Archive for the ‘Mill City Museum’ Category

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.




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!


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


Why the Mill City Museum?

September 7, 2014

In Tradition of Deceit, Chloe visits a friend in Minneapolis to help with a proposal to turn a long-abandoned flour mill into a museum.

Tradition Of Deceit Cover

The mystery is set in 1983, when such discussions and plans were underway. The visionaries were ultimately successful, and the Minnesota Historical Society opened the  Mill City Museum in 2003.

Mill City Museum

So…why did I choose to feature the Mill City Museum in the fifth Chloe Ellefson Historic Sites Mystery?

First, it tells a fascinating story. When the Washburn Mill was completed in 1874, it was the world’s largest flour mill. The production of a basic food item was industrialized for the first time in history.

washburn A mill

Early print (author’s collection).

That building was destroyed within a few years. When it was rebuilt, the new 1880 structure and milling process was the most technologically advanced in the world. Records suggest that the mill at peak capacity could produce enough flour to make 12 million loaves of bread a day.  More mills were constructed nearby, and Minneapolis was known as “The Flour Milling Capital of the World” for about five decades.

Chances are good you can find personal connections to this story in your own kitchen.  The Washburn company’s flour did so well at an early competition that it began packaging it under the name…Gold Medal.

Old Mill-111

(Photo by Kay Klubertanz.)

The marketing department created Betty Crocker.

exhibit Mill City Museum

MCM exhibit.  I inherited a copy of this particular Betty Crocker cookbook from my grandma.

After several mergers, the company became a little entity known as…General Mills.

Second – Baking, baking, baking! I’ve been testing old recipes, and will share favorites in the coming months.


Old Time Cinnamon Jumbles, a yummy Betty Crocker recipe from the 1920s.

Baking Kathleen Ernst

I’m exploring a new (for the Chloe series) ethnic food tradition, too.

Third, the mill’s history in the 1980s was poignant and compelling. After closing in 1965, the mill was empty for years. It provided dubious shelter for many people with nowhere else to go. This let me explore some social issues of the time, and provided a unique setting for a murder mystery.

Homeless Protest Master combined

Star Tribune, May 2, 1990.

Finally, I loved exploring the Mill City Museum…and I think readers will too, whether within the pages of Tradition of Deceit (when the museum was still a dream) or on a field trip to see the real thing. The museum was created around the ruins of the Washburn A Mill (which was largely destroyed by fire in the 1990s).

(Photo by Kay Klubertanz)

(Photo by Kay Klubertanz)

The interpreters are consistently great,

Mill City Museum

I think this interpreter was pointing out dust collectors. After you read Tradition of Deceit, you’ll understand why they were important.

and programming often includes first-person presentations.

Mill City Museum

This interpreter portrayed Mary Dodge Woodward, a widow who moved from Wisconsin to a 1,500-acre “bonanza farm” in the Dakota Territory in 1882.

In addition to traditional exhibits, the museum features a baking lab,

Mill City Museum Baking Lab

Interpreters in the lab help guests understand the science and history of baking…

Baking lab Mill City Museum

…and guests can sample the recipe of the day.

and a  very cool Flour Tower Tour.

Flour Tower Mill City Museum

This special tour—one of the most ingenious interpretive program I’ve ever seen—was created by repurposing an old freight elevator. Guests riding up and down glimpse different aspects of life in the old mill.

Interpreters also lead special behind-the-scenes tours on a regular basis.

Kathleen Ernst Mill City Museum tour

That’s me, scribbling frantically while touring one of the areas not generally open to the public.

I’ll be sharing lots more in future posts.  In the meantime, you can learn more by visiting the Mill City Museum website. I also recommend Mill City: A Visual History of the Minneapolis Mill District published by the Minnesota Historical Society Press.  Have fun exploring!

Mill City Museum


Bonanza Farms

August 21, 2013

Harvest has started.  Now there will be no rest for man, woman, or beast until frost comes.  – Mary Dodge Woodward, August 11, 1885

It’s harvest-time, which reminds me that I had no idea what threshing grain involved until I moved to the Midwest in 1982.

Old World Wisconsin showed the evolution of threshing technology at its three restored German farms, from hand tools to horse-powered machines to the mighty steam engines that powered an enormous threshing machine.  Last fall my friend Marty sent me photo below, which had surfaced in some old files.

That’s me talking with one of the visiting crew, with the Koepsell Farmhouse visible in the background, in 1983.

When I visited the Mill City Museum in Minneapolis, MN, I was again reminded of threshing days. The museum is wonderfully tucked within the ruins of an old flour mill. Many of the exhibits focus on the technology of milling. It’s difficult to present industrial history at an historic site, but the Minnesota Historical Society has done an amazing job of engaging guests in creative ways.

Good interpretation helps visitors make connections. In the context of a flour mill, that meant educators and exhibit designers had to find a way to help people consider not just the mill workers, or even the farmers who raised the grain, but the women who baked with it. Those things had been tangible at Old World Wisconsin. I was curious to see how an indoor museum, without fields of grain and threshing machines and working farm kitchens, would present those concepts.

