Dec. 18 , 2006

Poppyseed kuchen baking continues into fifth generation

By Jennifer Gallus
Staff Writer

The annual “kuchen day” for the Gallus and Swartzer families of Montrose recently took place, and produced yet another huge helping of poppyseed kuchen (pronounced “koogen”).

The annual tradition was started at least five generations ago with Sandy Swartzer’s grandmother, Blanche Gallus.

A sweet bread with a thick layer of sweetened poppyseed on the inside is what poppyseed kuchen is all about. The kuchen is topped with cinnamon, sugar, and crumbles.

The night before the scheduled kuchen day, “We grind seven pounds of poppyseed with a hand grinder according to tradition. It takes about two hours,” Sue said. Several family members take turns grinding the poppyseed.

Then the poppyseed needs to be soaked overnight in milk.

Kuchen day is held at the home of Joe and Sue Gallus. Sue gets up at about 4:30 a.m. to start the bread, and Joe gets up at the same time to start the wood stove.

“Sue goes to the mixer, and I go to the basement to start the wood stove. The bread won’t raise if the house isn’t the right temperature,” Joe said.

“It takes 10 pounds of flour to make the bread,” Sue explained.

Sandy, her children and grandchildren, along with Sue’s children and grandchildren, arrive about 9 a.m.

The group takes turns at various tasks, and the young people get trained in slowly over the years.

“We’ve always made six or seven pans of kuchens each year,” Sandy said.

While the poppyseed kuchens are raising, the crew starts making caramel turtles. “It gives us something to do in between,” Sue laughed.

“We usually make five or six double batches of caramel,” Sue said.

Another tasty tradition, and it yields hundreds of turtles. Sue is said to make the best caramel.

Between the kuchens and the turtles, the group uses more than five pounds of butter.

The two baking projects are usually done by lunch time. They then share a potluck lunch before dividing up the day’s goods.

A “kuchen day” journal was started in 1997. Each year, everyone makes an entry as to what occurred in their lives over the past year, and what was said at kuchen day.

Many people say things about each other in jest in the journal.

Entries also include the current temperature, the current interest rate, price of gas, local news, politics, new family members, and loved ones who passed away that year.

“The “kuchen day” event has become a wonderful tradition, and our families have Sandy to thank. Sandy instigated the event even before we began the ‘poppyseed saga.’ Already we are enjoying the small ‘blurbs’ everyone contributes (to the journal). As Sandy would say, it’s a great literary document,” Sue wrote in the journal.

An entry from Sandy reads, “Sue and I have decided that it takes approximately 23 years to raise a reasonably good kuchen baker. The kuchens looked great, four big ones, and about five pans of cinnamon rolls. We were very organized.”

A sarcastic entry by Joe said, “Uncle Joe was not pleased with quality control this year. Some of the younger ladies will need closer monitoring in 2002. Poppyseed was ground to perfection (because he helped with that).”

The next entry states, “Joe, a legend in his own mind.”

The journal is quite entertaining to read. Family members hold nothing back when writing.

For this family, a family that bakes together, stays together.

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