsbury history without mentioning the famous Bake-Off (R).

In 1949, Pillsbury celebrated its 80th birthday by sponsoring a “Grand National Recipe and Baking Contest.” Thousands of home bakers sent entries. The one hundred lucky finalists were invited to bake their original creations at the Waldorf-Astoria Hotel. Eleanor Roosevelt was the honored guest.

The Waldorf Hotel back in 1893.  (Wikipedia)

The Waldorf Hotel back in 1893. (Wikipedia)

Can you imagine how exciting (and nerve-racking) the experience must have been for women (and a few men) who’d never  received any acknowledgment for their skill? The Grand Prize when to Theodora Smafield for her No-Knead Water-Rising Twists.

The response was so great that company executives decided to make the contest an ongoing event. The media called it a “bake-off,” and the company adopted and trademarked the name.

In the early years, the only required ingredient was Pillsbury’s BEST Flour. Scratch cakes dominated the entries for a decade or so. Other favorites included muffins, pies, and cookies.

Pillsbury Bake-Off Collection, Archives Center, National Museum of American History

Mrs. Verna Phelan’s first-prize winner, 1958.  Pillsbury Bake-Off Collection, Archives Center, National Museum of American History

As the years went by, the contest reflected social changes. In 1969, as more and more women juggled family life with careers, a recipe using convenient refrigerated dough won the grand prize for the first time. Later themes included Regional American Foods, Family Favorites, and Ethnic Recipes.

Mill City Museum Bake-off Exhibit.

In 1996, the contest began celebrating “quick and easy” dishes. That year also saw the first male winner claim the Grand Prize. In 2014, for the first time, judges narrowed the field to four finalists and invited the public to vote for their favorite.

2014 Bake-Off cookbook

A few of the recipes that missed Grand Prize status went on to become part of American food culture. Freda Smith invented Peanut Butter Blossoms in 1957, when she realized she had no chocolate chips in her cupboard and decided to improvise. She baked her cookies and placed a Hersheys Kiss in the center of each hot cookie when it came out of the oven. Her family proclaimed the invention a hit, and ultimately Hersheys promoted the recipe.

Probably the most famous Bake-Off recipe is the Tunnel of Fudge Cake, Ella Rita Helfrich’s second-place winner of 1966.  (I found that so intriguing that I included it in Tradition of Deceit.  I knew Chloe would love it.) More on that one later.

Pillsbury celebrated the 50th anniversary of the Bake-Off by creating a Bake-Off Hall of Fame within the Smithsonian’s National Museum of American History. “We wanted to recognize the most popular of our Bake-Off recipes,” said John N. Lilly, President of Pillsbury North America. “…These are real recipes from real people.  They are as terrific today as they were when they were first developed.” (Press release, May 25, 1999)

Ten recipes were chosen, “based on enduring consumer popularity,” to be inducted into the hall of fame:

1. Chocolate Praline Layer Cake (Julie Konecne Bengtson, MN)
2. Crescent Caramel Swirl (Lois Ann Groves, CO)
3. Dilly Casserole Bread (Leona Schnuelle, NE)

Dilly Casserole Bread

(Pillsbury.com)

4. French Silk Chocolate Pie (Betty Cooper, MD)
5. Italian Zucchini Crescent Pie (Millicent Caplan Nathan, FL)
6. Magic Marshmallow Crescent Puffs (Edna Holmgren Walker, MN)

19735a42-3e4c-424e-b4d9-94ce3baf122d

(Pillsbury.com)

7. Peanut Blossoms (Freda Smith, OH)
8. Poppin’ Fresh Barbecups (Peter Russell, CA)

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(Pillsbury.com)

9. Salted Peanut Chews (Gertrude Schweitzerhof, CA)
10. Tunnel of Fudge Cake (Ella Rita Helfrich, TX)

For more Bake-Off history, check out the photos, video, and recipes on the Pillsbury site.

You can also spend some happy hours with one of the many Bake-Off cookbooks.

