Tag Archives: Wisconsin

New Book Ready for Pre-Order

Why pre-order a book? Right now, prices on everything are going up, but if you order the book now, the price is guaranteed. It’s available on all the usual sites (including Amazon and the publisher’s, U of IL Press).

This is a fun book filled with surprising tales and delightful destinations. I take you along as I explore a much-overlooked region, the American Midwest. Everyone from Wyatt Earp to Henry Ford is there. Don’t just read about history, but learn where you can explore more about Native Americans, the Pony Express, shipwrecks, the Underground Railroad, early pioneers, the Civil War, railroads, and a lot of stuff that will make you wonder why it got left out of your textbooks!!!

Don’t be scared by the price of the cloth-bound library version. That is for libraries. The general population version is paperback and only costs $19.95 — and the e-book is cheaper still. But you owe it to yourself to pursue this adventure. The Midwest and its past really are remarkable—and the present is pretty cool, too.

University of Illinois Press

Amazon

Hope you’ll join me for the adventure.

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Filed under Food, Geography, History, Midwest, Recipe, Thoughts, Travel

Wilmot Stage Stop

I love history. I love food. And I’m particularly pleased when the two come together. Among the wonderful, historic venues in which I’ve dined, I have found former stage coach stops to be good, reliable fun. In 2014, a year before I started the Midwest Maize blog, I posted in The World’s Fare (one of my other two blogs) about a couple of stage coach stops I had enjoyed, one in Michigan and one in California. But I have now found a historic stage coach stop closer to home: The Wilmot Stage Stop in southern Wisconsin.

Built in 1848, this is the oldest tap and dining room in Wisconsin. It was a place where those traveling by stage coach between Galena, IL, and Kenosha, WI, could stop during a long trip for a meal, entertainment, and a room for the night. As you can see from this early photo, the exterior still looks much as it did when the Stage Stop opened more than 150 years ago.

The food is hearty steakhouse fare, with its Wisconsin heritage reflected in abundant butter, sour cream, and brandy (WI being the top consumer of brandy in the U.S.).

Dinners come with rolls, butter, salads with house-made dressings, and a baked potato with a stunning amount of butter, plus sour cream. Steaks are cooked on a broad grill that is open to the dining room. Lobsters can be added to any meal, and one watches a steady stream of those emerge from the kitchen. (This is a popular place for special celebrations, so many lobsters are ordered.)

When your meal is done, you can climb the steep, wooden stairs to the second and third floors, which have been turned into a museum. Tours of the museum are offered Thursday through Sunday. The second floor was for dancing and billiards, and an old piano and vintage billiard tables with ivory balls are among the reminders of the entertainment offered. The third floor is where the overnight accommodations were located, and small rooms are furnished as they were during the heyday of the stagecoach.

In a couple of weeks, I’ll be meeting friends from further north, to introduce them to this fun, historic spot. Looking forward to re-immersing myself in the past at the Wilmot Stage Stop.

Oh—and worth noting, should you visit: the door that faces the street is the original front door, used back when a stagecoach pulled up in front. Today, however, that door is locked, and the current entrance is on the back side of the building, facing the parking lot.

Wilmot Stage Stop
30646 113th Street
Wilmot, WI 53192
http://www.wilmotstagestop.com/

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Swiss Cheese Salad

Monroe, Wisconsin, attracted me for several reasons. There is a museum that celebrates cheesemaking (the delightful and informative National Historic Cheesemaking Center). It is home to the oldest cheese shop in a state that is practically defined by cheese (Baumgartner, which sits on the town square). And it is the location of what is likely the last Swiss Turner Hall in the U.S.

Turner Halls were/are community centers in German-speaking communities. The halls generally include meeting rooms, event spaces, and somewhere to eat and drink, but the real focus was gymnastics—because Turner means gymnast in German (or, more precisely, a member of a Turnverein, or gymnastics club).

Monroe is at the heart of Green County, which was settled by Swiss immigrants and still has a largely Swiss population. There are cheese makers scattered about the countryside and an annual event at the Cheesemaking Center where cheesemakers hand-craft cheese using the antique equipment. So cheese is common, and of course styles from Switzerland dominate.

Monroe is sometimes called “the Swiss Cheese Capital of the United States.” It was because of this claim to fame that, in the Ratskeller Restaurant at the Turner Hall, while all the Swiss specialties on the menu looked good to me, I was particularly attracted to the Swiss Cheese Pie. (That said, as good as the pie was, I now want to go back and try two or three other specialties on the menu.)

Not too surprisingly, I eventually found myself in possession of a nice chunk of Wisconsin Swiss Cheese. Lovely stuff. When I had consumed all but the last quarter pound, I came up with an idea that I thought was worth trying: Swiss Cheese Salad. I chopped the cheese into fairly fine dice, chopped a couple of tablespoons of sweet onion (or just a little less diced onion than you have diced cheese), combined the two, and added enough mayo to hold it together. It was great.

