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The Flavor of Wisconsin

This lesson plan was developed by the Office of School Services as part of the Wisconsin Stories online activity guide. Please adapt it to fit your students' needs.

Background Information

Viewers of the television program Time to Play, part of the Wisconsin Stories documentary series, will undoubtedly observe many people enjoying food. Sharing food is a universal social custom, whatever the occasion or event. From lutefisk dinners at rural churches to cream puffs at the Wisconsin State Fair to bratwurst at Lambeau Field, exploring foodways is one method of investigating our state's ethnic diversity and cultural traditions.

The following recipes appeared in The Flavor of Wisconsin. This cookbook contains four hundred authentic recipes and several historical essays about food and eating. While preparing the book in the 1970s, compiling editor Harva Hachten received contributions from more than nine hundred individuals across the state. Even school-children got involved, gathering old family recipes from their grandmothers. Many contributors often included stories or described family traditions associated with recipes. Such stories can provide important insights into the lives of the people who prepared and ate the food. As shown in the television programs, personal accounts demonstrate the series' theme: "We are who we are because of the past."

In selecting these recipes, we looked for dishes that can be prepared in one or two class periods and do not involve extensive clean-up. We also looked for recipes that included relatively inexpensive and easy-to-obtain ingredients. Although all of these recipes require use of a conventional oven, we purposely excluded any that involved potentially dangerous cooking techniques. As with any classroom activity involving cooking, adult supervision is essential.

Finally, in planning your cooking activity be sure to consider the serving size of each recipe; the size of some may have to be doubled to serve an entire class.

The Flavor of Wisconsin is available from the University of Wisconsin Press.


Hachten, Harva. The Flavor of Wisconsin: An Informal History of Food and Eating in the Badger State. Madison: The State Historical Society of Wisconsin, 1981.

Wisconsin Stories Main Courses

  • Flat Bread (Norwegian) (p.154)
  • Kielbasa Soup (Polish) (p. 174)
  • Cornish Pasty (p. 199)
  • Sauerkraut with Raisins (German) (p. 235)
  • Matzo Balls (Jewish) (p. 252)
  • Sweet Potato Pie (African-American) (p. 271)
  • Logger's Ginger Cookies (p. 290)

Norwegian Flat Bread bakes up thin and crisp like a cracker.

FLAT BREAD (Norwegian)

1 quart buttermilk
1/2 cup sugar
2 teaspoons baking soda
1/2 cup butter, melted
Whole wheat flour

Combine buttermilk, sugar, baking soda, and melted butter. Mix well. Add enough wheat flour to make a stiff dough. Roll out on a board dusted with white flour; roll as thinly as possible. Cut into squares and bake on baking sheets at 300 degrees. Watch closely, as it browns quickly.

Submitted by Mary L. Albrecht, Auburndale.


2 tablespoons butter
1 pound kielbasa (Polish sausage)
1 cup chopped onion
2 cups chopped celery and leaves
4 cups shredded cabbage
2 cups sliced, pared carrots
1 bay leaf
1/2 teaspoon dried leaf thyme
2 tablespoons vinegar
1 tablespoon salt
1 1/2 cups beef bouillon
5 cups water
3 cups cubed, peeled potatoes

In a soup kettle, melt butter; add kielbasa, onion, and celery. Cook until onion and celery are tender. Add cabbage, carrots, bay leaf, thyme, vinegar, salt, bouillon, and water. Cover and simmer for 1 1/2 hours. Add potatoes, cover and cook 20 minutes or until potatoes are done. Makes 8 cups.

Submitted by Charles Shetler, Madison.

The planning of meals around a large serving of meat is a comparatively recent development in America. In earlier times, a family that could afford meat two or three times a week was fortunate indeed. When meat did appear on the table, it was usually in dishes with other things so that it would stretch as far as possible. Furthermore, growing methods being what they were, meat usually required long cooking to overcome toughness. The broiled T-bone steak was not a nineteenth-century delight.

The meat pies baked by the Cornish miners' wives in the lead region of southwestern Wisconsin are a good example of long cooking and meat stretching. Today's recipes for Cornish Pasty call for found or sirloin steak, cuts those 1830 and 1840 settlers never heard of. And today's recipes usually call for just meat, potatoes, and onions, though there is no reason to believe the transplanted Cornish housewife abandoned the old-country habit of including other vegetables she might have had on hand.


3/4 cup shortening
2 cups flour
4 medium potatoes, peeled and sliced thinly
3 onions, peeled and sliced thinly
1 1/2 pounds sirloin steak, cut in small cubes
Salt and pepper to taste

Work shortening into flour and add enough cold water to make a pie crust. Roll out to the size of a thick dinner plate.

Combine potatoes, onions, and steak and season well with salt and pepper. On one-half of the pastry, arrange vegetables and meat. Dot with butter. Wet edge of crust and fold over, pinching edges together tightly. All steam must be retained inside the pastry. Bake at 350 degrees for 1-1 1/2 hours.

The dough may be rolled out into smaller portions to make individual pasties.

Submitted by Ruth H. (Mrs. Thomas A.) Roberts, Brown Deer.


2 pounds sauerkraut
4 tablespoons sugar
1/2 cup raisins
4 tablespoons unsalted far rendered from chicken, goose, duck, turkey, or roast pork
1/2 cup water
1 tablespoon flour if necessary

Drain sauerkraut well. Add sugar, raisins, and fat and mix well. Add water, cover and simmer 2 hours. If sauerkraut has too much liquid, stir in flour and cook a little longer before serving.

Submitted by Mrs. Ronald Daggett, Madison. This dish, she added, gains flavor when reheated. It may be frozen.


2 eggs
1/2 cup matzo meal
2 tablespoons chicken fat
About 1 teaspoon salt

Beat eggs thoroughly. Add matzo meal, fat, and salt to taste. Mix and refrigerate several hours. Mixture will be solid.

Shape into balls and drop into water at a medium-hard boil. Cover and cook for 20-25 minutes. Makes 8 large, if measured out with a tablespoon, or 16 small, if measured with a teaspoon.

Serve in chicken soup.

Submitted by Mrs. Herman Tuchman, Milwaukee.

SWEET POTATO PIE (African-American)

3 pounds sweet potatoes, peeled, cooked, and mashed
1 1/2 cups butter, softened
1 1/2 cups sugar
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon nutmeg
3 eggs
1 cup milk
2 unbaked 8-inch pie shells

Add softened butter to mashed sweet potato. Blend in sugar, salt, and nutmeg and mash until consistency of mush. Beat in eggs and milk. Pour into prepared pie shells. Bake at 425 degrees for 10 minutes; reduce heat to 350 and continue baking 30 minutes or until a knife inserted in the center comes out clean.

This recipe of Mrs. John Blathers, Milwaukee, was sent in by Mrs. L. Tornowske, Patch Grove.


1 cup molasses
2 teaspoons baking soda
1 1/2 cups shortening
1 cup sugar
2 eggs
1 teaspoon water
Pinch salt
2 teaspoons ginger
2 teaspoons cinnamon
2 teaspoons cloves
2 teaspoons allspice
About 4 cups flour

Bring molasses to a boil; remove from heat. When cool, add baking soda, shortening, sugar, and eggs. Mix well. Add water, salt, ginger, cinnamon, cloves, allspice, and enough flour to roll out thinly. Cut and bake at 400 degrees for 8-10 minutes.

Elizabeth Meating Proctor, Appleton, submitted this family-sized version of the cookies her grandfather baked as a cook in northern Wisconsin lumber camps.

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