Monday, January 8th, 2007
By Margie Wuebker
Good recipes and fond memories of Baltes restaurant fill cookbook
FRENCHTOWN - Dorie Baltes looks through some cookbooks, recalling how she turned down requests for recipes like Watergate Salad, Pickled Eggs and Stuffed Peppers.
"Customers came up and asked for recipes," says the manager, head cook and jack of all trades at the former Baltes Restaurant. "I refused those requests, politely telling them everything would be in my cookbook."
The project took nearly 20 years to complete, but the spiral-bound "Recipes and Memories of Baltes Restaurant" debuted just before the holiday season.
Her three daughters - the late Kathy Hemmelgarn, Jayne Baltes and Holly Keiser - spent years encouraging the ambitious project.
"Kathy wanted this book and she never stopped pushing," Baltes says with a sigh. "That's why it's dedicated in her memory."
Hemmelgarn of Burkettsville, who worked at her mother's restaurant most weekends, died several years ago following a sudden illness.
"I guess working on the book she wanted so badly became my therapy," Baltes says. "The whole family pitched in to turn her dream into reality."
Four hundred recipes and years of remembrances are sandwiched between the covers.
Her husband, Jimmy, purchased a combination gas station, grocery store and bar in 1950, the year before he and the former Dorie Siefring of Wendelin married. The business was located across the road from the Crystal Ballroom, which his family owned and operated.
Things began to change after the wedding, with sandwiches and then meals added for the convenience of customers.
The grocery store and gas pump disappeared as the restaurant portion of the business continued to grow. A large dining room became the first of several additions over the years.
Back in the late 1950s, the restaurant was open seven days and nights each week. It served as a hangout for area farmers on weeknights, teenagers on Fridays and Crystal Ballroom fans on Saturdays. The traditional Sunday smorgasbord began in 1960 after yet another addition.
People flocked to the restaurant, located along state Route 185 in Frenchtown, and waited in line for down-home comfort food like roast beef, fried chicken, "real" mashed potatoes, buttered noodles and an array of homemade desserts, Baltes says.
"It was hard to get away from work," she recalls. "We lived in an attached apartment, which made going back and forth no problem whatsoever. There were good and bad points to being so close.
The three girls grew up at the restaurant. Holly, the youngest, frequently pedaled her tricycle from table to table talking to guests while her sisters did various chores.
Private parties and gatherings filled the restaurant on weekdays, with the business open to the public on weekends and holidays like Thanksgiving and Christmas.
"I used to make pickled eggs by the case and 50 loaves of bakery bread went into my dressing," she says. "It took a thousand cabbage rolls and a thousand stuffed peppers most weeks. I made them as well as soups, salads and desserts during the week between private parties. You had to be organized and have good help."
Mother Nature occasionally threw a wrench into the works. Without power and meals to prepare, the kitchen crew fired up the gas stove instead of relying on electric appliances. Pan-fried chicken replaced deep-fried for the night.
"We could not make coffee because there was no room on the gas stove," Baltes says. "Guests didn't complain; in fact, they thought it was fun having the whole place aglow with candlelight."
The cookbook contains many humorous vignettes about her and Jimmy, who managed the bar and played drums in his own band. However, there is nothing funny about one incident that occurred in the early 1970s.
Fire broke out after hours near a television set in the bar and gutted the interior one month before Thanksgiving. The owners vowed the restaurant would be open for turkey dinners with all the trimmings. Contractors worked day and night to accomplish what some considered an impossible task. Baltes made sure the crew was well fed, serving up hearty meals several times a day.
The couple sold the restaurant in 1987, and she enjoyed her first vacation in 37 years. The new owners eventually closed the establishment.
"I think Kathy would really enjoy the book," she says wistfully. "However, she would have laughed upon learning the 800 recipes I compiled had to be cut down to 400. Some people claim the second cookbook is waiting in the wings, but I'm not convinced. Putting out a cookbook in the first place is something I did for Kathy."
The family plans to use proceeds from the book sale to plant trees. One has been placed at Burkettsville Community Park, where Hemmelgarn was as avid supporter and committee member, and others will be added to the landscape at the Versailles Public Library, where Hemmelgarn spent her noontime lunches reading.
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