Be Milwaukee’s Guest

After last week’s she-crab debacle, I decided that there would be no substitutions, and definitely no going off-book this time. I would respect and honor the explicit instructions of the Junior League of Milwaukee. Yet, almost immediately, I found I was having trust issues with my recipe.

Because, you see, I was making Sauerbraten. After Edward Harris Heth’s elegy to Sauerbraten mit kartoffel-kloese (potato dumplings) in the introduction to Be Milwaukee’s Guest, I did not see any way I could avoid it, despite certain misgivings. Like the fact that Sauerbraten marinates in a mixture of red wine vinegar and baking spices for four days, or the fact that it is served with a gravy containing crumbled gingersnaps. In what universe could this possibly be tasty?

But I figured that if it was good enough for the Junior League of Milwaukee and their families, it was good enough for me. And even I had to admit, it did look awfully pretty when I tucked it in the fridge in its marinade, though four days in a red wine vinegar marinade will do scary-looking things to a piece of beef.

How braten becomes sauerbraten

How braten becomes Sauerbraten


Kidney Fat

Kidney Fat

3 pound round steak, cut about 2″ thick
1 tablespoon salt
1/2 teaspoon pepper
2 onions, sliced
1 carrot, sliced
1 stack celery, chopped
4 cloves
1/2 teaspoon ground ginger
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
4 peppercorns
1 pint red wine vinegar

Searing the Post-Marinade Beef

Searing the Post-Marinade Beef

1 1/2 pints water
2 bay leaves
2 tablespoons kidney fat
6 tablespoons butter
5 tablespoons flour
1 tablespoon sugar
8-10 gingersnaps, crushed

Wipe meat with a damp cloth; season with salt and pepper. Place in glass or enamelware bowl. Combine onions, carrot, celery, cloves, peppercorns, vinegar, bay leaves, and enough water to cover meat. Cover and place in refrigerator to marinate for 4 days.

On 5th day, drain meat, reserving liquid, saute in kidney fat and 1 tablespoon butter until seared on all sides (use enameled vessel). Add marinade liquid and bring to a boil; lower heat and simmer for 3 hours. Melt remaining butter in a pan; blend in flour and sugar and let brown; add to simmering meat mixture. Cover and continue cooking until meat is tender (about 1 more hour). Remove meat to serving platter. Stir gingersnaps into the pot juices and cook until thickened. Pour this gravy over meat and serve. Serves 6-8.

-Sally Webb Ratzsch

"The ugly can be beautiful, the pretty, never." -Paul Gauguin

"The ugly can be beautiful, the pretty, never." -Paul Gauguin

I did not know if I’d be able to obtain kidney fat on short notice, but sent Brady to our local butcher.  Being a southerner who frequently finds himself in need of lard, ham hocks, andouille sausage, and other things you can’t get at Ralph’s, Brady’s become something of a regular at Marconda’s Meats lately, and they’ve never failed him.  So, I wasn’t the slightest bit surprised when he waltzed through the door and presented me with a pound of kidney fat (and a still-warm beignet – what a guy).  Though my recipe only called for 2 tablespoons, well, it was only $3, and now I have a bunch of kidney fat in my freezer should I ever require it.

My fears were also allayed throughout the course of the afternoon, because, despite its rather inelegant appearance, the Sauerbraten smelled maddeningly delicious.

The arrival of our dinner guest fast approaching, I began work on the potato dumplings. Ms. Ratzsch also provides this recipe in Be Milwaukee’s Guest.

Potato Dumplings

These light, tender dumplings are the traditional substitute for potatoes with Sauerbraten, but prove a delectable companion dish with roasts and stews of every kind.

In case you weren't sure what "farina" is

I always buy this brand, for obvious reasons.

3 pounds white potatoes
3 eggs, beaten
3 tablespoons cornstarch
3 tablespoons raw farina
1/2 teaspoon pepper
1 1/2 teaspoons salt
1/2 teaspoon grated nutmeg
1 tablespoon chopped celery
1/2 cup finely chopped cooked bacon
2 cups toasted bread cubes (croutons)
2 tablespoons flour

Peel potatoes and boil until just soft enough to mash. Drain, mash thoroughly and add all other ingredients, mixing well. Shape into balls 1-2″ in diameter. Drop the dumplings into gently boiling salted water and cook for 10 minutes. Drain well. Serve with gravy or melted, seasoned butter.

