Posts Tagged ‘Belgian Heritage Center’

The Belgian Heritage Center

January 2, 2019

When I first started considering a setting for a Chloe Ellefson mystery about Wisconsin’s Belgian immigrants, I knew it would primarily feature the Belgian Farm restored at Heritage Hill State Park.

Then I discovered that a Belgian Heritage Center existed in southern Door County.  I made arrangements to meet with a Board member and learned about the excellent work being done at the Center. That visit changed the trajectory of the story, because I knew Chloe would enjoy a visit too!

Belgian Heritage Center

The building which now houses the Center, the former St. Mary of the Snows Catholic Church in Namur, WI, came very close to demolition.

Belgian Heritage Center

When a group of local residents (many of Belgian descent) learned that the church was slated to be razed, they organized around the idea of acquiring the building and creating a space that would celebrate Belgian heritage. They managed to purchase the church from the Catholic Diocese in 2010.

Today, the Belgian Heritage Center is a shining example of what a few dedicated volunteers can accomplish.  

The Center “tells the story of the Belgian settlement in Wisconsin and works to preserve unique elements of Belgian culture such as foods, beverages, customs, architecture and the Walloon language.”

Visitors will find some formal exhibit areas that tell a broad story.

Belgian Heritage Center

Other exhibits focus on individual photographs…

Belgian Heritage Center

…and artifacts.

Belgian Heritage Center

The panel below is one of my favorites. I’ve read several accounts of women carrying very heavy loads of grain to distant mills in order to provide bread for their children. The Belgian women had a unique way of carrying the sacks of grain, as illustrated. Visitors can now simulate the experience.

Belgian Heritage Center

The building also has space for programs.

Belgian Heritage Center
Historian Barb Englebert Chisholm reenacts the history of the Great Fire as experienced by her great-grandmother.

The Center hosts a variety of speakers and special events. Volunteers have produced a growing collection of videotaped interviews with local Belgian-Americans, and are involved with efforts to preserve the Walloon language.

For more information, visit the Belgian Heritage Center website.

And for more information about all the Chloe Ellefson mysteries, visit my website.  Happy reading!

Belgian Pies

October 15, 2018

There are lots of fun things about writing a mystery series that celebrates ethnic heritage. One of those is the chance to explore food traditions.

When I started researching The Lacemaker’s Secret, which focuses on Belgian immigrants in northeast Wisconsin, I quickly discovered the importance of Belgian pies.

Belgian pies are a staple of Kermiss, the annual celebration of thanks for a good harvest:

“Then came the baking, which in the early days could only be done in outdoor ovens. …The Belgian pie! What would the Kermiss be without the famous delicacy, the crust of which was made of dough, spread over with prunes or apples and topped with homemade cottage cheese. So tasty it was that one bite invited another.”  (Math S. TlachacThe History of the Belgian Settlements.)

The outdoor bake ovens could hold as many as three dozen pies. Children were charged with the huge jobs of pitting and grinding prunes, peeling apples, washing dishes.  It wasn’t uncommon for several women working together to produce hundreds of pies. In fact, Belgian pie-making dwindled in recent years because many of the recipes handed down were for enormous proportions.

Photo on display at the Belgian Heritage Center, Namur, WI.

My husband and I first sampled Belgian pie while attending the Kermiss held at the Belgian Heritage Center.

Belgian Pies

An efficient storage system. They were going through the pies fast.

 

An enthusiastic thumbs-up from Mr. Ernst.

Belgian pies are smaller than American pies. Most consist of a yeast-raised dough, a fruit filling, and a top layer of cheese. Traditional flavors are apple and prune. Rice pies are also traditional. Those are topped with whipped cream instead of the cheese.

To learn more, I signed up for a class taught by Gina Guth in Door County. Gina has deep Belgian roots on her mother’s side, and has been making pies for years.  In addition to baking for Kermiss, her mom made thousands of pies for customers at the family tavern.  Gina has adapted recipes for home use.

This wonderful photo of Gina’s mother appeared in the Appleton, WI’s Post-Crescent newspaper, 1969.

During class, Gina provided four types of pie for us to try:  apple, prune, Door County cherry, and rice.

The cheese topping is made with cottage cheese sweetened with butter, sugar, and egg yolks.

Gina demonstrates squeezing excess liquid from the cottage cheese.

The dry curds.

Each student got to make two pies. I chose to make cherry and rice. The dough is pressed into the bottom of pie pans, then almost covered with the topping.

If you live within driving distance of Sturgeon Bay, WI, I recommend Gina’s class at The Flour Pot bakery.  Individuals can also register through the St. Norbert College Outreach/Cooking Class program.


As is true in any community, local bakers don’t always agree on the elements of a traditional Belgian pie. For another take, with recipes, see Edible Door County.

Ethnic Cooking Wisconsin Style (American Cancer Society, 1982) includes several Belgian Pie recipes.

Ethnic

This cookbook includes directions for making the more traditional dry cottage cheese topping.  It calls for blending 1 pound of cottage cheese, 1-1/2 T. sugar, 1 egg, 1 T. whipping cream, a dash of cinnamon, and 1/4 t. salt.  Force the mixture through a sieve, and spread onto pies (this amount covers 4 pies) before baking.

