Posts Tagged ‘Mill City Museum’

Researching Tradition of Deceit

May 15, 2018

Interstate 94 Highway sign for West to Minneapolis and East to Milwaukee.

Front cover of Tradition of Deceit, the fifth book in the Chloe Ellefson Mystery series by bestselling author Kathleen Ernst.Mr. Ernst here.  In Tradition Of Deceit (TOD) Chloe and Roelke get caught up in separate mysteries, in separate cities, each facing deadly perils on their own.

Chloe’s in Minneapolis helping her friend Ariel at the Minnesota Historical Society work on transforming an enormous abandoned flour mill into a museum.

Roelke’s in Milwaukee running a very personal, and unofficial, investigation into his best friend’s murder.

Though separated by hundreds of miles, the mysteries and threats that Chloe and Roelke each face are culturally and historically linked.  Their experiences take place during February 1983, with historical threads set in 1878 and the 1920s.

This post focuses on researching a key transition scene in TOD, the fifth book in Kathleen’s award-winning Chloe Ellefson mystery series.

ToD-WashburnCrosbySepiaPrayerCycleSlide500x261w

At the end of Chapter Thirty-Five, Chloe comes into possession of what later proves to be an important clue:  a piece of Polish paper-cutting art called wycinanki (pronounced vee-chee-non-kee) discovered in “No Man’s Land” — the female worker’s break room in the long-abandoned Washburn-Crosby Gold Medal flour mill in Minneapolis.

The first thing that presented itself was a rectangle of heavy cream-colored paper, corners marked with pin holes. Despite a film of dust, and the passing years’ inevitable fading, a collage of cut and layered paper still suggested a vivid rainbow of color. A central bouquet of stylized flowers was flanked on each side by a rooster. She gently lifted the piece. Pride in creation, determination, feminine strength . . . all those seemed palpable.

She was pretty sure that this glorious example of wycinanki had been made long before the mill closed in 1965. It so closely resembled what Roelke had tried to describe on the phone that an ice chip slid down Chloe’s spin. Ariel had said that a motif of flowers and roosters was common. Still, it was uncanny that this piece, left behind in No Man’s Land, echoed whatever it was that Roelke had found in Wisconsin decades later.

Was it even remotely possible that the same woman had created each wycinanki? “If so,” she whispered to whomever might be listening, “why did you leave this beautiful piece in No Man’s Land? And how did you get from Minneapolis to Milwaukee?”

Kathleen asked me to research how the woman who created the wycinanki piece could have traveled the 350 miles from Minneapolis to Milwaukee in 1921. Turned out, her options were limited.

  • Minneapolis is located on the Mississippi River and Milwaukee on Lake Michigan, but there are no connections between the two cities by water.
  • There were roads between them back then, but stretches were still unpaved (the Interstate Highway System was decades in the future) which may be why long-distance motorized bus service did not yet exist.
  • And the first rudimentary airline passenger service was still years away.

So how did people travel long distances in those days?  I discovered that back then America enjoyed an extensive system of railroads offering scheduled, reliable, relatively affordable passenger service.

September 1921

LIDIA TOOK THE TRAIN from Minneapolis to Milwaukee. She knew there was a large Polish community there, and although she’d managed to hide away a few coins after grocery shopping these last few months, she couldn’t afford to travel any farther. 

MilwaukeeRailroad1920TimeTableCover100x211w
As a little boy I spent many happy hours playing with model trains.  I loved watching and riding real trains too — and still do all these (many) years later.

Which is to say I was absolutely delighted when Kathleen asked me to dig up the details of Lidia’s train trip.

In 1921 the Chicago, Milwaukee & St. Paul Railway (widely known as the “Milwaukee Road”) offered regularly scheduled daily passenger service between Minneapolis and Milwaukee.

 

Color photo of a map showing the upper Midwest portion of the Milwaukee Road's railroad lines in 1920.

The Milwaukee Road’s extensive rail lines and stations serving the upper Midwest in 1920. The highlighting shows Lidia’s route from Minneapolis on the top left, down the Mississippi River to La Crosse, then across Wisconsin to Milwaukee. (Map in author’s collection.)

Black and white photo of the Minneapolis Milwaukee Road railroad station circa 1922.

Lidia departed from the Chicago, Milwaukee & St. Paul Railroad Depot in downtown Minneapolis. (1922 photo in author’s collection.)

