“The first day of high school I saw Ron,” said Pat Holtslander, “and I said to myself, he’s the one who will be my husband.” Of course Pat was right, but I asked Ron if it took some time before he caught on, and they both laughed. I was visiting with the Holtslanders to learn more about a cookbook Pat had published last year, called Grandma Pat’s Palate Pleasing Fish and Wild Game Recipes. I did learn about it, but not without hearing some wonderful stories about their lives. This is because their marriage and family engendered the cook book.
Their high school was North Division, and the couple married young, settling in Milwaukee. Pat and Ron had three children before a disastrous event changed their lives. “I was going to visit a friend, and my babysitter cancelled at the last minute,” explained Pat. “My friend said to bring the children with me. We had put them all to bed before a neighbor called to say our house was burning.”
The house was completely destroyed, but the Holtslanders thank their lucky stars to this day that their children were not home with a sitter at the time of the fire. They subsequently decided that it was a good time to move away from the city, and landed in Grafton. Ron owned a cab company in Port Washington for a number of years, but when the power plant in Port was hiring, he applied there. Ron put in 29 years at the plant, and the couple moved to their Port Washington home in 1967.
Ron was already an avid hunter by the time Pat spotted him at school. He’d spent time living with cousins, who included them in their various hunting trips. In the early days of their marriage, Pat was faced with a choice: learn how to clean and cook wild game, or waste food. Ron would have time to shoot game birds before work, but no time to clean them. Pat chose not only to learn how to process fish and game, but to join Ron on his hunting sojourns. She learned how to fish and how to hunt deer, pheasant, grouse, ducks and geese. Ron says she’s a better pistol shot than he. When their children became old enough, Pat and Ron began taking them along on hunting trips. Before too long, the hunting trip became the annual family vacation, taken during the opening week of deer hunting (gun), before Thanksgiving. They rented a cottage near the Dells from a fellow who was reluctant to rent to hunters at first. He relented when he found out this was a family group. They returned to the same spot every year, and in 1973, Pat and Ron purchased the cottage from the owner. Their children (two girls and one boy), continued to participate in the family hunting vacation into their adulthood. When they married and had their own children, Pat began staying home to babysit her grandchildren, who in turn, joined the family hunt when they were old enough. Eventually, Pat and Ron bought their own hunting land close to the cottage, and now own 126 acres. In all the hunting seasons the family has participated in, they’ve only returned home empty-handed twice. The largest amount of deer taken in one year was 18.
So, Pat cooked. She tweaked recipes, invented recipes and perfected recipes. Of the voluminous recipes she assembled, perhaps 10 to 12 were given to her from friends or relatives. Her recipes, and therefore her cookbook, address just about any creature one can procure by catching or hunting in Wisconsin. Since her family’s diet included so much fish and wild game, Pat learned to be creative with its preparation and preservation. For example, salmon is Ron’s favorite, and he does not care for it after it’s frozen. So, Pat cans it instead. Recipes range from simple to elegant. However, even the more sophisticated-sounding recipes are not difficult to follow, or use a lot of hard-to-locate ingredients. The book has enough recipes to be useful to the cook who is only looking for new venison or fish recipes, but is really a find for those like the Holtslanders, who hunt all types of fowl and small game. I became curious about dishes with rabbit while reading Under the Tuscan Sun, so I was wowed by the 17 recipes for that pesky little flower eater. Snapping turtle? Moose steak? Quail with grapes? They’re in the book. It’s ironic that Pat says wild goose is the hardest game to cook, as it’s very tough, but it’s one of their favorite foods. Pat loves wild goose and sauerkraut, while Ron picks wild goose stroganoff.
How it came to be
Once Pat had grandchildren and great grandchildren, she began to think about leaving something behind for them. There were two things she thought emblematic of her family’s history. One was all the recipes, and the other was the family tablecloth. “When our children were growing up,” she explained, “I had the idea of having them sign their names, or make little drawings on a tablecloth. (This was a white bed sheet which she had trimmed and edged.) Over the years, they added more and longer bits, very often stories about our hunting trips. I embroidered over a lot of them, and some are still just in pen. Our grandchildren wrote on it too, and using the tablecloth has become a huge holiday tradition in our house. When I got the idea of putting a cookbook together, I also thought I could add things from the tablecloth.” Pat got a cousin to teach her how to use a computer, and put everything together. “But then I just left it sit for like six or eight years,” she said. In 2009, Pat and Ron would both be 75 years old for a month and a half, before Ron had another birthday. Their children decided to throw them a party. “I just thought it was a regular birthday party,” said Pat. “But an awful lot of people showed up. My granddaughter stepped forward to give me a gift, and inside the box was a very nice pen. I thought, well thanks for the nice pen dear.” Then one of Pat’s daughters stepped forward with a box. Inside was a hard cover copy of Pat’s cookbook. Her daughter had secretly copied all the files from Pat’s computer, and the children had the book published. Using her brand new pen, Pat signed and gave away the cookbooks from that first small printing at the party.
Fame and fortune
Ok, not really. But Pat’s life did change after the cookbook was published. She finds all the attention a little disconcerting, since overall; she’s a fairly private person. But word about the book spread. More friends and relatives began calling for copies of the book. The local paper heard about it and interviewed her, so another, larger printing of the book was necessary. Then, Pat and Ron’s daughter, who is on the chamber of commerce in Princeton, signed her mother up to have a booth at the Waukesha County Expo. “I thought it would be amazing if I sold a book or two,” she recalled, “but I sold ten!” The couple was signed up for two more shows when Ron broke his ankle, but they’re gearing up to try trade show sales again. They have a booth at the Waukesha gun show from March 5-7 and the Washington County Fair Park gun and hunting show from March 26-28. They are also open to selling the book via telephone, at 262-284-4780. (Hard cover $20/soft, $15.) Sharing their recipes is one way the Holtslanders feel they can give something back.
“I teach hunter education too,” said Ron. “So does my son. I had to learn a lot on my own and I feel these classes are so worthwhile. Every year since the gun safety programs have been offered, hunting accidents and fatalities have gone down in Wisconsin. This last season was the safest one on record.”
Here’s a nice hearty stew from the cookbook to help us get through another six weeks of winter.
Venison Barley Stew
4 1/2 lbs. venison, cut into
1 cup chopped onion
1 quart water (about)
1 can tomato soup
5 med. sized carrots, chopped
1 cup chopped celery
1/2 tsp. oregano
1/2 tsp. salt
1/8 tsp. pepper
2 cups green beans
2 cups frozen corn
3/4 cup barley
Brown venison pieces in extra virgin olive oil. Transfer meat to slow cooker. Add onions, water, soup, carrots, celery and spices. Cook on low for
4-5 hours. Add fresh beans, corn and barley. Cover and cook another 2-3 hours.