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Too young to ‘just sit around’

By Staff | Apr 30, 2010

Jen Ricke demonstrates how she uses a number of products and components from the nearby Snap On tools factory at her Algona business at Granny's Kitchen. Ricke worked at Snap On for 31 years and received the blue tool chest, as well as a movable work station, as appreciation for her service.

By KEVIN STILLMAN

Farm News staff writer

ALGONA – Growing up with eleven siblings Jen Ricke understands the challenges facing busy families. So, when the opportunity came to take up a second career she decided to make it her mission that no family in her community, no matter how busy, would have to go without a home cooked meal.

“I felt like I was too young just to sit around,” said Ricke, who worked 31 years assembling tool shelves at the nearby Snap On Tools plant before becoming the surrogate “Granny” to busy people all around Algona.

“A lot of times at work, during breaks, the people I talked to would say how they didn’t have time to eat or cook properly. They would get off work, maybe take their kids to a little league game then eat at the concession stand, but they wanted to be able to offer something that was really a meal.”

Ricke said she thought about these concerns for almost a year, considering how she could help and where to get started. An opportunity arrived when a local coffee shop went out of business making a number of professional kitchen furnishings available at a reasonable price.

Seizing the moment Ricke purchased the equipment she needed and setup her business – Granny’s Kitchen – in a small garage connected to the Rickes’ 1870s era antique home.

Appropriately enough the change was actually a sort of reclamation, as the space had originally been added as a “summer kitchen” were meals could be prepared without letting the excess heat into the home.

Granny’s Kitchen began with some of the foods that Ricke knew best including hearty and scalable entrees learned from her mother, a family and restaurant chief of many years, and her grandmother, whose ample meals kept farm laborers working during Ricke’s summers spent on the farm.

In a rotating daily menu, Ricke offered meals like tater tot casserole, lasagna, scallop potatoes and ham, chicken and rice, all fresh to order and delivered or ready for pickup. The response was immediate.

Granny’s Kitchen, accented by a mobile work table and large tool chest Ricke earned as rewards for her previous career, became a mecca for area families looking for home-cooked meals on a fast food schedule.

As the business grew Ricke expanded her menu to all days and became the place for “Cassaroles and Baked Goodies to Go.”

Available desserts and sides now include hashbrowns, egg bakes, salads, bars, cakes and cookies of all kinds.

Orders usually come at least a day in advance, but last minute emergencies are rarely turned down. The customer base has also grown, from busy families to local businesses, community organizations and older residents.

“When I was thinking about if this would work, working families, but older people have some of those same concerns,” Ricke said. “If they’re entertaining family or friends that can be a lot of work cleaning and preparing even before cooking.

“I think this gives them more of a chance to enjoy themselves and that feels good to do.”

In addition to her very successful paying business, Ricke has also been especially generous with her talents. Granny’s Kitchen has provided free catering for a number of school, church and community events.

Ricke said a great part of her success has been contributing to the local economy and taking on opportunities to support the community that has made her business prosper – not to mention catching a compliment here and there.

“It’s kind of an ego boaster because I’ve never had a complaint and so many people tell me that this is a great service,” Ricke said. “That makes you feel good and want to keep on doing it.”

Egg bake

6 eggs

3 cups milk

1 cup cream of mushroom soup

1 pound seasoned sausage, browned and drained

2 cups shredded cheddar

1 16-ounce package seasoned croutons

Mix together eggs, milk, soup and add sausage.

Line greased 9-by-13-inch pan with crouton. Pour egg mix over croutons. Top with cheddar cheese. Cover with foil and refrigerate overnight.

Bake at 350 degrees for 1 hour. Remove foil and bake for 15 minutes more or until bubbly in the center.

Rhubarb butter crunch

2-4 cups diced rhubarb

3/4 cups sugar

3 tablespoons flour

1cup brown sugar

1cup oatmeal

1 1/2 cup flour

1/2 cup butter or oleo

1/2 cup shortening

Combine first 3 ingredients. Put in greased by-8-inch baking dish. Combine rest of ingredients until crumbly.

Sprinkle over rhubarb mixture. Bake at 375 degrees for 40 minutes.

May use 1/2 of topping mixture.

Contact Kevin Stillman by e-mail at stillman.kw@gmail.com.

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