Best of the Bake-Off

Want to learn more?  At 2 PM on March 29, 2015, the Mill City Museum is featuring “Pillsbury Bake-Off Through the Years.”  See how history is revealed in a demonstration of Chocolate Cherry Bars, a Bake-Off winning recipe from 1974. Learn about the 60-year history of the Pillsbury Bake-Off, sample treats, get baking tips and take home a copy of the recipe.

I grew up eating Peanut Butter Blossoms, and only recently discovered the recipe’s origin.  Are there any Bake-Off favorites at your house?

Meet Pawel

December 8, 2014

Often in the Chloe books, a very minor character ends up being among the most memorable. I discovered this when The Heirloom Murders (the 2nd Chloe Ellefson Historic Sites mystery) was published. Many readers wrote to me about Johann and Frieda, even though the elderly couple were only briefly onstage.

In Tradition of Deceit, the 5th volume in the series, a Polish immigrant named  Pawel appears in the historical plotline. Pawel lives in The Bohemian Flats neighborhood in Minneapolis. He works at the Washburn-Crosby Mill, one of the loaders who move packed barrels of flour to the rail corridor within the mill.

Pawel 1

This illustration from a 19th-century article shows a packer at work. Once each barrel was filled, the lid was nailed on top and it was ready to go.

A full barrel of flour weighed 196 pounds. In 1882, the mill produced 1,500 barrels a day; that increased to 10,000 by 1900. Loaders also hauled sacks of flour weighing up to 100 pounds. This exhausting, entry-level work often went to immigrants.

Pawel 2

General Mills included this engraving from the 1880s in a 20th-century ad.

In Tradition of Deceit, Pawel’s story begins in the spring of 1878. Magdalena, who runs the boarding house where Pawel is living, notes of the men coming home:

The men looked like ghosts. Flour dusted their hair, their skin, their clothes. Tiny balls of sweat-caked flour caught on the hairs along their arms.

Pawel was a big man with massive shoulders and corded muscles. He spent his 12-hour shifts rolling 196-lb. barrels of flour from the packing machines into train cars. He was part of the Polish Eagles, a six-man crew that usually bested other packing teams when challenged to a race.   No one would pick a fight with Pawel.

But unlike some of the other laborers, Pawel had a gentle manner. His face was broad and plain, his hair the color of dried mud, his hands huge. No one would call him handsome, but Magdalena liked him. She thought he liked her. Maybe, she thought, just maybe…

Pawel pulled a rag from his pocket and dabbed at his eyes. “Was the dust bad today?” Magdalena asked. The men often came home with red-rimmed, watering eyes.

“As bad as I’ve ever seen it,” Pawel admitted. “So thick in the air that I couldn’t see my hand at the end of my arm.”

Mill City Museum - loaders

Illustration from an interpretive panel at the Mill City Museum

It’s difficult to find primary source material for characters like Pawel, but as I thought about those early loaders, two things struck me. First, the work was incredibly difficult.

Second, many of the men who stuck it out made the best of it.  They formed teams, and the loading competitions became legendary.  I love imagining these burly men not just loading the barrels or sacks into train cars, but doing it as fast as humanly possible.

Mill City Museum exhibit

Mill City Museum exhibit.

If you visit the Mill City Museum, you can walk through the rail corridor, and peek inside an original train car.

Mill City Museum Rail Corridor

Exhibits preserve some of the machines once used in flour mills…

Mill City Museum

and make it easy to imagine the many men who once worked so hard to keep flour moving out of the mill.

Mill City Museum

Old-Time Cinnamon Jumbles

November 12, 2014

Like Chloe Ellefson, protagonist of my historic sites mysteries, I love to bake. Historic foodways are most fun of all. Tradition of Deceit sees Chloe visiting the site destined to become the Mill City Museum in Minneapolis, which is all about historic baking. Since I’m an experiential kind of author, I’ve been busy in the kitchen.

The Mill City Museum is located in the former A Mill of the Washburn Crosby Company. Washburn Crosby Company began publishing cookbooks in the 1890s. In the 1920s-1930s, the Gold Medal Home Services Department made recipe boxes filled with cards available as premiums to home bakers. The cards were wildly popular.

