Tag Archives | Erika Janik


The Base of Cooking Local

Wisconsin-Made Kitchenware

Story by Erika Janik
Photography by Joe Laedtke

In 1939, the Aluminum Goods Manufacturing Company of Manitowoc tempted new brides with a 22-piece set of its finest cookware: “The grandest gift of all—(or the grandest equipment for your own kitchen)—is this new set of MIRRO—the Finest Aluminum.” Another ad promised women that they had “a right to feel self-satisfied when you know that a midnight raid on your kitchen will reveal, not disreputable old relics of pots and pans, but ware that’s Mirro-fine.” Beyond utility, cookware had become a status symbol.

We may not think much about the pots and pans in our cupboards, but the archaeological record is literally littered with kitchenware. It is these vessels and the changes in them archaeologists often use to mark the passage of time and changes in cultures. The same could be said of our own cookware.

“Cookware used to be handmade,” says Sara Dahmen, owner of Port Washington-based Housekeeper Crockery. “It was made to last a lifetime, maybe several lifetimes. That isn’t true anymore.”

Today, it’s easy to find a skillet made halfway around the world for less than $20. But in the 19th century, cookware was just as … Read More

Continue Reading

Eat Them to Save Them

Farmers Bring Back Heritage Animal Breeds

Story by Erika Janik
Photography by Joe Laedtke

Pigeon was once a staple of the North American diet.

Enormous flocks of passenger pigeons once darkened the sky, a “feathered tempest,” in the words of conservationist Aldo Leopold, making them an easy target for hunters. In 1871, Milwaukee residents could buy one dozen undressed pigeons for 45 cents or 65 cents per dozen for dressed birds.

But our huge appetite for pigeon had a damning consequence: the extinction of the bird in 1914. We did nearly the same to the buffalo.

But there are other animals that are threatened with extinction not because we eat them too much but because we don’t eat them enough: heritage farm animals.

Extinction isn’t something we typically consider with regard to farm animals. But like many wild animals, diverse domesticated breeds, animals bred over generations, are also threatened with extinction in the United States.

“The saying went, ‘save the best, eat the rest,’” explains Kathy Roxas of Morning Star Farm, of the way animals used to be raised and bred. “The best thing you can do to save these heritage animals now is to eat them.”

“Heritage” has … Read More

Continue Reading


Breadbaking Sprouts From the Past Into the Future

Story by Erika Janik
Photography by Joe Laedtke

James and Jenny Marino didn’t know their future lay in bread. But the “staff of life” became the driver of their new life in 2009, when they purchased a decades-old bakery in Waukesha.

“We got into bread very accidentally,” says Jenny Marino, CEO and president of Angelic Bakehouse. “We needed to reinvent ourselves after the collapse of the housing market and ended up buying Cybros, a bakery that had been producing sprouted grain breads for decades.”

The Marinos knew nothing about breadmaking. James had worked in the mortgage industry and Jenny was a stay-at-home mom. The pair hoped to find a business to buy and wanted to stay in Milwaukee, but they initially dismissed Cybros, because sprouted grain was so far out of their comfort zone.

One night, over a dinner of turkey burgers, James flipped over the package of wheat buns that Jenny had purchased earlier that day. He loved the taste and wondered what made them different. The buns turned out to be sprouted. The baker? Cybros.

“The cliche of love at first bite is so true,” Jenny says, with a … Read More

Continue Reading

Schaum Torte

A Sweet Living History

Story by Erika Janik
Photography by Joe Laedtke

“Send him something sweet,” urged Jean Templeton in The Milwaukee Journal on April 17, 1941. Husbands, sons, brothers, and boyfriends away at war craved desserts in addition to their army meals. “Candy, cookies, cake or a surprise schaum torte are among the packable sweets you may mark ‘perishable’ and rush through the mails by air or special delivery.” Packed between thick layers of popcorn, schaum tortes “go through the mail in perfect shape.” And bonus: with real popcorn packaging, the “entire contents of this package is edible.”

Templeton’s suggestion of schaum torte was a true taste of home for soldiers. It’s a Wisconsin favorite, particularly among those of German descent, that few outside the state know.

“I never realized there was anything unique about it until I was an adult,” says Milwaukee native Lori Fredrich, author of Milwaukee Food: A History of Cream City Cuisine. “My grandmother made schaum torte for Easter every year, and ladies sometimes brought it to church potlucks and community events. It was a special occasion food.”

Schaum torte, or sometimes schaumentorten, is German in origin. Its name translates to “foam cake,” … Read More

Continue Reading

Loaves and Fishes

Not Just a Lenten Tradition

Story by Erika Janik
Photography by Joe Laedtke

“Fish Fry Taste Conquers City in Wake of Return of Beer” declared the Milwaukee Journal on July 9, 1933. One Milwaukee tavern owner called fish and beer “a good combination” that “will go just as well in winter as in summer.”

While the declaration was perhaps a bit premature (the 21st Amendment repealing Prohibition was not officially ratified until December), many people had already begun to drink openly, and breweries had been allowed to produce beer with 3.2 percent alcohol. The connection between beer and fish was more than just taste. It was a business move.

“Bars offered fish fry as a way to get people—families—back in after Prohibition,” explains Janet Gilmore, a folklorist at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. “Fish tended to be cheap and it was an easy way to feed a crowd.”

Friday (and often Wednesday) is a kind of holy day in Wisconsin, with people gathering in taverns, supper clubs, VFW lodges and churches to eat fried fish and raise a glass of beer.

