Minnesota Prairie Roots

Writing and photography by Audrey Kletscher Helbling

Anything but prune & much more in Montgomery August 17, 2020

Popular Franke’s Bakery anchors a corner in downtown Montgomery, Minnesota.

 

SMALL TOWN MINNESOTA. What is it about our rural communities that holds my heart? Surely, my upbringing on a crop and dairy farm in the southwestern region of our state influences how I feel about rural places.

 

Farms and fields surround Montgomery.

 

But it’s more than that. I see in these communities, like Montgomery in Le Sueur County, a distinct character, a connection of people, an appreciation for the quieter life afforded to those who live in this ag-based area.

 

Art in downtown business windows showcases the town’s annual Kolacky Days celebration.

 

Fresh-baked kolacky are always available at Franke’s Bakery.

 

One of my favorite signs in Montgomery banners the 106-year-old bakery.

 

I’ve written about and photographed Montgomery many times. Each visit I notice the details that define this self-proclaimed Kolacky Capital of the World with its strong Czech heritage. Kolacky are a fruit-filled (sometimes poppyseed, too) Czech pastry, available at the century-plus-old Franke’s Bakery and elsewhere.

 

A quilt adorns an historic downtown building.

 

When I walk along First Street, the main street through the downtown business district, I always notice the historic buildings.

 

 

And the home-grown businesses, including multiple meat markets.

 

The Monty Bar is missing its corner signage, which I loved.

 

And, like many small towns, multiple bars. Montgomery also has a craft brewery, Montgomery Brewing.

 

Signs plaster the front of the Monty Bar, including this one.

 

But I also notice the signage that is distinctly Montgomery. Like the best place to buy Jell-O shots (the Monty Bar).

 

An historic building houses the Happy Hour Bar & Grill.

 

The Happy Hour lunch special on the day of my visit.

 

Or the lunch-time Sloppy Joe special at the Happy Hour Bar & Grill.

 

Signage marks the Rustic Farmer.

 

The inviting dining space in front of the Rustic Farmer along Montgomery’s main street.

 

It is this type of signage that reveals much about a town and its people. When I spot the event space, Rustic Farmer on Main, and later sit there at a patio table to enjoy a custard-filled sweet treat from Franke’s, I think on that name. Rustic Farmer. It fits this rural community.

 

Hilltop Hall is on the National Register of Historic Places.

 

The same goes for Hilltop Hall, an historic building perched atop a hill on the north end of downtown. It’s home to Posy Floral & Gifts and the Montgomery Arts & Heritage Center.

 

I photographed this puzzle at Herrmann Drug, where it’s available for purchase.

 

That center houses a small gift shop and heritage displays, including Kolacky Days celebration buttons. Photographer Sarah Dolejs designed a 513-piece jigsaw puzzle featuring a photo of a button collection. The puzzle is available in local businesses and online. Recently, organizers of this year’s virtual Kolacky Days held a “Jigsaw Puzzle Competition from Your Kitchen Table” to see who could assemble the puzzle the fastest. The winning time was 67 minutes by Team Sherman. They beat out Anything but Prune (a reference to prune kolacky) by a mere minute. The Poppyseed Posse (another reference to kolacky) and the Laughing Polka Ladies didn’t even come close to winning.

 

The town’s water tower is located near the Montgomery National Golf Club.

 

I love those creative names. They reveal a sense of humor, a sense of pride, a sense of appreciation for heritage and all that defines this town. This Montgomery, Minnesota.

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A section of downtown Montgomery, including the popular eatery, Pizzeria 201, on the left. It’s located in the historic Westermann Lumber Office & House.

 

Please check back as I continue my series of posts from Montgomery. Upcoming posts will feature the community’s redone mural and a downtown coffee shop.

© Copyright 2020 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Sweet finds in Montgomery, Part III: Inside the bakery & the drugstore April 12, 2013

Franke's Bakery opened in 1914.

Franke’s Bakery opened in 1914.

NO VISIT TO MONTGOMERY would be complete without a stop at Franke’s Bakery, noted for kolacky, a fruit-filled (or poppy seed-filled) pastry beloved by this community of mostly Czech descendants.

One busy place on a Saturday.

One busy place on a Saturday. To the left, Jule Franke and Mary Ann Kaisersatt work the counter.