As it turned out, quite well! A steam engine stands in one corner of the main exhibit floor, near a life-sized photograph of a threshing crew.


A cast-iron cookstove sits nearby, with pans of (faux) food waiting for kids to put in the oven.

These kids got into the spirit by pretending to cook for the threshing crew.

These kids got into the spirit by pretending to cook for the threshing crew.

A long table is set for a threshing dinner.

Threshing crew table, Mill City Museum


Hanging on each chair is a card with a short quote from a man involved with harvest work. And sitting on each plate is a quote from the diary of Mary Dodge Woodward, a widow who moved from Wisconsin to a 1,500-acre “bonanza farm” about 8 miles SW of Fargo  in the Dakota Territory in 1882.


Mary Dodge Woodward, 1880s; from Dodge Genealogy, 1904.


An interpreter portraying Mary Dodge Woodward helped guests understand the enormity of the task facing women who cooked for enormous threshing gangs.

DSCF6926 - Version 2

When the Northern Pacific Railroad was being built, politicians wanted settlement along those tracks, and huge tracts of land were claimed in the name of progress. But when the railroad didn’t pay the dividends some investors had expected, the government stepped in and made huge parcels available—with the promise that all absent landlords needed to do was hire a manager and crew, grow wheat, and reap the financial rewards. The first of these bonanza farms were established in the Red River Valley in the Dakota Territory and Minnesota.


Mary Woodward gives a clear picture of the enormity of feeding the men needed to work a huge wheat farm. Not only did she cook food in colossal proportions, but for three years, she didn’t leave the farm. Books, magazines, and newspapers provided her only links to the outside world. (Her keen observations about the annual agricultural cycles have been published as The Checkered Years:  A Bonanza Farm Diary, 1884-1888. I recommend it.)

When I talk with kids about historical research, I encourage them to approach their topic from as many different directions as possible. It’s a lesson I learn over and over again. While those years hearing and smelling and tasting and watching threshing time at Old World Wisconsin made an indelible impression on me, visiting the Mill City Museum gave me a whole new appreciation of women’s work when the threshing gang arrived.


The Women of Mill City

March 29, 2013

The Mill City Museum in Minneapolis, Minnesota, celebrated Women’s History Month with a fascinating and multi-layered special event.

Mill City Museum

I find it easy to imagine the lives of historical rural women. City women, not so much. Perhaps that’s because most urban historic sites interpret the lives of wealthy people who lived in fancy homes.

Local citizens often rally to save a treasured mansion from the wrecking ball, and God bless ’em for doing so.  There is seldom widespread lamentation, though, when the tenements or nondescript homes middle-class or poor women lived in a century or more ago give way to new development.

The Mill City Museum offers a glimpse the lives of working women. Created among the ruins of what was once the world’s largest flour mill, it tells the story of the flour industry technology and its role in Minneapolis—and global—history. But interpreters and exhibits also shed light on the day-to-day lives of employees.

Mill City Museum

The mill hired its first female workers in 1919.  The “Women of Mill City” event included an experiential glimpse of the work done by female packers. Interpreters explained how fast the women had to work in order to meet their quota. They personalized that history by relating the story of a legendary young woman who worked so efficiently that she was able to take naps during her shift and still make her numbers.

Mill City Museum

Guests were also invited to try their hands at a simulated packing activity. I managed to fill my box with the requisite number of sacks before the stopwatch brought me to a halt, but only by running. I can’t imagine keeping that up for eight hours, not to mention actually filling and sealing the five-pound sacks, instead of pretending.

(These clever girls beat the clock by creating an assembly line.)

Mill City Museum

Visitors were introduced to a completely different aspect of women’s role in flour industry history when an interpreter portraying Ruth Andre Krause, who became Director of Pillsbury’s Home Services Department in 1950, made a presentation in the museum’s baking lab. Ruth, sometimes known as “Ann Pillsbury,” became the public face of Pillsbury—overseeing baking tests, showing guests through the company kitchens, and appearing at public events.


When she discussed the development of mixes, an assistant passed out brownie samples so visitors could assess quality for themselves.

Mill City Museum

Between the experiences of women on the work floor and the powerful role women played in marketing Pillsbury and Gold Medal Flour to the world, the museum provided lots to think about. But for this special event, event planners also included first-person performances showcasing the contributions of other Minneapolis women.

Eva McDonald Valesh, known as Eva Gay, was a writer and speaker who went undercover to document the lives of women factory workers in the 1880s. She exposed harsh conditions women endured, and led to the first big female-led strike by women working in a textile factory in Minneapolis.

Mill City Museum

Other performances featured Gratia Countryman, Head Librarian of the Minneapolis Public Library; and Mary Dodge Woodward, who managed a Bonanza farm. More on them another time.

Guests who attended “The Women of Mill City” event left entertained, educated, and engaged.  In the museum world, it doesn’t get much better than that.