The main event is fish—often yellow perch, catfish, walleye, haddock, cod, bluegill, or smelt—battered and fried. It typically comes with … Read More

Continue Reading

By Way of Spices

The European Exploration of Wisconsin

Story by Erika Janik
Photography by Joe Laedtke

Few things conjure the spirit of the holidays better than the scent of cinnamon, cloves, vanilla and nutmeg. These flavors have long been popular with Milwaukeeans. In 1846, Water Street grocer Frederick Wardner announced in the Milwaukee Daily Courier that he had just returned with the largest stock of dry goods and groceries, with special note made of ginger, nutmeg, cinnamon, cloves and pepper, that “has ever been exhibited to the good people of Wisconsin.”

There’s something mystical about the idea of spices, invoking images of brightly colored mounds of seeds, flowers, and bark in an Eastern bazaar. While the terms are sometimes used interchangeably in the kitchen, herbs and spices are different. Herbs are the leaves of plants, while spices come from the roots, bark and seeds. Some plants provide both herb and spice, like cilantro, the leaves and coriander, the seeds of the cilantro plant. Most spices originate in the tropics, growing 15 degrees above or below the equator. Herbs, on the other hand, can be more temperate.

Demand for trade goods from Asia, especially spices like cinnamon and pepper, was high in the Middle … Read More

Continue Reading

Wisconsin Supper Clubs

Heritage Made Visible (and Edible)

Story by Erika Janik
Photography by Joe Laedtke

For many Wisconsinites, the supper club is such a part of life that it’s easy to forget—or even realize—that it has little meaning outside state lines. Filmmaker Holly De Ruyter never gave her local supper club, Colonial House in Freedom, a second thought while growing up outside Green Bay. Then she went to college in Chicago.

“I didn’t think it would be that different, but I was shocked at the cultural differences,” she says. “People in Chicago don’t eat at supper clubs or even know what they are! This place that was such a regular part of my family’s life.”

Supper clubs are about as Wisconsin as it gets. Part dining destination and part community center, the supper club with its rituals of relish trays, salads, potatoes, bread or crackers, and steak is part of the state’s collective culture and history. It’s a heritage made visible, as many supper clubs have changed little since they opened. In recent years, as many restaurants add classic cocktails and nostalgic recipes to the menu, supper clubs haven’t had to jump on the bandwagon—they never left it.

De Ruyter’s culture … Read More

Continue Reading

Kohler and the American Club

A Wisconsin Company and Its Culinary Legacy

Story by Erika Janik
Photography Courtesy of Kohler Company

The food impressed from the start.

“The tables fairly groan under the loads of wholesome food and the men can eat as much as they wish,” wrote a reporter of his visit to the American Club in Kohler in its early days. “There is only one rule in the dining room: That is to clean the plate.”

A 1919 Christmas menu included purees of peas and celery, roast goose, cranberry jelly, potatoes, coleslaw and plum pie. A bowling banquet featured such bowling-themed and punny dishes as Potatoes tu Spare, Gravy la Bowl and Bowler’s Coffee.

The diners at these meals weren’t resort visitors or guests, however, but employees of the Kohler Company. And the American Club itself was a boarding house and community center for unmarried, largely immigrant men.

“Walter J. Kohler really wanted to provide a nice place to live for his workers, the ‘single men of modest means’ as he called them,” explains Angela Miller, archivist for the Kohler Company. “And he hoped the American Club would help the immigrants learn about America and become citizens.”

The Kohler Company had begun … Read More

Continue Reading

Victory Gardens in Wartime Wisconsin and Today

Patriots plant plots and gardeners move grass to feed selves, community

Story by Erika Janik
Photography courtesy of Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division and Victory Garden Initiative

Meatless Mondays aren’t new. Nor is eating less wheat or raising backyard chickens. One hundred years ago, on the World War I home front, the shovel became a rifle and the furrow a trench. “Every gardener in the land has a part to take in the fight! His duty awaits him just as certainly, and, if anything, more imperatively, in the rows of vegetables in his garden, as does that of the soldier in the trenches at the front,” proclaimed the Sheboygan Press in 1918. “The gardener who does not plan his garden well, who fails to plant the right kinds of vegetables, who neglects his garden after it is planted, is a Slacker.”

No one wanted to be a slacker.

Food was the principle weapon against the Hun, as Americans were urged to save wheat, sugar, fat, and meat to feed the Allies. In support of the war, Americans filled their plates with dogfish, sugarless candy, whale meat, rye and corn bread, and horse steaks. They learned to prize leftovers … Read More

Continue Reading

The Settlement Cook Book

Lizzie Black Kander and the Way to Milwaukee’s Heart

Story by Erika Janik
Illustrations from The Settlement Cook Book

Many of us grew up with it in our homes. American chef and food icon James Beard called it one of his favorite cookbooks. It offered counsel: “The table should look as neat and attractive as possible. Place everything straight upon the table. Turn no dishes upside down.” Lizzie Black Kander’s The Settlement Cook Book: The Way to a Man’s Heart provided recipes for the kitchen and the ingredients for American life.

But where the title may have meant little to many of the book’s fans, for people in Milwaukee, the book’s title recalled a real place. The Settlement, and its successor, the Abraham Lincoln Settlement House, taught generations of Jewish immigrants middle class values, foods, and customs.

“Growing up in Tennessee, we had the cookbook in the house, as did my grandparents, but I didn’t realize where it came from until I moved here and started looking for recipes,” says Ellie Gettinger, education director at the Jewish Museum of Milwaukee. “The cookbook is really national, but the story behind it—the woman behind it—is uniquely Milwaukee.”

Kander has been called the … Read More

Continue Reading