If your book group is reading A Lacemaker’s Secret, why not make a Belgian Pie?

You can also find them, fresh or frozen, at Marchant’s Foods in Brussels, Wisconsin.

piesign

frozenpies

Happy reading, and happy baking!

Why Belgians and Lace?

September 3, 2018

The 9th Chloe Ellefson Mystery, The Lacemaker’s Secret, is set in Green Bay and southern Door County, Wisconsin. It features the Belgian immigrants who arrived there in the 1850s.

The primary settings are Heritage Hill Historical Park in Green Bay, where a gorgeous Belgian-American farmhouse has been relocated and restored, and the Belgian Heritage Center in Namur, a wonderful history and cultural center.

Readers often ask how I choose locations, historical topics, and (in most cases) ethnic groups to showcase in each new Chloe Ellefson mystery. This isn’t always easy, as I have a long and ever-growing list of historic sites and museums I want to write about.

So how did Belgians and lace rise to the top of the list?

First, I only write about places I think readers would enjoy hearing about, and perhaps visiting. Heritage Hill Historical Park has preserved some phenomenal buildings, and my favorite is the Belgian Farm.

Massart Farm, Heritage Hill

The lovely Belgian Farm at Heritage Hill Historical Park previously belonged to the Massart family in Kewaunee County, WI.

Also, the Belgian Heritage Center in Namur is an incredible example of what a group of dedicated volunteers can do to preserve and share their history and cultural heritage. I first considered the Center a research stop, but decided I wanted to feature it in the book itself (even though I had to fictionalize its time of establishment to do so.)

BelgHeritageCenter

The Belgian Heritage Center is located in the former St. Mary of the Snows Catholic church, located in the community of Namur, in Door County, WI.

The other critical factor is how well the setting/topic of a new book can help reflect the personal journeys that main characters Chloe Ellefson and Roelke McKenna are taking in the series—together and individually. I think a lot about where they are emotionally at the end of the previous book, and where I want them to be by the end of the new book. I try hard to make the place and mystery plot reflect that.

One of the first things I learned about Belgian immigrants was that faith played a big role in their lives and communities.

Le Mieux Chapel, UWGB

It was common for Belgian immigrant families to build small chapels on their properties. This is the Le Mieux Chapel, in Green Bay, WI.

At the end of the previous book, Mining For Justice, Chloe and Roelke needed to consider what “having faith” meant in their relationship.

Despite all this careful thinking and planning, sometimes pure serendipity plays a role in book development as well. While attending a mystery conference a couple of years ago I met Bev, an avid mystery reader who knows a lot about lacemaking, and works with the lace curator at the National Museum of American History. She asked, would I be interested in touring the collection? Why, yes, indeed I would.

Karen

Karen, lace curator, shows me one of the many fabulous pieces in the National Museum of American History’s collection in Washington, DC.

I knew nothing about Belgium’s bobbin lace industry before my visit. The pieces of lace I saw were amazing. The stories I heard were compelling. Ideas about how bobbin lace might be featured in a future Chloe book started taking shape in my mind.

I hope The Lacemaker’s Secret might serve as a quiet tribute to the courage and tenacity of the early Belgian immigrants. Many of their descendants still live in northeast Wisconsin.

During the coming weeks I’ll share more behind-the-scenes information about the book, and its topics and themes. I’m excited about readers finally getting the chance to dive into The Lacemaker’s Secret

To learn about the book’s launch events, see my online Calendar.

Chloe 9 Reveal!

February 6, 2018

Last week I zipped the manuscript for the 9th Chloe Ellefson mystery off to my publisher. This week, it’s available for pre-order! I’m excited to provide a peek at the next adventure for Chloe and Roelke.

Curator Chloe Ellefson needs distraction from the unsettling family secret she’s just learned. It doesn’t help that her boyfriend, Roelke McKenna, has been troubled for weeks and won’t say why. Chloe hopes a consulting job at Green Bay’s Heritage Hill Historical Park, where an old Belgian-American farmhouse is being restored, will be a relaxing escape. Instead she discovers a body in a century-old bake oven.

Chloe’s research suggests that a rare and valuable piece of lace made its way to nearby Door County, Wisconsin, with the earliest Belgian settlers. More importantly, someone is desperate to find it. Inspired by a courageous Belgian woman who survived cholera, famine, and the Great Fire, Chloe must untangle clues to reveal secrets old and new . . . before the killer strikes again.

The Lacemaker’s Secret will be published in October, 2018.  You can pre-order now:

IndieBound – Trade Paperback
https://www.indiebound.org/book/9780738753546

Amazon – Trade Paperback
https://www.amazon.com/Lacemakers-Secret-Chloe-Ellefson-Mystery/dp/0738753548/

Amazon – Kindle
https://www.amazon.com/Lacemakers-Secret-Chloe-Ellefson-Mystery-ebook/dp/B0795R5H4C/

Books-A-Million (BAM) – Trade Paperback
http://www.booksamillion.com/p/Lacemakers-Secret/Kathleen-Ernst/9780738753546?id=7179386161819

The story of Wisconsin’s Belgian immigrants is compelling, and I hope The Lacemaker’s Secret honors those early settlers—and the many people who have worked hard to preserve and interpret their history at Heritage Hill, and the Belgian Heritage Center in Namur.