Posts Tagged ‘Chloe Ellefson Mystery series’

Bal Maidens

October 23, 2017

Many of the Chloe Ellefson mysteries, which are set in the 1980s, include a plotline set further in the past as well. The 8th adventure, Mining For Justice, features Cornish immigrants who arrived in Mineral Point, Wisconsin, in the 1830s. Most were mining families, attracted by news of lead deposits in the southwestern part of what is now the state of Wisconsin.

I knew I wanted to create a strong Cornish woman for the historical plotline. And I decided to begin her tale in Cornwall so I could quickly establish both her strength (physical, and of character) and her vulnerability.

Readers meet Mary Pascoe when she is eleven years old and working as a bal maiden—bal, meaning “mine” in Cornish, and maiden referring to young or unmarried women. Bal maidens did manual labor on the surface of mine sites, processing ore.

Note the female workers in the foreground.  (“Dolcoate Copper Mine” engraved by J.Thomas after a picture by Thomas Allom, published in Devon & Cornwall Illustrated, 1832. Steel engraved print, hand-colored later.)

Women in the far southwestern regions of Great Britain have likely done tin and copper mine work for centuries, and written records date to the 13th century. In the 1800s it was common for girls to begin at about ten years of age, but documented cases show that a few started doing mine work as young as six years old.

Three Bal Maidens.  (Woodcut, Peeps into the Haunts and Homes of the Rural Poulation of Cornwall, 1879.)

The work was difficult, sometimes dangerous, and often done in the open air, exposing workers to harsh weather. Some of the duties included spalling (breaking ore into smaller pieces with long-handled hammers),

(Proceedings of the Institution of Civil Engineers, 1858)

and cobbing (breaking washed and sorted ore into even smaller pieces with a different hammer).

(Proceedings of the Institution of Civil Engineers, 1858)

Some observers worried not only about physical strain, but about the impact of working in rough conditions, near men, on the female workers. In Mining For Justice, Mrs. Bunney, from the fictional Christian Welfare Society, expresses her concern to Mary:

It’s not only the danger inherent in mining work that troubles me. I’m worried about your soul. You are surrounded daily by rough men who use foul language. Young ladies like yourself should be cultivating modesty and grace. How can you do that here?

Mary was a capable worker, and like many of actual bal maidens who were interviewed, she didn’t especially mind the work.

(Illustrated Itinerary of the County of Cornwall, by Cyrus Redding, 1842)

However, Mrs. Bunney’s questions and indifferent treatment during the fictional interview do leave Mary wondering, for the first time, about her self-worth.  The question stays with her after she immigrates to the territory that would become Wisconsin.

I love having the chance to shine a little candlelight on everyday women who, a century or more ago, did amazing things but left few concrete records behind. I hope my fictional foray into the life of a woman who knew hard work and heartache before leaving Cornwall honors the legacy of Cornwall’s bal maidens.

Miners and bal maidens with typical equipment and protective clothing at Dolcoath, 1890.  (Wikipedia)

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To learn more about bal maidens, visit the Bal Maidens and Mining Women website, which includes a list of books on the subject by Lynne Mayers.

Why Mining For Justice?

August 10, 2017

I have more story ideas banging around in my head than I’ll ever find time to explore. My files about possible historic sites and museums to explore in a Chloe Ellefson mystery are ever-growing. So why did Pendarvis Historic Site in Mineral Point, WI, rise to the top of the list?

Pendarvis is a collection of historic structures that date back to pre-statehood days. It was the first historic site I visited after moving to Wisconsin to work at sister-site Old World Wisconsin, and I remember enjoying the tour immensely.

The area has a fascinating history I wanted to learn more about—always a plus when plunging into a year-plus-long project.  Miners arrived in the 1820s to dig lead, most of them looking for quick hauls before moving on or heading back home. In the next decade miners from Cornwall arrived. Many brought their families, and the Cornish played a major role in turning a hardscrabble mining frontier into a community.

As I began conceptualizing the 8th book in the series, I thought first about where Chloe and Roelke, the main characters, were emotionally at the end of the 7th book, A Memory of Muskets. Where did I want them to go next on their emotional journey? What site and plot would reflect their personal challenges? As I played around with story ideas to weave together in the new book, I started seeing powerful connections. (I love it when that happens.)

Then there’s Mineral Point itself—it’s charming. Many readers have suggested that Chloe visit. I know Chloe and Roelke fans will enjoy exploring not just Pendarvis, but the area’s museums, architecture, art galleries, and restaurants.

I’m excited about Mining for Justice! We’ve got some special launch activities planned for the fall. I’ll share more details soon, and you can always find more information on my website. Stay tuned!

