Grandma Anna Oldenburg, Deer Creek

Lard the Size of an Egg is a series based on stories collected from New York Mills community members by historian and writer Chris Marcotte.  Marcotte spent six weeks in September and October at the Cultural Center Retreat House working on her 1897 murder mystery. Most of the stories Marcotte compiled while there focus on a family recipe, a story that went with it, and a photograph. This is part five of the seven-part series which will run weekly through December 21. 

Grandma Oldenburg’s white apple blossom dinnerplate

Shirley (Bentley) Quist’s grandmother, Anna Mary (Wachlin) Oldenburg was only four years old when her family immigrated from Germany. Anna’s parents, Christian and Anna, and eight children between the ages of nine months and sixteen years arrived in New York City aboard the Saale in Oct 1893. The Wachlins traveled to southern Minnesota where they farmed about twenty miles from Austin. Although families did sometimes immigrate together, often, wage earners went first and then sent money back so other family members could purchase tickets. It speaks to the Wachlin’s financial stability that ten individuals were able to travel at the same time. It is probable that the reason they settled in Mower County was that there were Wachlin relatives who had immigrated seven years earlier living there. 

Anna met and married Fred Oldenburg, another German immigrant in about 1908 and for the first years of their marriage they resided with Fred’s family in Austin. By 1920, Fred was a foreman in a meat packing plant (Hormel Foods Corporation was established in 1891), and Anna was caring for their five children. Anna had twelve in all, the youngest was Kathryn. She was born in Oak Valley in Otter Tail County as the Oldenburg family had moved to a farm there before 1930.

Kathryn Oldenburg graduated from Deer Creek High School, and in February 1955 married Marvin Bentley.  Ten months and three days later the first of three children, their daughter Shirley, was born. Shirley has fond memories of spending time with her grandmother Oldenburg. Shirley walked to and from the Deer Creek School District 283, and usually stopped at her grandma’s house on her way home. 

Here is Shirley’s story about learning to peel potatoes with her grandma Oldenburg.

“Waste Not, Want Not”

“My grandmother, Anna Oldenburg, passed away over 50 years ago, so I do not have any of her recipes, but I loved her potato pancakes.  Although I do not remember ever seeing Grandma use a recipe, I do have her 1945 copy of the Searchlight Cookbook. The pages in the canning and dessert sections are well-worn. I also have her vintage white apple blossom dinnerware from the 1940s. 

I was at Grandma and Grandpa’s house a lot. I would shovel snow for them in the winter. I’d mow the lawn, rake leaves, and help in the garden whenever she needed me to. She taught me how to crochet and do needlepoint. During the summer I also had a chance to go with her to the Senior Center in Deer Creek. 

One day, when I was about six, my grandmother was going to make potato pancakes for dinner. I asked if I could help. It was my first time peeling a potato.  We did not use a vegetable peeler—it was a paring knife. She watched me closely as I tried to thinly peel the skin.  If I took too much of the potato, she would remind me to peel thinner. It took some time to peel those potatoes and she helped in the end. I did get the idea—waste not want not. I can’t recall if I stayed for dinner, but if I did, Grandma would have served applesauce and bacon with the pancakes. 

To this day I still use the paring knife instead of a peeler for potatoes.  And I have always believed that anything served on Grandma’s plate was delicious because it was made with love!”

Note: The Searchlight Cookbook was originally published in 1931 by Household Magazine. It contained 320 pages of recipes developed by the magazine’s food staff. The 1945 copy was the 18th edition.

Recipes and photos from the Lard the Size of an Egg stories can be seen on the New York Mills Cultural Arts Center website