2014MinneapolisMilwaukeeRoadStation500x398w

This is the renovated Depot today in its new role as the Marriott Renaissance Minneapolis Hotel. (Image by the author.)

But with every clack of the turning wheels she felt herself moving farther and farther from Matka and Grandfather Pawel. From Bohemian Flats and Minneapolis and the mill. From her whole world. She’d had no time to say good-bye — and she wouldn’t have dared, anyway. 

Vintage black and white photo of a C.M. & St. Paul railroad passenger train pulling into Hastings, MN circa 1920.

A coal-fired steam engine train like Lydia took, stopping in Hastings MN on its way south along the Mississippi River. (Source unknown.)

Lydia had to change trains in La Crosse, Wisconsin. She approached a woman in worn clothes who looked to be about her size and offered to exchange clothes. “Why?” the woman asked suspiciously, eyeing her stylish dress.

“I need to disappear,” Lidia whispered.

Ten minutes later she emerged from the ladies’ room wearing a heavy skirt and faded blouse. “Be careful,” the other woman said, before disappearing into the swirling crowd in her new finery. 

Image clipped from 1910 postcard showing the type of railroad passenger cars that Lidia rode.

Milwaukee Road passenger cars at La Crosse, from a 1910 postcard. These are similar to what Lidia rode in. (Author’s collection.)

Postcard of the the C. M. & St. Paul Railroad Deport in Milwaukee, circa 1900.

Lidia arrived at Milwaukee’s 1886 Everett Street Railroad Depot, formerly located immediately south of what is now called Zeidler Union Park. (Postcard in the author’s collection.)

Color photo of the modern office block that replaced Milwaukee's Everett Street railroad station.

Office block that replaced Milwaukee’s Everett Street Railroad Depot when it was razed in 1966. (Google StreetView Copyright 2018.)

She’d arrived in Milwaukee weary, nauseated, anxious, and broke. Now she sank down on an empty bench, watching other travelers. She seemed to be the only person in the station with no one to meet and nowhere to go. With a surge of panic, she wondered if she’d just made a colossal mistake.

We’d love to hear what you think, now that you’ve had the chance to compare the scene with some of the historical research used to help write it. Please feel free to leave us a comment below.

TOD is available in trade paperback and multiple ebook formats from independent booksellers as well as Amazon and other online resellers. Both formats include an Author’s Note, a Cast of Characters, and photos of the places and Polish wycinanki folk art featured in the book.

But Wait, There’s More!

Hopefully this article has piqued your interest in discovering more about the ‘people, places and the past’ that went into making TOD.

You can find a page full of details about it on Kathleen’s website, including a discussion guide, Google maps of Milwaukee and Minneapolis featuring scene locations and photos, an original 1930’s Washburn Crosby Gold Medal Flour cookie recipe for the Old-Time Cinnamon Jumbles that Chloe bakes in the story, a slide show of objects featured in the book, public radio interviews with Kathleen, plus additional blog posts, links to booksellers that offer TOD — and more — by clicking on the link below.

https://www.kathleenernst.com/book_tradition_deceit.php

Next month I’ll post an article on this blog about researching the next book in the Chloe Ellefson mystery series, Death on the Prairie, which takes place at six Laura Ingalls Wilder homestead historic sites.

Tradition of Deceit – A Retrospective

May 8, 2018

Front cover of Tradition of Deceit, the fifth book in the Chloe Ellefson Mystery series by bestselling author Kathleen Ernst.As I began conceptualizing Tradition of Deceit, the 5th Chloe Ellefson Mystery, I had several goals in mind. Since main characters Chloe and Roelke were getting along pretty well by the end of the previous book, I figured it was time to throw a new challenge their way:  distance.

I’d heard good things about the Mill City Museum after it opened in 2003. For much of the book, Chloe is in Minneapolis while Roelke is in Milwaukee. Both get tangled in murder investigations that involve good friends. How will they cope?

Back of the mill complex.

In Chloe’s day the mill was an enormous abandoned industrial site. The opportunity to have Chloe visit an urban historic site was intriguing. The mill itself told important stories from the days when Minneapolis was the flour milling capital of the world. After one visit I knew it had great potential as setting for a murder mystery. 

Taking notes on a behind-the-scenes tour.