As I enjoyed it, it occurred to me that it was unlikely I was the only person who had ever had such a flash of inspiration. I did a search for Swiss Cheese Salad and learned that, indeed, I was not the first person to come up with the idea. However, my version was much simpler than the other versions I found, which means it is more likely that I’ll make it again. But definitely try it. Very tasty. However, as a food historian, it also reminded me how hard it can be to identify the origins of some dishes—because some food ideas occurred to multiple people in multiple locations.

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Memories and Nueske’s

Growing up in Illinois, it seemed as though our neighbor to the north, Wisconsin, was almost as big a part of my life as my own state. I spent summers for nine years camping in the North Woods. Cousins of my mother’s had a cabin in Wisconsin, and we visited them. Vacations when my brother and I were very young (even before my camping days) often involved Wisconsin, both at “attractions,” including the Wisconsin Dells, and relaxing escapes to small lakeside cottages, where swimming and fishing were the big delights. Much later, my parents lived in Wisconsin for a few years, when my dad was sent there to help build up a small candy company (it was during this time that I discovered the joys of Friday Fish Fry in Wisconsin). And I have always found something to draw me northward, from the Wisconsin State Fair to the House on the Rock to the places mentioned previously in this blog.

Food was also always part of the fun. Many folks may think first of cheese when they think of Wisconsin—after all, it is the dairy state, and it does create some absolutely sensational cheeses. A stop at the Mars Cheese Castle is a requirement. But many of us think just as frequently, and definitely as fondly, of the German influence so evident everywhere, including in the making of sausages and smoked meats. My dad loved dining out, and the famous German restaurants in Milwaukee were a big draw. I can still remember my first dinner at Mader’s—and I still have the cookbook dad got me on that visit. (We won’t talk about how long ago that was.)

On a recent drive across Wisconsin, as I neared Wittenberg, I turned my wheels toward one of the many German-influenced culinary delights the state offers: Nueske’s Applewood Smoked Meats. While Nueske’s is probably best known for their bacon, they make a wide range of smoked delights, some of which are only available at their handsome headquarters. Here, the original smokehouse, used by the first generations of Nueske’s nearly a century ago, has been kept as a memento of their history, because they smoke far too much meat these days for it to handle the demand. Still, it is a fairly small company, family owned and true to its heritage.

wi-nueskes-orig-smokehouse-b

In addition to an impressive array of meats inside, during the summer, there is a “mobile home” out front, a log cabin on a truck bed, that serves up great sandwiches and smoky baked beans for those who stop by.

nueskes-meat-b

wi-nueskes-trailer-b

So while it’s not a “destination” in the sense that anyone would plan a trip there, it is definitely a great place to stop if you’re in the area.

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International Crane Foundation

Normally, when I get an issue of National Geographic, while I might be sent dreaming, I rarely have the opportunity to just jump in the car and follow up on a feature article. But then there was the issue where the lead article and cover photo were from the International Crane Foundation (ICF), which is in Wisconsin, just a few hours north of where I live. So the next weekend found me heading northward, to the only place in the world where you can see every species of crane there is.

I had seen the brolga (Australian crane) during my several visits Down Under. The African gray crowned crane was familiar from a number of zoos, but they’re so fabulous looking, it’s always fun seeing them.

African gray crowned cranes

African gray crowned cranes

I was familiar with sandhill cranes and whooping cranes, but seeing them up close was grand. Many of the cranes, however, were unfamiliar to me—the demoiselle crane, blue crane, wattled crane, hooded crane, black-necked crane, white-naped crane, saurus crane, and the African black crowned crane, rarer than his gray cousin.

Wattled crane

Wattled crane

Blue cranes

Blue cranes

There was a tremendous amount of information available, from guides, bird handlers, and displays. The visit ended up triggering other trips, to places where cranes nest or flyways where they stop during migration.

In addition to the cranes, the ICF has many acres of restored savannah, open wetland, and restored prairie, where one can hike for hours, admiring indigenous trees, flowers, and birds in the wild.

Wild lupines on the ICF prairie

Wild lupines on the ICF prairie

If you’re fortunate enough to be there in the spring, when eggs are hatching, you might get to witness the teaching of chicks to drink and eat. A crane will only hatch one egg, so the staff will rescue the unhatched egg, hatch it in an incubator, and then use a puppet to seem like a parent bird when teaching the chick basic life skills.

