Sunday, October 17, 2010

Welcome Guest Blogger Kathleen Ernst!

KAE KKlubertanz 009 I’m grateful to Riley and friends for allowing me to be a guest here. And I’m grateful to readers! I love my work, and I’d be nowhere without you. Leave a comment here, and your name will go into a daily drawing for one free book. The winner can choose any of my sixteen titles. Old World Murder, one of my American Girl mysteries, a Civil War novel—the choice will be yours!

Eating Ethnic

by Kathleen Ernst

I grew up in the sixties, in the suburbs of Baltimore. It was a time of gelatin salads and tuna casseroles. On my mom’s side the family had lived on the Jersey shore for a long time, and they did crab cakes really well. My father’s parents were both born in Switzerland, but other than having fondue every once in a while, I don’t recall eating anything particularly Swiss. Our food traditions were pretty mainstream.

Fossebrekke Bea SandySo moving to Wisconsin, and going to work at an historic site that celebrated the state’s rich and diverse European heritage, was a revelation. Old World Wisconsin’s relocated and restored farms and village buildings include fourteen working kitchens, 1845-1915. The site represents Irish, Welsh, Yankee, African-American, Bohemian, German, Polish, Norwegian, Danish, and Finnish immigrants. (The color photo shows two interpreters working in an 1845 Norwegian cabin.)

I was fresh out of college, and could talk at length about learning styles and theories of museum education. I didn’t know a thing about cooking on a woodstove, or historic cooking or baking. Fortunately, a lot of wonderful women helped me learn what I needed to know. I spent two years an interpreter, working every day in one of the restored homes or farms. Then I moved behind the scenes. Among other things, I coordinated the historic foodways program.

There are lots of ways to research and study people who lived in earlier times, but recreating their food traditions is surely one of the most rewarding. I never forgot the thrill of thinking, I’m tasting what they tasted. Using heirloom produce and period techniques and recipes passed from mother to daughter—perhaps even brought to the Midwest in an immigrant trunk—never got old.

I’ve moved on, but the things I learned at the historic site shaped what I do in my own kitchen. The same thing is true of Chloe Ellefson, the protagonist in my new mystery, Old World Murder. The book is set at Old World Wisconsin, and as the series progresses, Chloe will have the opportunity to explore the food traditions from a variety of ethnic groups.

So, what are your favorite ethnic treats? Who introduced them to you?

KAE Schottler Sepia original I had a hard time choosing a single recipe to share here today, but finally settled on this German coffeecake. At Old World it’s often made at the 1875 Schottler farm. (The sepia-toned photo is me in the Schottler kitchen back in 1982, cutting up rhubarb for kuchen.) The Schottlers’ granddaughter recalled enjoying the treat with her grandparents.


2/3 c. sugar

2. eggs, beaten

1 t. salt

1 c. shortening (originally lard)

¼ t. nutmeg

2 oz. yeast, dissolved in ¼ c. warm water

1 c. milk

3-4 c. unbleached flour

fruit—whatever is ripe—cinnamon, and sugar

Put yeast and water and 1 c. flour in mixing bowl. Let sponge set for about 1 hour. Add sugar, salt, nutmeg, shortening, and egg. Add remaining flour and knead. Let rise until almost doubled, 60-90 ninety minutes. Grease a round cake pan or cast iron skillet. Punch down dough, and form dough into pan. Top with sliced fruit, and/or cinnamon and sugar. Bake at 350 degrees until golden brown, about 35-45 minutes. Enjoy!

OWM Kathleen Ernst is celebrating the publication of her first adult mystery, Old World Murder (Midnight Ink). She has also written eight mysteries for young readers. Several have been finalists for Edgar or Agatha awards. For more information see her website,, or her blog,


  1. Hmmm, this might be a hard one since my "ethnic heritage" is actually Southern and my favorite dishes run to skillet cornbread and fried chicken, cream gravy, mashed potatoes with LOTS of butter, chicken and dumplings with flour dumplings cut into strips, barbecue anything...I think I'll quit there! I'm making myself hungry! Nurse JudyMac

  2. Love the recipe and the sepia pic of you. My Father's hertitage is also from Switzerland and Germany. His ancestors settled in Lancaster County Pennslyania in the late 1600's and were Menonites. My favorite recipe is Shoo Fly Pie. Great blog, enjoyed your story.

  3. I always thought being an interpreter would be a thrill - getting to live history, to literally put myself into the shoes of women who lived so long ago. When I lived on the East Coast I haunted places like Williamsburg and Plimouth, soaking up everything the interpreters said and did.

    The photo of you is just classically beautiful. I'd have been proud to take it.

    My favorite ethnic foods? English and Scottish standbys, like shepherd's pie, toad in the hole, crumpets, spotted dick, and if I'm close to the ocean, fish and chips!

    I can't wait for this book now.