Featuring this site also had good potential to satisfy another series goal—to provide a glimpse of the challenges inherent in museum work. In the 1980s, the abandoned mill provided shelter for many homeless people. This presented a dilemma for the historians working to turn the site into a museum. Chloe’s decision to help a friend develop an interpretive plan for the mill put her right in the middle of the debate.

Homeless Protest Master combined

(Star Tribune, May 2, 1990)

Choosing the mill as the setting also let me feature Polish immigrants and their experience in the new world. New food traditions and folk art! A thread of historical fiction gave me a chance to imagine the challenges faced by an immigrant woman named Magdalena and her descendants.

IMG_0802 - Version 2 – Version 3

Magdalena was skilled at Polish paper cutting, such as this piece displayed at the Old South Side Settlement Museum, Urban Anthropology Inc., Donated by Konkel Family.

Cop Roelke McKenna’s experience of trying to solve a friend’s murder in Milwaukee let me echo some of these same themes. Milwaukee was home to a large population of Polish immigrants as well. That commonality let me link Chloe’s mystery with Roelke’s.

Basilica of St. Josaphat

The Basilica of St. Josaphat, Milwaukee.

And, Roelke fans were letting me know they’d like to see even more of him. In Tradition of Deceit Roelke faces his most painful and challenging investigation. New aspects of his character are revealed as he follows both his heart and the sketchy clues.

I don’t outline stories in advance, so when I begin I’m not sure where any given story is going, or exactly how it will be resolved. This book had a more complicated structure than most, but in the end I think the pieces fell into place quite nicely. It’s one of my favorites.

SPOILER ALERT:  Plot points discussed below!

During my first scouting trip to the Mill City Museum, I learned about the tragedy of 1878, when the first Washburn A Mill exploded because no one at the time understood that the flour dust clouding the air was combustible. Eighteen workers died.

Harpers Weekly, May, 1878.

I wanted to include that in the book, but anyone working in the mill at that time was male. How to get a woman in the building? Playing with that question led to the creation of Magdalena and the historical plotline. I needed a plausible reason to get her into the mill on that tragic night.

One of readers’ favorite characters in this book is Pawel, a mill worker who gives Magdalena a chance to dream of happier days:

Magdalena regarded him. Pawel was a big man with massive shoulders and corded muscles rippling in his arms. 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…

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

It would have felt too pat to have Magdalena visit the mill simply to see Pawel. Instead she goes to obtain some flour in hopes of baking a treat for him.

In the end, Magdalena’s legacy collides with Roelke’s search for answers to Rick’s death. When Roelke’s struggling to find Erin, the young woman who’d fled her abusive husband years before, his first clue is a business card decorated with wycinanki:

“All I have is this.” Danielle scrabbled in her pocket. “I found this sort of business card thing this morning under the coat hooks we use.”

Roelke felt his nerves quiver as Danielle extracted a creased business card. An address, a phone number—he’d be grateful for even the tiniest scrap of information.

He didn’t get an address. He got chickens. Two very pretty chickens, flanking a bouquet of flowers, printed in vibrant colors. It was all very artsy, and not the least bit helpful.

I made this wycinanki piece to represent the one described in the book.

Tradition of Deceit is all about power—who wants it, and what they’ll do to get it; who has it, and what they’ll do to keep it. One of the people abusing power is Professor Everett Whyte, the man found stuffed into a turn head distributor in the old mill. Whyte’s male students and colleagues admired him; his female students, not so much. I based Whyte on one of my college professors who made inappropriate suggestions to me and other female students. When I reported my professor’s behavior, my advisor replied, “Is he up to those old tricks again?” Evidently it was well known that my professor harassed women.

The turn head distributor at the Mill City Museum.

The book is also about secrets. Secrets, abuses of power, and geography might have meant the end of Chloe and Roelke’s relationship. Was Roelke’s emotional reserve understandable? Had Rick been right to keep a secret from his best friend? What did you think?

You can explore relevant people, places, and the past on mwebpage for Tradition of Deceit. Resources include a Google map, color images of key artifacts, a Discussion Guide, recipes, and links to lots of additional background material.

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.

Cut Vent to Bake - Apple Pie

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

IMG_0307

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

scan0008

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.

scan0009

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

Mexican Rice - Version 2

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!

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)

73d2624b-2b08-41b3-b871-cc674f785403

(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

 

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.

jumbles

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.

DSCF6836

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

DSCF6826

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.

DSCF6832

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

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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.

DSCF6831

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.