-Sally Webb Ratzsch

I was just about to get these on to boil when our dinner guest, Leah, arrived.  Leah is a Wisconsin native who actually makes a living doing crafty, awesome stuff.  She can knit absolutely anything, bikes fearlessly in Los Angeles, and in yet another testament to her coolness, took no offense when I put her to work peeling apples for our dessert.

Be Milwaukee’s Guest has a very waste-not, want-not aesthetic, filling extra margins on the page with cooking tips, interesting local facts, and short, simple recipes like this one.

Simple, but satisfying

Simple, but satisfying

Baked Apples

Something special in baked apples… pare, quarter and core 6 cooking apples.  Place them in a pie plate and cover with a mixture of 4 tablespoons maple sugar, 3 tablespoons butter, and 1 cup boiling water, simmered together for 5 minutes.  Bake at 350 degrees until apples are tender, basting occasionally.

-Peggy Kuehn O’Malley

As the dumplings boiled and the gingersnap gravy thickened, Brady prepared a cocktail he was first served in Madison, “The Sconnie”: pour 1 oz. Maker’s Mark over ice, and top off with ginger ale. I opted for a Leinenkugel Sunset Wheat, proudly brewed in Chippewa Falls, WI.

And then, we sat down to dinner. Leah brought a leaf from Wisconsin to pretty up the table:

Our Milwaukee Dinner

Our Milwaukee Dinner

And wow, what a dinner it was. The tangy, marinated beef just fell apart on the plate, the gingersnap gravy was a perfect balance of savory and sweet, and the apples were a light, wholesome finish to the meal. Our only criticism was that the potato dumplings didn’t hold together well, and were a little bit bland, but perfectly serviceable with a dollop of gravy.

Three cheers for Leah and Brady, who helped me get the meal together, three cheers to the Junior League of Milwaukee and Be Milwaukee’s Guest, but most of all, three cheers to Sauerbraten, the true hero of the meal.  I’m sorry I ever doubted your deliciousness.


be-milwaukees-guestBefore looking at Be Milwaukee’s Guest, I’d envisioned certain things for my menu this week:  a potato salad taste test, a pancake and pastry dinner, tasty fried perch with a side of fried cheese curds (all so unhealthy it makes my teeth hurt to think on it).  But much to my surprise, there’s scarcely a fish dish to be found in the cookbook, and nary a cheese curd.  Alas.

At the time of the cookbook’s publication, 20% of Milwaukee residents were foreign-born Germans, Poles, and Italians.  However, there’s also not much to be found in the way of Italian food here.  And as someone who’s eaten a home-cooked Milwaukee Italian dinner, let me just say, that’s a shame (oh Mrs. Leo, I am still trying to figure out how to replicate your ziti).

So, if you notice a certain Germanic trope to this week’s recipes, it’s not for lack of trying.  Here are a few excellent ones from Be Milwaukee’s Guest that might tickle your fancy.


This simple egg noodle know to Milwaukeeans as Spaetzle can be made at a moment’s notice and can be used whenever noodles or rice are called for.  Combine 4 cups flour, 1 teaspoon salt, 1/2 teaspoon grated nutmeg, 4 beaten eggs and enough milk to make a heavy batter (about 2 cups).  Force this batter through a large hole colander into rapidly boiling water and cook about 5 minutes.  Drain and add butter.

– Mary Minton Netzow

I so dearly wanted to include this next recipe on the Milwaukee menu, but when you see what I’m serving tomorrow, you’ll understand why it was not to be.  This is a recipe for one of those tasty baked pancakes that you sometimes see on restaurant menus along with a caution that it will take at least 30 minutes to be served.  Oh so worth the wait, though, especially when served with apples stewed with brown sugar, cinnamon, and butter.

From the March 1959 issue of Better Homes and Gardens.  Just in time for Lent!

From Better Homes and Gardens, March 1959

German Pancake

This huge, delicious pancake is the center of attraction in many Milwaukee homes when Sunday night supper time rolls around.  Oven baked and usually served as the main course, it is both simple and simply delicious… part pancake, part popover.. some may recognize it as a distant relative of the famous English Yorkshire Pudding.

