Our great grandmother was born Ida Jessen in 1861 in San Lorenzo, California. Her parents, James and Anna Jessen, immigrated from Denmark. They bore three daughters in the new land: Anna, Dora, and Ida. The East Bay of the San Francisco area attracted many Danes because its rich soil offered an opportunity to establish vegetable, grain and dairy farms and fruit and nut orchards. The dream of a Danish immigrant was to become a “landsman,” impossible in their homeland where the nobility owned title to most of the land. Through hard work and frugal living, they prospered in the Bay Area. Later, many moved along the Alameda and into the Livermore-Amador Valley. The area between San Lorenzo and Mount Eden was sometimes called “Germantown” and “Little Copenhagen.”
The 1860s were difficult years, plagued with disasters and scoundrels who came from all over the world, attracted by the lure of gold. Mothers of young girls would push their daughters under the bed when the clatter of horse hooves warned of unexpected visitors who might be intent on robbing or killing the inhabitants. In 1861 terrible floods drowned thousands of cattle in California. The years 1862 through 1864 brought drought; crops were lost, and animals died from thirst and hunger. Ida remembered a bull, insane with thirst, breaking through their front door. During this time, the family, including the three girls, survived by collecting the bones of dead animals and selling them to button makers.
The Jessen family moved to the Livermore Valley, where they lived near the Arroyo Del Valle Creek in a sycamore grove. The area became known as Camp Comfort (the local brothel!) on what is now Vallecitos Road. Their home was a small wood-frame house in the pioneer style. James Jessen established a picnic grove and listed his occupation as farming. Hundreds of Danes throughout the Bay Area picnicked at the grove, which today is known as Sycamore Grove Park and is part of the Livermore Area Recreation and Park District.
Growing up, Ida learned the many crafts pioneer women needed to survive: cooking, preserving eggs and meats in crocks, baking, gardening, canning, dressing chickens and animals for eating, making soap, washing clothes in a tub, starching, and heating a “sad” iron on the stove for ironing. Learning these skills prepared her to run a household when she married.
The Danes would gather for dances, card parties, picnics, and weddings. They encouraged friends from Denmark to immigrate to this land of opportunity. Carl Holm came to the United States in 1873 to visit a friend. Traveling by train through the Amador-Livermore Valley, he thought it would be a wonderful place to live and farm, and he hoped to settle there.
Carl Holm met Ida Jessen, who recalled, “He was a daring young man. He pulled me behind the kitchen door and kissed me.” Carl and Ida were married at the Jessen home in the sycamore grove on July 11, 1880. The day after their wedding, Ida began cooking for boarders. Their first home was in the Tassajara area, northwest of Livermore. Ida and Carl were to have nine children, not uncommon in those years. Their first child, Walter, was born in 1881; Louis was born in 1883 and died in 1884; Arthur was born in 1886, Mabel in 1889, and Bertha in 1891. Chester was born in 1893 and died in 1896; Leslie was born in 1895, Gladys in 1899, and Warner (Dick) in 1900, our grandfather. There were no doctors, so a friend helped deliver Ida’s children, and Ida helped deliver her friend’s babies.
Ida was in charge of the Red Cross fundraising lunch held during the first Livermore Rodeo in 1918. The Livermore Herald stated, “Mrs. Carl Holm was in charge and she handled her large force of helpers admirably. The lunch netted the handsome sum of $288.” See Newspaper article below.
Carl and Ida recalled that hundreds attended their fiftieth wedding anniversary. Danes from throughout the Bay Area gathered to celebrate with the Holms.
Ida Holm Park off of Diamond Drive in the west side of Livermore was named after Ida. The park is in what was once a field behind Ida’s and Carl’s home “Fairview” that once stood on Stanley Boulevard.
Here is a recipe for cream puffs that Ida would serve her guests.
Flødeboller ~ Cream Puffs
Ida Jessen Holm
- 1/4 cup (1/2 stick) butter, plus more for oiling the cookie sheets
- 1/2 cup boiling water
- 1/2 cup sifted all-purpose flour
- 1/4 teaspoon salt
- 2 eggs
- 1/2 pint heavy whipping cream
- 1/4 teaspoon vanilla extract
- 1 tablespoon sugar
Preheat the oven to 450ºF. Lightly butter the cookie sheets.
In a medium saucepan over high heat, melt the butter in the boiling water. Decrease the heat to low. Add the flour and salt all at once, stirring vigorously with a spoon until the mixture leaves the sides of the pan in a smooth, compact mass and a metal spoon pressed into it leaves a clear impression.
Immediately remove from the heat. Quickly beat in the eggs, 1 at a time, beating until each is blended and the mixture is smooth. Continue beating the mixture with a spoon until it forms a stiff dough.
Drop by heaping tablespoonfuls (it helps to use a wet spoon) 2 inches apart on a cookie sheet. Using a wet spoon, shape into rounds that point up in the center, like a Hershey’s Kiss. Bake for 10 minutes, then decrease the temperature to 400˚F and continue baking for another 25 minutes. The cream puffs should be puffed high and golden brown. Remove from the cookie sheets with a spatula and place on a wire cake rack to cool.
Combine the cream, vanilla, and sugar in a bowl. Whip until soft peaks form.
To serve, split the cream puffs almost all the way around horizontally. Fill with a large scoop of fresh whipped cream.