  4. Thanks so much for coming by the Mystery Lovers' Kitchen today, Kathleen! I love the pictures and the coffeecake recipe. Mmm!

    I'll agree with Nurse Judy that the Southern culture is overwhelming with its own offerings! Although I will say that probably the Mennonite group, which does have a strong presence in South Carolina, has fascinated me. Their cookies and breads are amazing.

  5. Kathleen, another Southern in the mix here. I like to think in the South we just enjoy food. Love the recipe and the photo of you.

    Thoughts in Progress

  6. Another southern her too I agree with Elizabeth the Mennonites here in SC have great food. Of course like Nurse Judy said fried chicken, cornbread all comfort food. Thank you for being a guest Kathleen I will have to check out your books as well.

  7. Welcome to the Kitchen, Kathleen! Your tale of inspiration for OLD WORLD MURDER is fascinating. I'm so glad you shared it with us. (Your PW review was stellar, and I can't wait to read it.) The kuchen recipe is priceless, given its flexibility for using seasonal fruit, and I look forward to trying it. I must also agree with Laine - the "historical" photo of you cutting rhubarb is gorgeous, like a sepia-toned Vermeer. Thank you again for visiting with us today and big congrats on the publication of your first adult mystery.

    ~ Cleo
    Cleo Coyle on Twitter

  8. I also grew up on the east coast and although I think it's regional, rather than ethnic, I can remember church suppers of "clam pie" - clams baked in a pie crust. Clams could be dug literally out our back door, so it was inexpensive as well as delicious. I'd love to win your new adult mystery.

    pennyt at hotmail dot com

  9. German here, Kathleen, so when I saw there was an authentic kuchen recipe, I scurried over to Mystery Lovers' Kitchen. For over a year, I worked across the street from an authentic German bakery that made the most heavenly kuchen. They just couldn't make a go of it in our small town, unfortunately. (Or maybe fortunately for my wasteline.) Thank you for the recipe, and good luck with Old World Murder.

  10. Looking forward to Cloak and Clue discussion of your book. I'm going to try this recipe, my German heritage has been awakened!!

  11. Thanks for the warm welcome, everyone! And thanks for sharing your favorites. I am endlessly fascinated by our culinary diversity.

    One of the things I love about food traditions are the stories they tell. They reflect regions, families, ethnicity, personal tastes. Whenever I travel I love trying new and local dishes. (Just had bubble tea for the first time, in San Francisco's Chinatown.)

  12. I should mention - I'll be on an airplane for most of the day, and unable to post in a timely fashion. But I will check in as soon as I can! Be sure to check late tonight or tomorrow for the book winner's name.

    And there are more chances to win! You can see the schedule for the rest of my blog tour at my own blog,

  13. i actually bought your book last week. traveled 50 miles to get it. I absolutely love rhubarb and would love to make this with it. Lori Cimino

  14. Wow, thanks, Lori! Fifty miles? I hope you enjoy it.

  15. Thanks so much for joining us in the kitchen, Kathleen! Great post! I love the thought, I'm tasting what they tasted. Wonderful! I frequently consult my Grammy's recipe box -- it certainly keeps loved ones close and history alive.

  16. My favorite ethnic treats are those that are served for Chinese Dim Sum. I just love the idea of lots of small dishes of dumplings, filled buns, etc to munch on with friends over several pots of black tea.

    Saw from the comments that you had recently tried Bubble Tea. You can buy the dried tapioca balls in Asian grocery stores and boil them up at home to add to your own beverage concoctions.

  17. Thanks for joining us, Kathleen. I love ethnic foods -- almost too many to mention. Lil's post about Dim Sum has me missing my favorite Chinese restaurant.

    ~ Krista

  18. I am really looking forward to reading this book Kathleen. Growing up German and Polish in MN, only my Aunt Jeannie cooked for the family. As I grew up and became more interested in food, my Aunt passed away. Her recipes lost. My favorite dish she made was a seafood pasta salad.I know, neither German or Polish! I look forward to making the Kuchen- we just got a load of apples from GA! Though I miss the Rhubarb down here in FL. Thanks. Christine
    your1chef@aol. com

  19. My Swedish grandmother made rye bread almost every day. On holidays she made little things she called tassies (sp?). They were like tiny pecan pies, two bites each, or one if you were really hungry. And her spritz cookies! I've never been able to make them like she (and my mom) did.
    Thanks for the post!

  20. ALWAYS LOVE a Kuchen recipe! Thanks and greatest of luck on your book! Looking forward to reading it!

  21. Thanks for the tip about Bubble Tea. I will track down the tapioca balls.

    The comment about family recipes being lost is a warning for all of us. Let's get those special traditions documented!

  22. And the book winner is...Jenn McKinlay! Jenn, please get in touch with me at k.ernst @ so we can work out the details.

    Thanks again for letting me visit, and for the good conversation!

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