1 cup milk
3 eggs
1/2 cup flour
2 tablespoons butter
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 tablespoon sugar (optional)

Grease bottom and sides of heavy cast iron skillet (12″).  Preheat skillet in 450 degree oven.  Combine all ingredients in an electric blender or mixing bowl.  Blend thoroughly.  Pour batter into preheated skillet and bake at 450 degrees for 20 minutes.  Reduce temperature to 375 degrees and continue baking 5-10 minutes or until pancake is temptingly brown.  Serve while very hot with powdered sugar and lemon juice, crushed sugared fresh fruit, butter-cinnamon-sugar, or warm maple syrup.  Makes 1 12″ pancake.  Serves 3-4.

-Laura Hipke Bratt

And finally, no 1950s Sconnie meal would be complete without some kind of torte (Be Milwaukee’s Guest contains no less than 10 of them).  This meringue-topped layer cake with custard filling is one of the Midwest’s most famous:

Blitz Torte

1/2 cup sugar
1/2 cup butter
4 egg yolks
1 teaspoon vanilla
1 cup flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
4 tablespoons milk
4 egg whites, stiffly beaten
1 cup sugar
1/3 cup sliced almonds

Cream sugar and butter thorougly.  Beat in egg yolks one at a time.  Add vanilla.  Sift flour and baking powder together and add to creamed mixture alternately with milk.  Beat until smooth.  Pour batter into 2 greased 9″ cake pans.  Make a meringue by adding 1 cup sugar gradually to stiffly beaten egg whites.  Top each unbaked layer with 1/2 the meringue, sprinkling sliced almonds over tops.  Bake at 350 degrees for 1/2 hour.  Cool and put the following custard between layers.

6 tablespoons sugar
1 tablespoon cornstarch
1/2 cup sour cream
3 egg yolks
1 tablespoon butter
1 teaspoon vanilla flavoring
1/2 teaspoon almond flavoring

Combine sugar and cornstarch.  Add sour cream.  Stir into slightly beaten egg yolks.  Add butter.  Cook this mixture in double boiler, stirring constantly, until thick.  Remove from heat and cool.  Add flavorings.  Chill.  Use as filling between two torte layers.

-Marian Mueller Hume

Next up:  Wherein I redeem myself, and become a sauerbraten junkie.

On, Wisconsin!

On, Wisconsin!

For week two of my Junior League project, I decided to go with another oldie, but goodie from my collection, Be Milwaukee’s Guest, published in 1959.  Though the Junior League of Milwaukee has since published many fine cookbooks, this one has a particularly lovely theme, which the book’s editors explain in an introductory note:  “The abundance of good food, which is Wisconsin’s heritage, is nowhere more fulgently described than in the extravagant folk tales of Paul Bunyan.”

Fulgently.  Who says that?  And why don’t they say it more often?

Each chapter begins with a quotation from Louis Untermeyer’s The Wonderful Adventures of Paul Bunyan.  Like Milwaukee’s long-serving mayor, Daniel Hoan, Untermeyer was a good Marxist.  He would later be persecuted by HUAC, Joseph McCarthy (Wisconsin’s least favorite son), and their angry, letter-writing supporters in the 1950s, though he would go on to serve as Poet Laureate during the Kennedy administration.

Untermeyer’s passages speak to the bounty of a Wisconsin harvest:  “tomatoes as big as pumpkins, cabbages so large that two men had to saw them in half before they could bring them in…,” and to the general hardiness of Wisconsinites:

If you can say one thing for Wisconsinites, it's that they eat with great joy and gusto.

This also happens with beer.

I've been here.  It's ghastly.

I've been here. It's ghastly.

The book also includes an introduction by Edward Harris Heth, native Milwaukeean and author of The Wonderful World of Cooking.  Heth rhapsodizes the delights of Wisconsin cookery, saying he doubts any Paris confiseur‘s shop window has ever held a trifle “to outsavor my Aunt Minnie’s blitz torte,” and has a downright Proustian moment over the memory of his mother’s sauerbraten mit kartoffel-kloesse.

Between the introduction and the Paul Bunyan yarns, it’s unsurprising that the cohesive theme of recipes in Be Milwaukee’s Guest is abundance, and plates piled high with soul-warming, starchy German and Scandanavian foods, local game, and farm-fresh vegetables.

Come on in, and make yourself at home.  It’s cozy here.  As long as you’re not too attached to your girlish figure.

The images of historic Wisconsin travel brochures were found in See the USA:  The Art of the American Travel Brochure by John Margolies and Eric Baker.