Monday, October 21, 2013

Countess Katrina Murat Before and After

Photo courtesy:  Lucretia Vail Museum, Palmer Lake.

Following is an excerpt from Hidden History of Denver.
ISNB: 978-1-60949-350-9.
The pioneers came from every walk of life. Count Henri Murat and his wife Countess Katrina arrived in Denver in 1858 from Baden-Baden, Germany. Why the couple would leave the relative comfort of their homeland to live in the harsh environment of a fledgling town can most likely be attributed to the lure of gold. Count Murat often boasted of his close relationship to Napoleon Bonaparte, but there is little evidence to support his claim. However, the Murat’s name is synonymous with nobility and royalty to this day, and is mentioned often in the The History of Germany; From the Earliest Period to the Present Time, by Frederick Kohlrauscy.

Count Murat was determined to be a success, and joined forces with another pioneer, David Smoke. The two men built a cabin calling it the El Dorado Hotel. It was an impressive name for the twenty by seventeen feet building that was made of cottonwood planks and dirt floor. However, what the hotel lacked in homely comforts was more than compensated for by Katrina’s cooking and hospitality. Every day, she served wonderful home cooked meals to weary travelers, and prepared magnificent apple strudels for dessert.
It appears Countess Murat; fair haired, blue eyed beauty was well liked in the community. She had set down roots, unlike some people who gave up easily and returned home. These people were nicknamed, “Go backs” a somewhat derisive term meant to embarrass those people considering leaving. Katrina further endeared herself to the people of Denver by sewing the first stars and stripes flag to fly over the town, giving her the title of “Mother of Colorado.”  

Photo courtesy:  Lucretia Vail Museum, Palmer Lake.

Countess Murat was 63 years old in the spring of 1887 when she decided to leave Denver and her husband to travel the fifty miles south to Palmer Lake. She immediately fell in love with the area and built a little cottage just below Sundance Mountain. Using her past experience in Denver, she worked hard and used her home as a guest house, cooking and cleaning for her visitors. She also had a well dug close to her house to provide cool, sweet water for her guests, but allowed other residents to use it at will. Lucretia Vaile and her sister, residents of Palmer Lake often called on Mrs. Murat (as she preferred to be called) for permission to use her well. Lucretia recalls that Mrs. Murat was always most gracious and accommodating, but doubted she was worthy of the title Countess Katrina Murat. "...she was always very nice about letting me get it, and finally won my reluctant conviction that she was really a countess - though I was pretty sure then that countesses were about as rare as fairies in Colorado.”

During the following 23 years, the people of Palmer Lake watched over their countess. They had water piped directly to her house, and watched over her health. As she grew older she suffered from rheumatism and her eyesight was poor. She had many visitors who travelled by train from Denver to see the Mother of Colorado. She supposedly always greeted her visitors with grace and bearing.
There are interesting stories surrounding the countess and count. Some say the count married beneath his station in life, and therefore escaped family criticism by leaving his ancestral home. However, Katrina appeared to be the practical wife who cooked and cleaned while he the more flamboyant of the two, dressed impeccably, and had a high opinion of himself. Several years later, Countess Murat left her husband in Denver and moved south, but perhaps she did so with a little financial help. In those early years, expenses were often paid in gold dust. It is rumored that Katrina sewed some of that dust into her clothing for safe keeping. This of course adding much weight to her person, and on one particular occasion, it supposedly took several men to hoist her into a wagon. Countess Katrina died while living in Palmer Lake on March 13, 1910. Henri died penniless in Denver, and is buried at Riverside Cemetery.

Friday, October 11, 2013

Bakewell Tart

The Bakewell pudding and tart derives its name from the town of Bakewell in Derbyshire, England.

Bakewell pudding is a jam pastry with an egg and ground almond enriched filling. It is not to be confused with Bakewell Tart which is has a short crust pastry base, and an almond topping and a sponge and jam filling. As with most dishes, I’ve adapted the recipe to suite my family’s needs. It follows:

Base - Short crust pastry
4 oz. all-purpose flour
Pinch of salt
2 oz. Crisco

Place all ingredients in a bowl; mix with a fork and add enough cold water to make pliable dough

2 oz. butter
2 oz. sugar
2 oz. ground rice
1 oz. ground almonds
1 egg
2 tablespoons Jam
Few drops of Almond Essence
Slivered Almonds for decoration

Roll out pastry and line a pie plate. Spread the jam over the bottom of the pastry. Cream the butter and sugar together. Mix the rice and ground almonds and add to the creamed mixture alternately with the beaten egg. Spread the mixture over the jam base, and decorate with a latticework of pastry strips. Top with slivered almonds and bake in a hot oven 350 – 375 degrees F for about 40 minutes until golden brown.

Or – Do not put a latticework of pastry/slivered almonds on the top, but after cooking and cooling, drizzle with confectioner’s sugar mixed with a little milk. Decorate with cherries.