Moldenke Castle as a Chastelet

I realize the tower looks like it suffered from artillery damage, but this is my pastry replica of the family castle.

A Pastry Castle

Family history married medieval cuisine when I baked a Christmas chastelet as the Moldenke castle. The idea came when I took an online medieval cooking class from eatmedieval. Part of the 13th-century Christmas menu we recreated highlighted a chastelet – a castle in pastry form filled with all sorts of goodies. No need to make the same castle we created, one of the teachers said. Pick any castle that has some kind of personal meaning for you.

I knew right then I had to create our family castle.

Moldenke Castle

Moldenke castle. Private family photo.

Excuse me, but a castle in New Jersey, in the United States?

You bet. A German metallurgist in New Jersey, Dr. Richard George Gottlob Moldenke, built a castle in Watchung starting in 1900. He finished it in 1930 and dubbed it “Elsinore Castle,” but locals called it the “Moldenke Castle.” Elsinore had nothing to do with Shakespeare’s play Hamlet, in which he dubs the Kronborg Castle in Denmark “Elsinore.” Moldenke castle’s form differs sharply from Kronborg’s imposing square form. Elsinore was probably a play on a Moldenke family name, Elise.

My Czech grandfather, Jiří Hurych (anglicized as Jerome Herrick) purchased the Moldenke castle in 1945 and moved my grandmother, mother, and two uncles in. Jerome was a research scientist and used the castle’s large annex to set up his research laboratories. My mother loved the adventure of growing up in a castle. Unfortunately, it’s no longer in the family. The Moldenke castle burnt down in 1969 and my grandfather sold the property to developers.

Nevertheless, the castle offered a fun opportunity to recreate a medieval Christmas treat and remember each family member individually. I took the second story floor plan, where the bedrooms were, and individualized the fillings as a memorial to each person.

My Family’s Individual Fillings

The castle’s second story floor plan.

My grandparents Jerome and Rose slept in room 1, the master bedroom. As the foundations of the family, I gave them the heartiest filling – hard-boiled eggs and pork sausage. My mother was in room 2, with a skylight in the center. I filled her room with a pistachio filling because she loved pistachios.

My grandparents’ wedding picture.

Uncle Jerry and James Bond

Uncle Jerry, who had room 3, was an adventurer. His job took him to many countries, and over the course of his life he lived in Bermuda, Indonesia, and Saudi Arabia. In the 60s, while he was in Bermuda, he joined the scuba diving club. Eon Productions asked the club if they could dive as extras in a scuba diving fight scene for their new James Bond film, Thunderball (also filmed in the Bahamas). If you watch this clip of Thunderball, Jerry swims closest to the camera at 1:49-1:50. We can tell because he tied a red ribbon around his ankle to identify himself later. At the post production party, Sean Connery patted him on the back and asked, “How’re you doing, Jerry?” Jerry was so amazed that Connery remembered his name he became an instant Sean Connery fan. So Jerry got the almond cream, shaken, but not stirred.

Uncle George, the Practical Joker

Uncle George slept in room 4. He was a practical joker. I remember well his I-found-a-finger-on-the-street trick. He took a small box, cut a hole in the bottom and stuck his finger through it. He then doused his finger with ketchup and told us kids he’s found a bloody finger on the street. As we gathered around to look at it in shock, he started wiggling his finger. George got the red egg custard filling to make it look like that red, bloody box. I colored it with sandalwood and beet juice.

Number 5 was a tiled roof where my mother liked to sunbathe. I used almond cream for that. And the five-story tower, number 6, got a mince meat filling. Number 7 was the annex and research labs – not so medieval – so I left that off to simplify the pastry.

Questions, Questions

Another view of the castle from our family’s photo collection.

Patterning my chastelet after a family home proved to be a great way to introduce my adult sons to some family history. They knew about the castle, of course, but the various fillings tied to individual family members led to a variety of questions.

What other practical jokes did Uncle George play?

How could our great-grandfather afford a castle? What kind of research did he do?

Where else did Uncle Jerry live? Was he ever in another Bond film?

All in all, it was a great way to kick in the New Year. Thanks, eatmedieval, for the idea.