Library Winners!

July 27, 2017

We have 3 winning libraries, chosen by random number generator. Congratulations to the Kaukana Library, WI (Laurie Wentworth), Lorain Main Library, OH (Joy Scaggs), and Wahoo Library, NE (Pam Lindholm)! Each library will receive a set of the audiobooks for the first three Chloe Ellefson mysteries.

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Huge thanks to all who entered. We heard from readers in 46 states, with a total of two hundred and fifty-six entries! Your passionate support of libraries was so awesome that Mr. Ernst and I are planning another Giveaway. Stay tuned!

Gratitude Giveaway!

July 25, 2017

I’m giving away three sets of the Chloe Ellefson Mystery audiobooks, 1 each to three public libraries.

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To enter your library, simply name the library, town, and state in the comment section below by midnight, Wednesday, July 26. The winners will be chosen at random from all entries here and on my Facebook Author page, and announced here on July 27.

Celebrate your local library by nominating it to win!

Audiobooks!

June 14, 2017

I’m happy to announce that the first three Chloe Ellefson mysteries are now available as audiobooks!To hear clips, or for more information, visit my website.

The unabridged audiobooks were produced by Tantor Media, and narrated by Elise Arsenault, a classically trained actor, singer, and voice-over artist.

I love audiobooks, and so am particularly thrilled with this development. I hope you enjoy these too!

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.

springerle

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.

springerle

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.

springerle

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.

anise

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.

springerle

Are you planning to bake springerle this holiday season? If so, I’d love to see pictures!

The Schulz Farm – Part 2

November 11, 2016

The Schulz Farm at Old World Wisconsin is featured in my latest Chloe Ellefson Mystery, A Memory of Muskets. Last time, I shared photos of the house.

Schulz Farm, Old World Wisconsin

But if you’ve read the book, you know that some of the action takes place in the yard.

The farm features many Old World elements. One change, however, is evident in the layout of the outbuildings. In Pomerania, the buildings would likely have formed a closed square. In Wisconsin, where available land was still plentiful, farmers kept the square formation but often spread the buildings out. (Another outbuilding would have formed the 4th side of the square.)

In the map of Old World Wisconsin’s German area below, the Schulz Farm is on the left. The farm at center bottom is the Koepsell Farm. It’s also Pomeranian-style, and shows a complete courtyard arrangement.

Old World Wisconsin

(Map courtesy of Old World Wisconsin.)

The building below is the Koepsel Stable (not to be confused with OWW’s Koepsell Farm. Farms exhibited at the site are named for the family that lived in the house; usually outbuildings came from different families). It was built in the Town of Lebanon, Dodge County, c. 1855.

Like the house, it is half-timbered. It features an exterior stairway and 2nd story exterior walkway. In the Old Country, when the courtyard was enclosed, animals kept there could take shelter from sun or rain beneath the overhang.

Loyd Heath - Stable b on the Schulz farm. By Loyd Heath.

(Photo by Loyd Heath.)

Notice the darker mortar on the 2nd story? That’s actually the original mud and straw mixture from the 1850s. The lighter color is mortar replaced at the time the building was moved to the site.

Koepsel Stable, Old World Wisconsin

 

Schulz Farm, Old World Wisconsin

A Memory of Muskets readers – this is the end of the stable featured in chapter 1.

The other impressive structure on the Schulz Farm is the Grube Barn, from the Town of Emmet, Dodge County, c. 1855.  Architectural historians consider this a transitional structure because it was built with a half-timbered frame, then covered with siding.

This is a grain barn, reflecting the period when wheat was Wisconsin’s cash crop. It has a central drive-through (the big center doors are closed in the photo). The two side areas were used for grain storage.

Grube Barn, Old World Wisconsin

 

Both of the outbuildings on the Schulz Farm have thatched roofs. The traditional thatch was rye straw, which has a waxy coating. German farmers grew rye for their own needs, and saved the straw for thatching or basket-making.

Old World Wisconsin

German women used coiled rye straw baskets to hold round loaves of bread while rising prior to baking in a brick bakeoven.

In this interior shot you can see the barn’s half-timbered frame, and the underside of the thatched roof.

dscf1711

After harvest, men used the central floor of such grain barns for threshing.

Old World Wisconsin

(Photo by Loyd Heath.)

Here, a farmer uses a flail to beat kernels of grain from the stalks spread on the floor. Some men also led horses or oxen over the grain to trample kernels free.

I hope this gives you a better understanding of one of the fascinating farms at Old World Wisconsin!

Special thanks to my talented friend Loyd Heath for permission to use his photographs.  See more of his work HERE.

