Vintage recipes from a historic stagecoach restaurant and inn.
In 1845 when the Brass Tavern and Inn first opened its doors on the corner of Old Pike and Old Highway in what is now Munster, the journey from this section of Northwest Indiana into Chicago took about a day. Because the journey was hard (travelers could be mired in mud when the dirt roads were wet or cloaked in dust in dry weather), the tavern offered a place to rest and to dine. What made stopping there even better is that Julia Watkins Brass, who owned the Brass Tavern with her husband (and ran it while he was looking for riches in California during the Gold Rush), kept a crock jar full of sugar cookies, and her menus were described by contemporaries as “attractive and delectable.”
Time moves on. Now the trip from Ridge Road (Old Pike) and Columbia Avenue (Old Highway) in Munster takes less than an hour instead of a day. And the tavern, which in 1864 became the Stallbohm Inn, closed its doors in the 1890s as railroads and paved roads made traveling much easier and eliminated the need for a stagecoach stop. The building burned in 1909; all that is left to mark the site is a bronze historical plaque donated in 1927 by the Julia Watkins Brass Chapter of the Daughters of the American Revolution.
But the Brass Tavern and those days still live on, in the memories of those who have heard stories of the inn and in the old recipes handed down by generations of local residents.
Now these recipes and more have been collected by the Munster Historical Society and presented, along with photos and stories of early area settlers, in a delightful book titled “The Brass Tavern Cookbook: A Collection of Nostalgic Recipes Commemorating the Establishment in 1845 of The Brass Tavern & Inn, the First Permanent Settlement in Munster, Indiana,” compiled by JoAnne Shafer.
“The oldest recipes for a baked ham glaze and apple crisp both date back to 1855,” says Shafer who, with other members of the society, worked on this project for 12 years.
Besides providing a history of the region, the cookbook also tells a story of how the foods we eat have changed (partridge wrapped in vine leaves having been dropped from most menus today) — and stayed the same. Don’t we all still love sugar cookies just like those who stopped at the Brass Tavern more than 150 years ago?
“Partridge was actually a bird that came through Munster,” says Shafer, noting that a century or so ago, partridge were so common they filled the sky
Other historic recipes include one for Baking Powder Biscuits. Shafer notes in the book that it was handwritten by Wilhelmina Stallbohm Kaske in her 1909 “Good Housekeeping Woman’s Home Cookbook.” Kaske’s family were the owners of the inn when it burned. Their home, the Kaske House, was placed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1998 and is a house museum now run by the historical society. Kaske’s cookbook was discovered in a trunk underneath the porch in 1986 (the trunk also contained many of the photos included in the book).
It was in excellent condition and had inscribed, on the inside cover, “Copy recipes & send back with Helen as we use this every blessed day.” Because Kaske had preserved recipes from her friends in this book, dating and rating them, it is most likely Munster’s first community cookbook or at least the oldest known to be in existence. Collecting all the recipes used in the book was a way of connecting to history and honoring those who have passed on.
“A lot of the people who gave us recipes who were elderly have since died,” Shafer says. “If we hadn’t started collecting them 12 years ago, they would be lost.”
A special recipe is the one for Peach Cobbler, donated by the Munster Boy Scout Troop, which Shafer says they never have shared before. It is in honor of Shaun Michael Blue, a Munster resident and Life Scout & Munster Troop 533 Senior Patrol Leader, who died last year fighting in Iraq. The cookbook committee not only honored the region’s past but also its ethnic heritage, which is why recipes from many nationalities are included. There are recipes for Oliebollen (Dutch rolls), fajitas, Norwegian coleslaw, German and Swedish meat balls, kolacky, Lithuanian kugel and a pierogi casserole.
It was a time-consuming job to collect recipes — and also to test them.
“I tested a majority of the recipes in this cookbook,” says Shafer with a laugh. “That’s why I went on a diet. We also had volunteer testers.” The testers made notes that would help modern cooks. For example, Kaske’s recipe for biscuits calls for sweet milk. The cookbook notes that “sweet milk is usually specified to assure that sour milk is not used.”