Happy New Year, everyone, or as my Czech grandparents would say, stastny Novy rok!

12 Comments

  1. Sue Marshall
    Jan 4, 2021

    Thank you, what an interesting past you have.
    Looking forward to reading some of your stories later.

    • Ann Marie
      Jan 5, 2021

      Thanks, Susan. Although I once in the castle once before it burnt down, I can’t really say it was part of my past. It was more of my mother’s. But it was interesting!

  2. Kathi Weisbecker
    Feb 7, 2021

    Hi Anne Marie,

    I stumbled upon this article and am curious if you have additional information about the castle. I grew up in Watchung and my father in law was involved with the real estate company that subsequently developed the property(sad, but true) I am helping the Watchung Historical Committee gather more information on the Moldenke family and anything you might be able to share would be terrific.

    • Ann Marie
      Feb 8, 2021

      Dear Kathi,

      I have some information about the castle, but none about the Moldenke family that you probably don’t already have. I take it you have the book “Genealogy of the Moldenke Family,” because I purchased it in the Watchung Museum several years ago when it had an exhibit about the castle. Of course I know more about my own family, who purchased the castle from the Moldenkes.

      Feel free to email me via the contact form for this website.

  3. Kathi Weisbecker
    Feb 7, 2021

    btw, my maiden name is Dischler and my distant relatives own the Dischler winery in Wolxheim – are yo near there?

    • Ann Marie
      Feb 8, 2021

      I’m about 2.5 hours from Wolxheim, but also live in a wine-producing region across the border in Germany.

  4. Kathleen Weisbecker
    Mar 8, 2021

    gotta love that! Does Camp Elsinore ring a bell at all? It was not attached to the Valley Road properties but was on the northwestern edge of Watchung between Hillcrest Road and Plainfield Avenue. Dr. Moldenke’s brothers, both of whom who had been pastors in a primarily German Lutheran church in NYC that lost several congregants in the 1904 Slocum disaster, opened this summer camp for the victims’ families. It was later called the German Camp.

    • Ann Marie
      Mar 9, 2021

      Camp Elsinore doesn’t ring a bell, just the Elisnore Villa across Valley Road. But I’m familiar with the Slocum disaster and that the Moldenkes were associated with the church that hosted the event. I think it was really generous of the Moldenkes to host the camp. Your comment inspired me to check a book that I have about the Moldenke family history, and sure enough, there’s an entry about Camp Elsinore in it. The book says Alfred Moldenke started the camp not just for the Slocum orphans but for poor children in NYC who wouldn’t otherwise get the chance to have a vacation in the country. So thanks for commenting!

  5. JEFFREY BENDIX
    Mar 17, 2021

    So the big question is were there tunnels in the castle? Would also like information on your families time at castle

    • Ann Marie
      Mar 17, 2021

      No, that’s just a myth. At least my family never said anything about tunnels in the castle and I’m sure they would have, as my mother and her brothers were rambunctious youngsters during their time there and would have not only discovered any tunnels, but would have probably held parties in them. My uncle did once hold a Halloween scavanger hunt on the castle grounds that took his high school guests through the mausoleum.

      If you want to know more about my family, you can email me through this site, but I can’t promise I can tell you everything. I also need to protect some of my family members’ privacy.

  6. Jim beckwith
    Jul 8, 2021

    Hi Ann Marie:

    My name is Jim Beckwith and I grew up on Valley Road along with my older siblings. My brother Charlie was in George’s class at North Plainfield High School .all my siblings are still with us and I’ve put out a request for memories. Let me know if you are interested in chatting with me.

    Jim Beckwith feel free to call if you would like to please leave a message if you don’t connect. Robo calls drive us nuts.

    George, by the way, was my diving coach at Rutgers. That is an interesting story as well. George was George Franklin at that point.

    I look forward to hearing from you.

    Jim.

    • Ann Marie
      Jul 11, 2021

      Hello Jim — that’s fascinating that you knew George. If he was your diving coach, he was definitely the same guy. I’ll drop you a line per email and thanks for contacting me with some family history!

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