The Schulz Farm – Part 1

November 2, 2016

The protagonist of my Chloe Ellefson mysteries is employed as a curator at Old World Wisconsin, an open-air museum near Eagle, WI. Although most of the books are set at other sites and museums, Old World’s 67 historic structures give me lots to play with when I do set a mystery there.

In the new book, A Memory of Muskets, I featured one of my favorite places at the museum, the Schulz Farm. Come with me on a virtual tour!  (I hope that readers within driving distance will also visit in person.)

Schulz Farm, Old World Wisconsin

The Schulz Farm

It was one of the first places I worked when I started as an interpreter way back in 1982.

Schulz Farm, Old World Wisconsin

The house was built in the Town of Herman, Dodge County, in 1856, and has been restored to its 1860 appearance. The half-timbered (fachwerk) architecture reflects what the family had known back in Pomerania, where natural resources were already in short supply. The spaces between the timbers were filled with a mud/straw mixture, preserving wood.

KAE photo. Back of Schulz house.

The back of Schulz house.  The small opening on the left was a pass-through.  Vegetables could be passed into a pantry, and then down through a door in the floor leading to a root cellar.

The concept of a front lawn seemed wasteful to new arrivals.  The vegetable garden is in front of the house.

Schulz Farm, Old World Wisconsin

Probably the most famous feature is the black kitchen, or Schwartz-Küche—a huge walk-in chimney constructed in the center of the house.

This photo was taken inside the black kitchen, looking back at the front door.

This photo was taken from the back of the house,  looking through the black kitchen to the entry and front door.

Inside the black kitchen is the entrance to a brick bakeoven. Below, the wooden door to the oven is sitting in the fire pit.

Schulz Farm, Old World Wisconsin

On baking day a fire was built in the oven.  When the bricks were hot enough, the woman would rake the coals into the cooking pit below, rather than wasting them.

(Photo by Loyd Heath)

(Photo by Loyd Heath)

At the same time, meat could be hung overhead to smoke. One fire, three jobs.

Schulz Farm, Old World Wisconsin

Looking straight up, inside the black kitchen.

As you can imagine, it was a difficult place for women to work—unhealthy and dangerous. Although common in Pomerania, historians know of only four homes in Wisconsin built with black kitchens.

Interior of the black kitchen in the Schulz farmhouse.

This photo conveys what it is like to work in the black kitchen.  (Photo by Loyd Heath.)

Women also had a separate cooking niche for smaller jobs.

An interpreter prepares dinner in the 1860 Schulz kitchen.

(Photo by Loyd Heath)

 

Schulz Farm, Old World Wisconsin

The cooking niche.

In 1860 the Schulz family had only been in Wisconsin for four years.  Their status is reflected in the furnishings.

Schulz Farm, Old World Wisconsin

An immigrant trunk sits in the parlor, covered with a cloth. In time the family would have purchased new furniture.

The family could not set a space aside to use only as a formal parlor. This room was used for entertaining and sleeping.

Schulz Farm, Old World Wisconsin

Kids might have slept here.

The largest room in the house is shown as a workroom.

Schulz Farm, Old World Wisconsin

Weaving linen cloth.

I hope you’ve enjoyed this glimpse of the Schulz House at Old World Wisconsin.  Next time—the rest of the farm.

Special thanks to my talented friend Loyd Heath for permission to use his photographs.  See more of his work HERE.

Ten ARC Giveaway Winners Named

August 12, 2016

Congratulations to: Carol Burger, Jacki Evenson, Stephanie Lembke Flessert, Prentiss Garner, Kate Graczyk, Marge Kempft, Saralee Larson, Connie Bolick Lee, Anne Reese Marshall, and Rhonda Simatic Nall!

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These ten readers were chosen at random—from over 500 entries!—to win an Advanced Review Copy of the next Chloe Ellefson mystery, A Memory of Muskets.  Huge thanks to all who entered!

Gratitude Giveaway!

November 22, 2015

Congratulations to Patty Collins, Theresa Echols Haack, Nancy Gielow Hawkins, Amy Laundrie, Mary Luchsinger, and Audrey Tollefson! These names came out of the hat as winners in my Gratitude Giveaway. Thanks to everyone who entered.

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In thanks for the wonderful support you’ve given me this fall, six winners will receive a signed and personalized Chloe mystery of their choice.

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To enter, leave a comment below before midnight, Monday 11/23. One entry per person. Six names will be chosen at random from all entries here and on my Facebook Author Page. Winners will be posted on Tuesday, 11/24.

To learn more about the Chloe Ellefson mysteries, check my website.

Good luck!