What Do You Think the Poor People are Doing Tonight?

Last night, my wife made her soon-to-be-famous Breakfast Cookies- a hearty cookie which includes whole wheat flour, rolled oats, milled flax seed, pecans, applesauce, and about 47 other ingredients which elude me.  She’s scoured the internet and has combined some ingredients from this recipe with some ingredients from that recipe.  This is the third or fourth time she’s made them and each time they seem to get better and better.  After she finished baking last night, she commented that she thought she had finally gotten the recipe “dialed in” and proceeded to write it down.

While she tends to prefer the consistency of a proven recipe, I prefer to develop my recipes by feel.  Lately, I’ve been concentrating on trying to emulate some of the principles that guided my grandparents and other ancestors, namely that expensive ingredients do not necessarily equate to good food and that inexpensive ingredients can often equate to excellent food.  I’m starting to feel pretty confident about being able to make really good bread, pasta/ noodles/ dumplings, Swedish Pancakes, soups, pesto, and lately home-made pita bread or naan.  All of these are very inexpensive to make.  This fall I really want to start making sausage.

[singlepic id=48 w=300 h=220 float=right]There are several dishes that my grandparents on both sides were famous for and many of these recipes, I’m sure, were passed down from generation to generation.  On my mom’s side, my Grandma Emma was known for being an exceptional cook.  She had the ability, imagination, and patience to be able to turn an inexpensive piece of shoe leather into an incredible roast.  Some of her recipes, Sauerbraten and Knoedl for example, were “influenced” by her Bavarian husband, my Grandpa Dodge and his family.  Knoedl are dumplings made from the stale bread my grandmother collected during the week.  Nothing went to waste.

[singlepic id=49 w=300 h=220 float=left]On my dad’s side of the family, my Granny Pat and Aunt Grace often made Potato Dumplings.  While this may not sound exciting, just the mention of Granny Pat making Potato Dumplings would send my cousins and me into a lather.  This dish consisted of dumplings made from finely grated potatoes, eggs, and flour which were boiled, drained and then covered with a broth made with sliced onions, bacon, and bacon grease.  My arteries are hardening as I type this.  My Uncle Bob Rathkamp used to say that the best thing to use to squeeze the water out of the grated potatoes was an old t-shirt.  I have no doubt this recipe is Pommeranian, and was most likely a recipe brought over by my Waege, Brockhaus, or Wesenberg ancestors.

Good food, eaten with people you love, has the ability to bring people even closer.  My Grandma Emma and Grandpa Dodge did not come from wealthy families, quite the contrary.  But her culinary abilities made us feel like we were eating like kings.  Always and without fail, my Grandpa Dodge would end a special meal by pushing his plate away, and with a giant grin on his face say, “What do you think the poor people are doing tonight?”

Paulina on My Wall

[singlepic id=28 w=720 h=540 float=right]Here’s a bit of  family memorabilia that’s sure to raise some eyebrows.  This hair wreath was given to me by my dad and my step-mother Doris a few months ago.  They got it either from my grandmother Alice “Pat” (Waege) Rathkamp, or from my great-aunt Grace (Waege) Larson.  My dad and Doris had this wreath displayed in their home for years.  As a kid it kind of gave me the creeps.  Now I recognize its beauty.

[singlepic id=26 w=320 h=240 float=left]As much of an oddity as it may seem today, hair wreaths were popular during the Victorian era.  Women often collected their own hair, hair of friends or relatives, or hair from the recently deceased.  This hair was used to create everything from jewelry to toothpick holders.  Hair wreaths were given as a token of friendship, or they could have been used as a sort of memorial to a family member.

[singlepic id=24 w=320 h=240 float=left]In the case of this particular wreath, it appears to have been made from the hair of several people because of its different shades of brown.  There is an underlying tightly wound wire framework that the hair is fastened to and woven through.  I’m guessing this frame would have been manufactured and then purchased?

It’s impossible to tell for sure who made this particular wreath.  This wreath was given to my dad along with some other pictures.  Based on the pictures that were part of this collection my guess is that it was made by my 2nd great grandmother, Paulina (Wesenberg) Brockhaus.  Paulna was Pat & Grace’s grandmother.  Regardless of who made the wreath, it’s a bit surreal having an actual part of an ancestor hanging on my office wall.

Stay tuned for next week’s blog post where I’ll talk about how my great grandfather made a couch out of an old wagon wheel and some hair from his beard.

The Ida Brockhaus Time Machine

I have a lot of family history pictures that originally belonged to my great aunt Grace (Waege) Larson.  Just the other day I realized that out of all these pictures, the pictures I have of my Great Grandmother Ida (Brockhaus) Waege are the only pictures I own that do a really nice job of spanning an ancestor’s entire lifetime.

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Brockhaus Family Pictures

[singlepic id=7 w=320 h=240 float=left]These are two of my favorites from my collection of family pictures.  The first picture was taken on the porch of the Brockhaus family farm nearl Campbellsport, Wisconsin in about 1913. Seated from left to right in the back row are my Great Great Grandparents William and Pauline Brockhaus, their son-in-law Oscar Schwinge and their daughter Hilda. In front are my great aunt Grace Waege, my Great Grandmother Ida, my grandmother Alice (Waege) Rathkamp and Emil Brockhaus.  I’m pretty sure my Great Grandfather, Bill Waege took this picture.  I’m not sure exactly why this is a favorite of mine, but I could spend hours looking at it.

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The next picture includes Pauline and her son Emil Brockhaus.  I still haven’t identified the little girl or the woman, but I assume they are Emil’s daughter and wife.  The body language in this picture needs no translation.  I have very little information on Emil, but I do know he died in 1946 and is buried next to his parents in the Hustisford Cemetery.  In the 1920 census, Emil shows up twice.  First as a farm hand in Oak Grove, Wisconsin and next living with his parents in Hustisford, Wisconsin.  Both entries list him being divorced.  Go figure.