Posts Tagged ‘Otto Hilgendorf’

Old World Wisconsin in Chloe’s Day

May 19, 2014

I’m sometimes asked why the Chloe Ellefson mysteries are set in the 1980s. The main reason is that my own museum career started in 1982. I write from my memories of Old World Wisconsin, and the historic sites biz. (I also think it’s nice to give modern visitors some space between the site they visit now and murder and mayhem, even if fictional.)

I sometimes forget how much Old World Wisconsin has changed in the past few decades, so I thought it would be fun to share some photos of the site in the early years.

The  site opened in 1976, with far fewer buildings than guests see today. A reader shared this photo from 1980.

Old World Wisconsin, 1980

I believe the crew was reconstructing the Hilgendorf Barn at the Koepsell Farm, in the German Area. Below, that’s me and Otto Hilgendorf, who donated the building, in 1982.

KAE and Otto Hilgendorf

This 1983 photo shows the stable in the background, part of a functional farmyard.

KAE Koepsell garden 1983

I took this photo of the Schottler House 1981, when I visited the site for the first time. No gardens, no summer kitchen.

Schottler, 1981

The crossroads village looked pretty spartan then too. Here’s the Four Mile Inn, restored but not yet open.

Four Mile Inn, 1982

The Hafford House looked quite isolated.

Hafford House, 1982

As the years went by at the site, gardens were planted, outbuildings moved and restored, fences added, old-breed livestock introduced. Visitors today enjoy the tangible results of decades of research and work.  If you haven’t had a chance to visit for a while, you’ll be amazed.

By the way, if you have any photos of Old World Wisconsin from the early years, I’d love to see them!


August 10, 2010

If you’ve been following this blog for a while you may remember some conversations about Astrachan apples last January and February. I knew they were an early summer apple with a short season, and I was determined to find some this year. I did! These are from Weston’s Antique Apple Orchards in New Berlin, WI.

Red Astrachans from Weston's Antique Apples.

According to Weston’s catalog:  “This aromatic red summer apple is good for cooking and eating out-of-hand.  …The flavor is good, if rather tart, and the flesh fine, juicy, crisp becoming soft with over maturity.”

Once, these were a favorite apple. The advent of refrigerated train boxcars led to the demise (or near-demise) of hundreds of varieties of apples. A few varieties that looked good after being transported long distances became prevalent. But we’ve lost a great deal in the bargain. Apples with a few bruises and brown spots might have phenomenal taste.

The taste makes up for any superficial blemishes.

So…why was I so eager to try Astrachans? (Red or white, I didn’t care!)

This was one of the first books I read when I started working at Old World Wisconsin.

It started when I read The Emigrants. In Vilhelm Moberg’s suite of novels about a Swedish immigrant family in Minnesota, Kristina—who never stops longing for her old homeland—dreams about the Astrachan apple tree back home. Her husband, Karl Oskar, grows an Astrachan on their new farm in an attempt to ease her homesickness.

Some believe Moberg modeled Karl Oskar on Andrew Peterson, a Swedish immigrant and horticulturist who settled in Minnesota. Peterson began planting apple grafts in 1856, and tried over a hundred varieties. In 1884, he wrote of planting “Russian apple trees.”  (Astrachans evidently originated in Russia, moved on to Sweden, and were brought to the US by immigrants.) In 1886, Peterson wrote that “The Russian White Astrakhan is hardier than the Duchess and is a good bearer.”

There’s something quite special in savoring antique apples (or any other kind of heirloom fruit or vegetable.) They are living links to the past. It’s fine to hold a dusty antique and wonder who once made or owned or used it. But when we eat heirloom produce, we are sharing an actual experience.

Scott and I enjoyed a couple of our Astrachans straight up. They were tart and crisp and delicious. After a day in my kitchen, though, they turned soft enough that I decided to bake the rest. The only logical choice was the pie recipe that came from Otto Hilgendorf, an elderly German-American gentleman who donated two outbuildings to the Koepsell Farm at Old World Wisconsin several decades ago. Otto’s gone now, but I think of him every time I make this pie. I posted his photo and recipe last winter (January 14th). The recipe is worth repeating:

Otto Hilgendorf’s Sour Cream Apple Pie
Line a pan with your favorite pie pastry, and fill with apples.  (I don’t peel the apples, just core and slice.)
Mix 1 c. sugar with 1 T. flour, 1 T. cinnamon, and a pinch of salt.  Sprinkle half of that mixture over the apples.
Spread 1 c. of sour cream over the apples, and sprinkle the rest of the sugar mixture on top of that.
Bake about 1 hour at 350 degrees.  Serve cold.

Antique apples and an antique recipe = a fabulous pie!