Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Communal Breakfast

In Communal Amana (1855-1932) it was the women’s job to cook for their community at their local communal kitchen. In these kitchens it would be the job of one of the kitchen girls to wake early in the morning to light the fire. She would then eat breakfast and then cook breakfast for up to fifty of her neighbors. This last Saturday I had a little taste of that experience.

My alarm went off at , which is late compared to the the kitchen girls used to get up at. I put on an antique wool Amana dress, which was given to me by a High Amana resident, along with a pair of original Amana socks, shawl and knitted winter hood. Properly attired I went out into the cold winter morning and traveled to Middle Amana.  I was feeling very authentic as I stepped into Hahn’s Bakery to pick up the coffee cake for the morning. Going into Hahn’s bakery is a treat in more then one way. Not only does Doris Hahn makes delicious breads and coffee cakes from scratch every morning, but you get to peek at the unique stone hearth oven that she uses to bake the bread in. For you out of town people, I’ll let you in on a little secret. If you want a delicious treat from Hahn’s Bakery; get there early. Doris is normally sold out by , or if you are staying in town for a couple days call ahead and place an order.

Hahn’s is next door to the Communal Kitchen Museum so I didn’t have far to carry the morning’s bread. Luckily Lanny was already there at the kitchen and had started the fire, so it was warm and toasty when I got there. I set out the dishes and bread for our first group of visitors. We were expecting two groups of people to eat that morning, twenty-five at and twenty-five at . It was to be a full house.

The Ruedy Kitchen, which is now the Communal Kitchen Museum, was built in 1862. Like all kitchens in the Amana Colonies it was closed in 1932 with the Great Change. Luckily Ma Ruedy kept this kitchen as a working summer kitchen and it was never renovated like all of the other kitchens in the Amana Colonies. It is the only kitchen in all of the Colonies that remains intact, hearth and all. It became a museum in the 1950s. So it was a great honor for me to be able to use this historic hearth to cook breakfast for the community and visitors on this Winterfest morning. Breakfast was very traditional: fried potatoes, coffee cake, bread with jam but no butter and coffee. No bacon. No eggs. Lucky for me, because cooking potatoes for fifty people was hard enough.

While I was cooking our guest were taken care of by the “kitchen boss” played by Meg Merckens and another kitchen girl played by Darian Childers. After the opening prayer by elder Jon Childers our guest learned the history of the kitchens in the Amana Colonies from Meg all while enjoying hot fried potatoes cooked on a hearth that is almost 150 years old and coffee cake made in an oven that is just about the same age.
By the end of the morning my feet were tired and I was complaining about being hot. (Which I regretted about an hour later). I can’t image what it would have been like standing in front of that hearth in the middle of the summer. It must have been excruciatingly hot. But by the end I was getting into the grove with the hearth, there definitely is a rhythm to using it. There needs to be a certain amount of wood to make proper heat and you need to know where to cook and where to warm on the hearth. With my communal hearth experience I feel like I now have a little piece of communal Amana in my heart. I have put my feet in the dip on the floor in front of the dry sink where generations of women have stood and I have cook breakfast on the same hearth that those women cooked at.  It was a privilege.

Cooking for My Town: Amana Colonies


  1. Wow! Hahn's coffee cake is my all time favorite. My Oma and Opa Kippenhan lived in Homestead where my Father was born, and that bread is a great childhood memory. I just learned of your blog on facebook through my Aunt, thanks!
    Heidi Kippenhan

  2. Yes, the coffee cake was yummy! I wish I could eat it everyday. Thanks for reading!