Prairie du Chien, my home town, is Wisconsin’s second oldest city and the home of Wisconsin’s first millionaire. Hercules Dousman made his fortune in the fur trade in the early 19th century. I grew up looking at a picture of the family mansion, the Villa Louis, on the Ahrens Dairy milk cartons at breakfast every morning. The Villa is a historic site that attracts visitors all year long.
The Villa Louis
Last weekend we were invited for breakfast. Actually it was a special event on the Villa’s calendar called “A Victorian Breakfast.”
Marsha, the cook, briefed us on the menu, and how we were going to prepare it.
Fresh fried catfish for breakfast? Yes, and much more. A Victorian breakfast with Victorian recipes, and all made from scratch.
A lot of the food was prepared on the wood stove, starting with melted butter.
Peeling apples for the Apple Porcupines.
Out in the Preserve Kitchen they’re cooking the bacon.
And breading the catfish, under Nancy’s watchful eye.
The cranberry biscuits are going onto the pan.
The waffle iron sat right on the hottest part of the stove, right over the wood fire.
It made beautiful waffles.
The German pancakes also looked pretty good.
The apples were finally cooked and ready to be made into porcupines (with almond quills).
Anne was taking mental notes.
And I was churning the butter in the mini-churn.
Then the bacon arrived.
It’s time to eat, no matter what the clock says.
We all enjoyed an incredibly bountiful meal. The fried catfish, fresh out of the Mississippi River the day before, was especially delicious.
When we could eat no more, it was time to clean up.
Had we been actual guests of the Dousman family, 125 years ago, we would have eaten in the formal dining room instead of in the kitchen with the hired help.
After we hung up our aprons we got a tour of the Villa Louis. Many historic homes try to furnish with period pieces, the Villa Louis is 90% authentic with the actual family furniture still in place, including their Steinway piano (which Sam got to play on a previous visit).
Finally, after an amazing morning, we said goodbye to the artesian opulence of Villa Louis, perhaps as close as you can get in Wisconsin to Downton Abbey.
However, our 19th century dining excursion wasn’t quite over yet. On the way home we stopped at the Walker House in Mineral Point, which has been serving travelers since 1836. It’s one of the oldest inns in the state.
There we feasted on Cornish pasty, the meal in a crust brought to Wisconsin by the 19th century lead miners who gave Wisconsin its nickname, the Badgers. A historic day in more ways than one, and a great way to celebrate our 37th anniversary. (Appetizers, not Cornish pasty in photo.) Thank you to the Villa Louis staff, and to Dan and Kathy Vaillancourt for such a beautiful day.