In business for 99 years, this bakery bustles with customers dropping in for sweet treats, breads and coffee room chat.

This 18-month-old Montgomery resident stopped in with her dad, grandma and sister for a treat Saturday morning.

This 18-month-old Montgomery resident stopped in with her dad, grandma and sister for a treat Saturday morning.

“You just missed your dad,” noted a baker parceling out sweets to a customer on a recent Saturday morning. “I saw him on the street.”

The tiled exterior entry to Franke's with a sign on the lower part of the door reading: "Kolacky Days Celebration  Czechoslovakian American Heritage.

The beautiful exterior entry to Franke’s with a sign on the lower part of the door that reads: “Kolacky Days Celebration Czechoslovakian-American Heritage.” Montgomery celebrates Kolacky Days each July. You can bet this bakery is especially busy then preparing the ethnic pastry for the celebration.

Yes, this bakery, this south-central Minnesota community, is that kind of place, where everybody seemingly knows everybody and their whereabouts. And I mean that in the kindest of ways.

My Bavarian bismarck. FYI, Franke's ships its baked goods, so feel free to order. The bakery makes this promise: "We bake our breads and rolls fresh everyday the old fashioned way without all those preservatives.

My Bavarian bismarck. FYI, Franke’s ships its baked goods, so feel free to order. The bakery makes this promise: “We bake our breads and rolls fresh everyday the old fashioned way without all those preservatives.”

Randy and I bopped in for 75-cent bismarcks, mine Bavarian (custard-filled), his raspberry, before continuing our perusal of Montgomery’s downtown business district.

Posted on businesses throughout downtown Montgomery, you will find photos and military biios of veterans. This is the Montgomery Veteran's Project, a way of honor the town's veterans.

Posted on businesses throughout downtown Montgomery, you will find photos and military biios of veterans. This is the Montgomery Veteran’s Project, a way of honor the town’s veterans.

When I noticed the lovely floral sign marking Herrmann (how non-Czech is that name?) Drug, Cards & Gifts, I just had to stop at this local pharmacy and general merchandise store marketing everything from shampoo to kitchenware to gifts and Titans school apparel.

The drugstore sells Titans apparel for the local school.

The drugstore sells Titans apparel for the Montgomery-Lonsdale-Le Center school, Tri-City United.

My husband insisted I photograph these "made in China" towels from American Mills. He wants me to submit this to Jay Leno.

My husband insisted I photograph these “Made in China” towels from American Mills and sold at Herrmann Drug. He wants me to submit this to Jay Leno.

I was impressed with the selection; no need to run to some Big Box store when you have Herrmann Drug. And how lucky this town of nearly 3,000 is to have a pharmacy…and so much more.

Herrmann Drug's pharmacy is located at the rear of the store.

Herrmann Drug’s pharmacy is located at the rear of the store.

READERS: We’re not finished yet with our tour of Montgomery. Check back for two more posts. And if you missed my Montgomery stories from earlier this week, backtrack to Sunday and start reading.

To read a previous post on Franke’s Bakery, click here.

And to read about the Montgomery Veteran’s Project, click here.

© Copyright 2013 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Montgomery, Part III: Franke’s Bakery, a sweet spot in the “Kolacky Capital of the World” March 6, 2013

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EDITOR’S NOTE: In the spring of 2010, I visited Franke’s Bakery in Montgomery, a now 99-year-old business which truly embraces the community’s Czech heritage. This feature published in Minnesota Moments magazine and I’m reprinting it here as written three years ago, with the addition of many more photos. This is the third in a five-part series of stories from Montgomery. Enjoy.

Mary Ann Kaisersatt, left, and Jule Franke make prune-filled kolacky.

Mary Ann Kaisersatt, left, and Jule Franke make prune-filled kolacky.

JULE FRANKE AND MARY ANN KAISERSATT work side-by-side in the bakery kitchen, their fingers swiftly and expertly stretching, folding and tucking corners of dough squares across dollops of prune filling.

In an hour, they will have made 50 dozen kolacky, the trademark Czech pastry of 96-year-old Franke’s Bakery in downtown Montgomery, self-proclaimed “Kolacky Capital of the World.”

Unbaked prune kolacky.

Unbaked prune-filled kolacky.