I purchased a set online, and after thumbing through, this is the recipe I wanted to try first.

CinnamonJumblesRecipeFront450w

 

CinnamonJumblesRecipeBack450w

I planned to follow this recipe exactly. I used Gold Medal Flour and dutifully beat the eggs before adding them.

beating eggs

I even got out my vintage sifter.

As directed, I baked the first pan for 9 minutes, then removed the pan to add the cinnamon/sugar mixture. However, the cookies were already so set that most of the sprinkling didn’t bake into the cookies, and instead fell off when I removed the pan again 3 minutes later. (Perhaps my oven doesn’t match what was in the test kitchen.)

version 1 jumbles

So I felt compelled to tinker. On the next pan, I sprinkled the topping onto the cookies prior to putting the pan into the oven. That worked better, but wasn’t quite right either.

version 2 jumbles

These cookies don’t spread much while baking, so the rough contours of the dough after being dropped from the spoon remained. Most, but not all, of the topping stayed in place.

Finally I sprinkled the cookies and then flattened the cookies slightly with a spoon before baking. This pressed the cinnamon/sugar into the dough, and removed the rough contours from the cookie. (The dough was so soft that it was impossible to flatten slightly before adding the topping.)

versioni 3 jumbles

The third pan.  Much better.

versioni 3 jumbles

Ah—a perfect cookie.

3 sample jumbles

For comparison: first batch on the left, second batch on the top, and the final batch on the right.

The only other discrepancy was that I ended up with 4 dozen cookies, not 5 dozen. I’m sure that’s because I automatically dropped dough based on modern norms, instead of paying more attention and making smaller cookies as directed.

These cookies are light, moist, and delicious however you handle the topping. I suspect that your family—or book discussion group—will love them!

jumbles

PS – The recipe for Rolled Sour Cream Cookies sounds good too.  If anyone tries it, let me know how they come out!

Polish Heritage

September 18, 2014

In previous Chloe books I’ve featured Norwegian, Swiss, and Danish culture. When I began conceptualizing Tradition of Deceit, the 5th Chloe Ellefson Historic Sites mystery, I knew I wanted to celebrate a different ethnic group.

The first time I toured the Mill City Museum, where some of the book is set, the guide told us that the earliest women employees were hired during World War I. The company began packing flour into small five-pound sacks, and managers believed that women were best suited for that job.

Female worker as depicted in an early ad.  Author's collection.

Female worker as depicted in an early ad.

When the guide mentioned that some of the women hired were of Polish descent, I knew which ethnic culture to include in the new book!

I created a plot strand that follows several generations of Polish-American women, and wove their story through Chloe and Roelke’s stories. Magdalena, the first woman, immigrated under very difficult circumstances in the 1870s. The story of Magdalena and her descendants resonates into the modern stories.

At the time Magdalena left Europe, there was no Poland. Poles lived under foreign rule from 1795 to 1918.

Many of them summarized their reason for immigrating succinctly: Za chlebem—For bread. Thousands of desperate people saw no hope of preserving their culture, tilling their own land, or otherwise providing the most basic necessities for themselves and their children in the Old World.

However, some of the Polish immigrants’ vibrant traditions provide a wonderful contrast to the grim struggles many faced in Old World and New. The old postcard below shows folk costumes from the region where my character Magdalena was born.

Polish Lowitcz region

Folk dress from the Lowicz region, by Irena Czarnecka; card printed in Poland. (Author’s collection)

This photo shows the cheerful paper cuttings and ornaments some people made to decorate their homes.

The Open Air Museum of the Łowicz Region Village in Maurzyce

Photo from the Open Air Museum of the Łowicz Region Village in Maurzyce.

And with a plot centered on a flour mill, I simply had to include a few Polish baked goods, such as these filled doughnuts called pączki.

Wikipedia - pączki

(Wikipedia photo).

Some of the customs I discovered became important elements in the murder investigations at the heart of Tradition of Deceit. In weeks to come I’ll share more information about some of the folkart and baking traditions featured in the book. I suspect that Chloe readers will enjoy exploring them as much as I did.

Tradition Of Deceit Cover