When Anna Knutsdatter Hjelstuen was born in 1872 on the family farm near Westby, she entered a family whose roots were already deep there, going back to 1853. Anna, Knud and Bergine’s firstborn, was destined to inherit the family farm when the time came.
However, when Anna married Martin Bakke in 1893, Knud and Bergine Hjelstuen were still running the farm. So Martin and Anna had to seek their living elsewhere. After living in Rhinelander for a time, they rented a farm near Withee, Wisconsin, moving there in early spring of 1902.
Their closest neighbors were Rudolph and Nikkoline Nielsen, a family from Denmark. Farming and milking cows was hard work seven days a week. The two families always found time to help each other when help was needed. They shared family celebrations, and often rode to church together on Sundays. The two families became close friends. The children, all near the same ages, loved to gather in the evenings to sing, play games, or run races.
After church they often gathered at the Nielsen home for coffee and that Danish delicacy, aebleskiver. Oh! How they all loved aebleskiver!
One Sunday afternoon in 1906, after enjoying aebleskiver and coffee, Martin and Anna announced it was time to return to their Westby farm. This was a difficult time for Anna. With 6 children under 11 years old, it seemed overwhelming. Worst of all, distance would sever their close friendships. Tears were shed all around. The older children cried and held one another. The grownups talked about writing letters, and perhaps even visiting back and forth sometime. As children will, the youngsters soon ran off to play.
The last day came all too soon. On that final morning, with the family and all their goods packed, they stopped for one last goodbye. Anna and Martin promised they would return to visit; and Rudolph and Nikkoline promised to make the trip to Westby.
With their last farewells, and tears on every face, the Nielsens handed a heavy parcel to Anna. She opened it – and there was the precious aebleskiver pan, their farewell gift.
Every time the Bakke family ate aebleskiver on the farm on East Ridge, they fondly remembered the Danish Nielsen family up North at Withee. And whenever they could, both families continued to write letters and to visit one another for the rest of their lives.
And that’s how a Danish aebleskiver pan came to Westby! That aebleskiver pan is now on display at Norskedalen in the Holte cabin, along with all the other Bakke Farm furnishings from 1857 to 1890.
Aebleskiver are baked in a cast-iron pan on the cook stove. After the pan is heated and oiled, the 7 round holes are filled nearly full of batter. As it cooks, each little ball is turned with a knitting needle; the finished pastry is about the size of a small tennis ball. This is served with applesauce, syrup, jam or jelly. (Image on left is from Solvang Restaurant in Solvang, CA, Home of Arne’s Aebleskiver.)