As Franke shapes the neat little dough packages upon the lightly-floured wooden countertop in this room that smells of yeast and baking bread, she describes the Czech treat. It’s “like a sweet dough with a filling,” she says. And at Franke’s, those fillings are the popular prune and poppy seed, plus apricot, apple and raspberry.

For 50 years now, this woman, who confesses that she is not Czech but German, has been making kolacky. “I’m not from here and I’m not Czech, until I married the baker,” she says, smiling.

“The baker” would be Alvin “Butch” Franke, her husband of 52 years who died last December. His father, Emil, a German with a little Czech heritage, grew up in Czechoslovakia, immigrated to America in the early 1900s and opened the bakery in 1914. Butch followed in his baker father’s footsteps. And then Butch and Jule’s son, Bob, became involved in the family business 25 years ago.

Franke's Bakery anchors a corner of downtown Montgomery.

Franke’s Bakery anchors a corner of downtown Montgomery.

Today this bakery, located in the heart of Minnesota Czech country, is nationally-known for its ethnic pastry. Franke’s ships packages of kolacky via priority mail all over the U.S., especially before holidays like Easter. Those customers often grew up in the area, Franke says, and will simply mail a check and a request for kolacky.

Customers orders hang in the kitchen.

Customers orders hang in the kitchen.

The bakery also has a loyal customer base locally and in the Twin Cities area.

The bakery retains the charm of yesteryear.

The bakery retains the charm of yesteryear.

But at no time is the demand for Franke’s kolacky higher than during Montgomery’s annual celebration of its Czech heritage, Kolacky Days, set this summer for July 23 – 25. Franke enlists her children and their families to make 2,000 dozen kolacky for the weekend event that includes a home-baked kolacky contest and a kolacky eating competition. During the celebration, Franke’s kolacky are sold at the bakery and in Memorial Park.

A selection of Franke's Bakery bread.

A selection of Franke’s Bakery bread, made without preservatives.

Yet, day-to-day, this Czech treat remains a mainstay at this bakery, also known for its rye bread.

Czech, Slovakian and American flags grace the bakery counter.

Czech, Slovakian and American flags grace the bakery counter.

“Vitáme Vás!” (“We welcome you”) imprinted on a window placard, miniature Czech and Slovakian flags set upon the countertop and humorous signs like “PARKING FOR CZECHS ONLY—ALL OTHERS WILL BE TOWED” embrace the area’s rich Czech heritage.

Among the sweet treats.

Among the sweet treats.

Here locals gather for a cup of coffee and a sweet treat, sliding into wooden booths in this 1931 building—the original bakery burned—that retains the charm of yesteryear.

Behind the scenes in the bakery's kitchen.

Behind the scenes in the bakery’s kitchen.

Five days a week Franke arrives here at 5:30 a.m. to help prepare baked goods, following family recipes that have been passed down through the generations. Soon fresh-baked doughnuts, Bismarcks, cookies, breads, turnovers, bars, buns, kolacky and more fill display shelves.

She has no plans to retire.

“This is in her blood,” says employee Kaisersatt.

Flour scoop...

Flour scoop…

The women laugh as they continue to fold dough, lifting and gently placing the square treats onto parchment paper-lined trays that hold five dozen kolacky. Kaisersatt scoots around to the other side of the work station across the slippery, flour-dusted floor to grab a kettle of milk wash. She dips her wide brush into the liquid and sweeps the bristles across the unbaked mounds of dough.

This, Franke says, helps to brown and keep the kolacky moist. The dough will rest overnight, then go into a steambox for an hour to rise before baking in the morning.

As appealing as the ethnic treat is to customers, the slender Franke admits, “I don’t eat too many (kolacky). I don’t care too much for sweets.”

But, obviously, customers do, as they’ve supported this family-owned business through three generations, for nearly 100 years.

You can't miss the sign marking Franke's Bakery, a family-owned business in Montgomery for 99 years.

You can’t miss the sign marking Franke’s Bakery, a family-owned business in Montgomery for 99 years.

FYI: Franke’s Bakery is open from 6:15 a.m. – 5 p.m. Tuesday – Friday and from 6:15 a.m. – 3 p.m. on Saturday. The bakery is closed on Sunday and Monday. Call Franke’s at (507) 364-5025 for more information. Visit the bakery website by clicking here.