Jud, N.D. - When Mary Kalmbach was growing up in southcentral North Dakota, she enjoyed eating her grandmother’s kuchen.
Now Kalmbach is carrying on the family tradition at Mary’s Bake Shoppe here.
Jud, about 25 miles south of Jamestown, has about 75 residents.
She makes and sells kuchen to customers across the state, including in the F-M area’s two Wal-Mart stores.
Kuchen – the German word for cake – is a pie with custard and fillings that range from apple and blueberry to rhubarb and chocolate chip.
Kalmbach operates her state-certified bakery, which has two ovens, in a converted house that belongs to her family.
She bakes from scratch on Mondays and Wednesdays and delivers the 9-inch kuchen on Tuesdays and Thursdays.
Kalmbach credits her sister, Paula, and husband, Brad, for their encouragement and support.
The business began in 2005 and landed the Wal-Mart account in 2006.
Q: How would you describe kuchen to somebody unfamiliar with it?
A: It’s a sweet-dough pastry. It has custard and different types of fruit.
I make my dough from scratch. I don’t add any preservatives.
One batch takes how long to make?
About two hours. Cooling and wrapping, that takes longer.
The whole process probably takes about five hours.
How did you interest in kuchen begin?
We grew up with kuchen. When my grandmother came to stay, we’d come home from school and smell kuchen. We knew she was there because of the kuchen.
My aunt made it, too. She’d learned it from my grandmother.
So I just started trial and error. You know how it is – the more you make it, the better you get at it.
So I was making it for family gatherings. After a while, my husband and my sister, who helps me quite a bit, said, “Why don’t you try to get in the stores?”
So they pushed and prodded me. We went around locally and had them in a couple of places.
How did the Wal-Mart connection get started?
Well, my husband and sister said I should try to get into bigger stores.
So we went to Wal-Mart in Fargo. When we were there, a bunch of their district managers were there, too.
They sampled it and said it tasted really good. They said they’d give it a try.
That was over two years ago.
What percentage of your sales does Wal-Mart account for?
At least 75 percent.
How many kuchen do you make a week?
Usually about 230 to 280.
When do you make the kuchen sold at the Fargo Wal-Marts?
We make it Wednesdays and deliver it Thursdays.
They’re baked fresh. I don’t freeze them. They have a seven-day shelf life.
(Customers) can freeze them. They freeze very well. I just choose not to.
People can buy kuchen on your Web site, too…
Yes, they can. Of course they have to pay the shipping, but people are willing to do that.
(Kuchen ordered online is made fresh, quick-frozen, packed in a thermal insulated container and mailed out the same day. It can be kept frozen indefinitely and then refrigerated up to a week after it’s thawed.)
I also have people who come by the shop and buy directly.
Have higher wheat and gas prices affected your business?
Oh, yeah. The overhead has gone up.
Are there any secrets to making kuchen?
No, anyone can make it.
It’s like anything else.
The more you do it, the better you get at it.
What kind of kuchen do you personally enjoy the most?
Cottage cheese. The dried curd cottage cheese.
That, and rhubarb.
Believe it or not, I don’t eat a lot of the kuchen when I’m here (at the bakery). When you work around it, you just don’t eat it.
How about customers’ favorites?
I’d say peach, apple and blueberry.
Do you sample kuchen made by other cooks?
Oh, yeah. I like to try it. Some of it is good.
We hear stories about bakers starting work early in the day. How about you?
No, not real early. Not 3 (a.m.), 4 (a.m.), anything like that.
Do you want your business to get bigger?
My husband and sister keep prodding me, “Get bigger, get bigger.” They say, “Don’t you want to be another, oh, Debbie Fields?” But I’m really not interested in that. Right now, I’m happy with where I’m at. I really have to thank them, though, for all their help and encouragement.
Sell any products besides kuchen?
(Just kuchen) for the Wal-Mart stores.
For individuals, if they order carmel rolls or cakes or something like that, I’ll make it.
You’re a Pride of Dakota member. You and your kuchen will participate in an upcoming Pride of Dakota promotional event in Fargo…
We’ll be in Fargo on Aug. 1, which is a Friday, at the Osgood Hornbacher’s, from 1 (p.m.) to 6 (p.m.).
Readers can reach Forum reporter Jonathan Knutson at (701) 241-5530