For Easter 2023, my family hosted a Belgian Bruch, serving recipes brought to Wisconsin by Belgian immigrants. Here’s what inspired us:
During the summer of 2021, my mom suggested we make a pit stop in Brussels, WI on the way to our annual Door County vacation. She wanted to go on a tour provided by The Belgian Heritage Center. It sounded interesting to me as I knew we had Belgian ancestors that settled in the Green Bay area. As a kid, I liked to go through the family genealogy with my Grandma Grace. She had shared many interesting stories, pictures, and documents about the Belgian ancestors on her dad’s side. The tour ended up being more detailed and expansive than I imagined. I recommend anyone interested in Wisconsin history to check it out!
The tour started out at the Belgian Heritage Center. It is a former Catholic Church (St. Mary of the Snows) that was converted into a museum. The museum featured stories about this unique group of pioneers. There was a lot more information than I expected, and our docent Barb (highly recommend!) walked us through everything, giving some additional insight. I learned a lot about The Great Fire (Peshtigo fire), one of the most devasting forest fires in American History. Sadly, I was ignorant of this national disaster. I wish it was something I learned about in school. We were told that it happened around the same time as The Great Chicago Fire, and it is often overshadowed by that. To learn about the homesteader’s resilience, during a time when whole towns were decimated and 1,500 people were killed, was remarkable.
Next, we took a tour of the Votive (aka Roadside) Chapels. This was a religious tradition brought over by the Belgian immigrants. When coming to this area of Wisconsin, the settlers encountered crude roads and heavily forested areas, with few churches. To compensate, they built these small chapels. From the road you may think you are looking at a shed or outbuilding. But these historic chapels have been lovingly maintained by the descendants of the original builders. It was a privilege to meet several of the people who have thoughtfully preserved these buildings for future generations. I’m including some great information from Destination Door County on the chapels. We also made a stop at the National Shrine of Our Lady of Good Help. It’s a holy site where it is said, an apparition of the Virgin Mary appeared to Belgian immigrant Adele Brise. The church and grounds were beautiful, and it was peaceful to walk the grounds.
Our last stop was to try to some Belgian Food at The Belgian Delight Restaurant in Brussels, WI. Along with many delicious diner favorites, they also serve some Belgian specialty dishes. We tried a few. First, Booyah, which is stew made of primarily chicken, beef, pork, and vegetables. It was traditionally cooked in kettles on a wood-burning fire. Next, we tried Tripp, which is a Belgian sausage made with pork, cabbage and nutmeg. I really liked the sausage and will be adding these to our grilling rotation! Lastly, we tried Jutt, which is a fried cabbage seasoned with butter and drippings. Don’t tell anyone, but I think it’s better than sauerkraut. I was happy to find that the Heritage Center also sold a cookbook with handed down family recipes. It’s called, “Belgian American Heritage Customs and Cookbook”. I think historic cookbooks like these are such a treasure. Kudos to the author for the foresight to preserve these recipes and traditions! It’s available here to purchase from the Heritage Center. Our Belgian meal and the recipes from the cookbook inspired us to cook some Belgian food at home. And thus, we had a Belgian Easter Brunch. More about the brunch to come in Part II!
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