So, unless otherwise specified, when a recipe calls for sweet milk, whole milk should be used.
“It was so amazing,” Shafer says. “We’d find photos of people and then we’d find a recipe from them, and it was like connecting to history.”
A different time
“Even more amazing was Munster’s bird population,” writes Lance Trusty in “Town on the Ridge.” “Eagles, hawks and owls probed the ground and trees for meals. Thousands of quail, prairie chickens, partridge, plover and grouse thrived in dry sections.” JoAnne Shafer, of the Munster Historical Society, who helped compile a historic cookbook, chose the following recipe because it had an old fashioned romantic quality to it. And she liked the recipe because it was easy to make and worked. Since partridge are hard to find now days, skinless chicken breasts can be substituted.
Partridge in Vine Leaves
Partridge or boneless, skinless chicken breasts, one per person
1/4 teaspoon salt per serving
1/8 teaspoon pepper per serving
1/4 teaspoon ground cloves per serving
1/4 teaspoon ground ginger per serving
* Preheat oven to 450 degrees.
* Rub the birds with salt, pepper, cloves and ginger; sprinkle with lemon juice.
* Wrap birds in strips of bacon; place in a shallow roasting pan; cover with dampened vine/grape leaves. Bake for about 20 minutes.
* Remove leaves and bacon. Return birds to the oven to brown, having basted them well with red wine.
* Serve birds on a hot platter sprinkled with brown bread crumbs surround by fresh vine/grape leaves. Make a gravy by browning some mushrooms in butter with giblets from the birds. Add this, a little cream and a spoonful of jelly to the pan juices.
Recipe source: Grace L. Mosier from her Old Farmer’s Almanac Colonial Cookbook.
The following recipe for baked ham glaze originally was used on a fresh ham from abutchered pig. The glaze is a Klootwyk family favorite often used at special events like birthday parties and holidays.
The Klootwyk family came to Munster in 1855 and originally were farmers. Peter Klootwyk opened a general store on a corner on his parents’ farm, and that building still
stands today at 619 Ridge Road. Klootwyk was the Board President of Munster when it was incorporated in 1907. This recipe arrived with the family in 1855.
Baked Ham Glaze
1 cup brown sugar, firmly packed
1/4 cup flour
1 teaspoon dry mustard
1/4 cup maple syrup
3 tablespoons water
5-pound ham, sliced
* Combine first five ingredients, pour over the sliced ham. Bake for 45 minutes or until
Source: The Klootwyk family
Source: The Klootwyk family
6 potatoes, grated
1 cup milk, scalded
3 large eggs
Salt and pepper to taste
1 onion, chopped
7 slices of bacon, cut into cubes
* Put potatoes through a sieve (squeeze out juice to decrease starchiness).
* Mix the potatoes with milk; add eggs, salt and pepper. Sauté onion and bacon (do not brown bacon). Mix with potatoes, using all of the bacon grease.
* Pour into a casserole; bake uncovered for one hour at 350 degrees.
Recipe source: Annie Janik from the Pointer Economist Marketer Cookbook 1984, 3rd
Road House Biscuits
2 cups flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
2 tablespoons butter, softened
3/4 cup milk
Sweet milk or melted butter
* Preheat oven to 450 degrees.
* Combine flour, baking powder and salt; sift three times. Mix in butter with fingertips or cut in with two knives.
* Gradually add milk, cutting milk into dough with knife or spatula to make a soft dough.
* Roll out to 1/2-inch thickness. Cut dough with floured biscuit cutter; place on ungreased baking sheet. To achieve a glazed surface, brush tops with milk or melted butter.
Bake for 12 minutes.
Makes 12 to 18 biscuits.
Recipe source: Wilhelmina Stallbohm Kaske
1 cup brown sugar
1/2 cup flour
1 cup walnuts, chopped finely
* Beat eggs and sugar well.
* Add flour, walnuts and a pinch of salt. Butter sheet pans well and pour into pans. Bake at 350 degrees. As soon as done, cut into finger-length strips.
Recipe source: Wilma Bicker, Beta Gamma-Tri Kappa Cook Book, 1929