Hatchling learns from a hand puppet

Hatchling learns from a hand puppet

The ICF website includes photos, background, and information for visiting. https://www.savingcranes.org/

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Old World Wisconsin

If you’ve been following my blogs for any length of time, you’ll probably have noticed that I not only love history, I happily visit it—traveling to places that combine historic buildings with costumed interpreters who demonstrate what life was like in the past. I’ve posted on Michigan’s amazing Greenfield Village on my The World’s Fare blog, about Sovereign Hill on my Waltzing Australia blog, and on this blog, I’ve offered multiple posts on both Iowa’s Living History Farms and Chicagoland’s Kline Creek Farm. Now it’s time to look north, to delightful Old World Wisconsin (OWW).

Like most of the Midwest, Wisconsin’s history stretches back into the days of voyageurs, fur trappers, and explorers, but with serious settlement starting in the early 1800s, after the United States had come into existence. Wisconsin was heavily enough settled by 1848 to obtain statehood. As with most of the Midwest, settlers came in waves, first from New England and then from overseas, especially Germany and Scandinavia. This varied settlement was reflected in everything from the cuisine to the architecture.

As the state grew, rather than destroying log cabins or leveling antique towns, researchers began documenting the old buildings—and then bringing them here. So when you go to Old World Wisconsin, you don’t learn a general history of what a typical Dane or Yankee might have been like; they can tell you exactly who owned the home, where they were from, and what their lives were like.

Iron Stoves cooked food and heated homes.

Iron Stoves cooked food and heated homes.

In some cases, the original furnishings have been preserved. As would have been the case with early settlement, so too at OWW, buildings are clustered by nationality of original owners. You can visit settlements of Poles, Germans, Finns, Danes, Norwegians, and Yankees (New Englanders).

Even the bathtub was kept in the kitchen pantry, as water would be heated on the stove.

Even the bathtub (back right corner) was kept in the kitchen pantry, as water would be heated on the stove.

In addition, there are fields and farms where you can watch traditional types of farming or see early breeds of livestock. Aside from farming, exhibitions range from early forms of baseball to classes in a one-room schoolhouse, from cooking to a working blacksmith shop, and much more.

New England's influence is seen in the 1880s village. The red building is the blacksmith shop.

New England’s influence is seen in the 1880s village. The red building is the blacksmith shop.

Old World Wisconsin is not merely historic, it’s also beautiful, nestled amid forests and dotted with ponds. Even as I type this, I’m planning a return trip. OWW id located in Eagle, WI, west of Milwaukee. For more information, from directions to scheduled events, you can visit their website: http://oldworldwisconsin.wisconsinhistory.org/

OWW-Cabin

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And the Nation’s Top Brandy Market Is…

Wisconsin.

Who’d have imagined? Well, probably folks in Wisconsin, but it was certainly a surprise to most of us at this weekend’s Greater Midwest Foodways Alliance (GMFA) conference on Wisconsin Supper Clubs.

And how much brandy are we talking about? Wisconsin consumes one third of all the brandy produced in the United States. According to one source, that’s roughly 650,000 cases of domestic brandy per year.

Top drink, sometimes half-jokingly suggested as a candidate for official state cocktail, is a brandy old fashioned. (They mentioned that if you simply order an old fashioned, without specifying preferred liquor, you’ll automatically get the brandy version.) In the number two spot is the brandy Alexander. But a toddy or a simple snifter with good brandy are not ruled out.

These drinks are all staples of Wisconsin’s multitudes of supper clubs, where locals and tourists gather for good food and a friendly evening of conversation—and brandy.

Another interesting fact that was shared is that supper clubs (usually places out in the country) did well because Wisconsin had more paved rural roads than any other state, so supper clubs and American car culture grew together.

Supper clubs are family owned and food, which is generally locally sourced and seasonal, is made from scratch. Menus can be ambitious, but certain elements are immutable: Friday-night fish fry and Saturday prime rib topping that list.

We also learned that broasted chicken was invented in Beloit, Wisconsin. There is a machine called a broaster, and broasting is a proprietary technology that cooks chicken very quickly, while minimizing the amount of oil to which the chicken is exposed.

While supper clubs are not clubs now, they did require membership during Prohibition.

So much more to share, but perhaps I should leave that to those who were presenters:

Mary Bergin, journalist, syndicated columnist, and author of The Wisconsin Supper Club Cookbook.

Teresa Allen, culinary historian and author of The Flavor of Wisconsin.

Dave Hoekstra, award-winning Chicago journalist and radio personality, and author of The Supper Club Book (which strays outside of Wisconsin).

Holly De Ruyter, documentary filmmaker and creator of the charming film, Old Fashioned: The Story of the Wisconsin Supper Club.

As for the Greater Midwest Foodways Alliance, it is an organization that has as its goal the study and preservation of foodways found across a far-too-often ignored region—the American Heartland. GMFA supports research, hosts heirloom recipe contests at state fairs, and puts on conferences.

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