Cookie Jar baking up memories in Goessel

ORIGINALLY WRITTEN CYNTHIA MARTENS
At The Cookie Jar, warm childhood memories are triggered by the aroma of freshly-baked bread or the whiff of homemade soup simmering in a pot on the stove.

“When customers hit the door, I want it to smell like mom or grandma’s house did,” said Jennifer Smith, who opened her bakery and cafe in Goessel on Nov. 12. “I want it to generate those feelings of what it was like to eat something homemade. You can’t replace that.”

The Cookie Jar is primarily a bakery offering a variety of cookies, pies, rolls and breads available certain days of the week. But over the noon hour, it’s also a cafe featuring a daily luncheon special.

“The reason I decided to go with the cafe is I didn’t know financially if we could make it doing nothing but baked goods,” Smith said. “And secondly, I feel there’s a need in Goessel to have some place to eat.”

Although sandwiches are available at Mid-Kansas Foods cooperative grocery store in town, there is no restaurant in the community that is open for hot meals.

The cafe and bakery is located in downtown Goessel, just past the mid-town bridge.

“This is what I’ve really always wanted to do for a long time,” Smith said. “I’m only 31 years old, and I’ve already reached my peak” of personal aspirations.

For the past six years, Smith has taken custom baked-goods orders and operated a small catering service. But recently, she decided to open her own business and fulfill a dream born from childhood memories of cooking and baking.

“I started cooking with my mother when I was old enough to stand on a chair,” Smith said of mother Debbie Skinner, who now works beside her daughter in the mornings before going to work.

After moving to Goessel when Smith was in the first grade, she developed a special friendship with a next-door neighbor.

“We moved next door to Mrs. Lena Schmidt, and she was kind of like a surrogate grandma,” Smith said.

“She would have us over for traditional German faspa, which is an afternoon snack. And then, during the summertime, when the men were still working in the fields,we would take faspa to them.”

Schmidt eventually invited her young protege over to help make traditional German fare, such as zwiebacks, borscht and German sausage.

Involved in 4-H and home economics while growing up in Goessel, Smith expanded and developed her culinary skills. But her life’s journey eventually took her away for about five years before moving back into the family home next to Schmidt.

Hungry for the recipe for zwiebacks, Smith approached Schmidt, who schooled her in the art of baking the delicacy.

“I probably went through about 50 pounds of flour-making zwiebacks over a week’s period of time,” Smith said.

“Anyone who knew Lena, knew she was very, very particular. Finally, I went in and she said, ‘This is just right, this is it.’ And of course, I felt wonderful.”

That same fine-tuned recipe is used at The Cookie Jar today. Zwiebacks can be purchased for $4 a dozen.

As day breaks, Smith works in her bakery kitchen whipping up tantalizing breakfast fare, such as muffins, cinnamon rolls, turnovers or coffee cake.

“On Monday, Wednesday and Friday, we do fresh cinnamon rolls,” Smith said. “On Tuesday and Thursday, we do something different.”

Asked what makes her cinnamon rolls so popular, Smith said, “The cinnamon rolls are homemade as well as made out of a very rich dough-lots of butter and a lot of shortening. And I think that keeps them really soft.”

She typically makes about three dozen cinnamon rolls at a time, and they can be purchased individually or by the dozen or half dozen.

Lunch hour begins at about 11:15 a.m., and the special is usually in the $5 price range.

“We offer one special,” Smith said. “That keeps my overhead and inventory down.”

On Fridays, Smith always offers cheeseburgers and homemade potato salad. Other days, she might prepare open-face hot-roast-beef sandwiches with made-from-scratch mashed potatoes or perhaps homemade borscht soup.

“We do a lot of soups,” Smith said.

One kind of cookie is usually available each day for 50 cents a piece or $4 for a dozen. Smith has a list of 14 cookie varieties to choose from, such as snickerdoodle, oatmeal candy bar, shortbread and chocolate chip. Every Wednesday, customers can usually count on enjoying a chocolate-chip cookie at The Cookie Jar.

Her most popular pie is rhubarb, Smith said. “It’s just traditional German fare. People like the old fashioned things that remind them of grandma’s house.”

Smith’s custom-baked pie list of 16 different varieties also includes traditional options, such as apple, cherry and peach. And for those customers who crave cream pies, they can order chocolate cream, banana cream, coconut cream and raisin sour cream.

“The one thing I’ve been really surprised about and honored is that people have compared my pies to The Bread Basket in Newton and The Carriage House in Yoder,” Smith said. “To even be mentioned in the same sentence with either of those restaurants is definitely an honor for me.”

And another kudo from patrons is her recipe for borscht. “Some of the old timers come in and say, ‘You do make real borscht,'” Smith said. “I’m not certain what the definition of real borscht is yet, but that’s a very good compliment.”

Each week, Smith lists her luncheon specials on an Internet site or posts them at the grocery store. “If someone would like to be on the list, by all means call me, and I’ll put you on the list,” Smith said.

“And every Tuesday, we have fresh bread. I put in my e-mail what that’s going to be. For instance, today it’s raisin bread. Otherwise, it’s by order if you want something specific.”

On Tuesdays, she usually bakes from six to eight loaves of the bread for the day, and the cost is $3.25 per loaf.

And while on the subject of breads, Smith offered the following recipe.

Homesteader Corn Bread

1 1/2 cups cornmeal

2 1/2 cups milk

2 cups flour

1 tablespoons baking powder

1 teaspoon salt

2/3 cup sugar

2 eggs

1/2 cup vegetable oil

In a large bowl, combine cornmeal and milk. Let stand for five to 10 minutes. Mix in eggs and vegetable oil.

Stir in remaining ingredients and beat until lump free. Batter will be thin. Pour into a 9-inch by 13-inch greased pan.

Bake at 400 degrees for 30 to 35 minutes.

“I just happened to run into this recipe a couple of years ago on the Internet,” Smith said. “And it’s turned out to be one of my favorites. I serve it here, and I’ve had a lot of compliments on it. It’s very moist.”

In addition to satisfying the appetites of her customers at her new bakery and cafe, Smith continues to offer catering services locally and to surrounding areas as far away as Newton.

“I’ve done parties, open houses and business meetings,” Smith said. “I would say it’s more business fare than anything else. They’re usually luncheons, but I will cater in the evenings, too.”

If mottos are any indication of the ambience at a restaurant, then future patrons should take heed of the words Smith lives by-“There’s always somethin’ good at The Cookie Jar!”

A self-confessed chatter box, Smith said, “I love to visit with people. What keeps me going during the day is my customers. I like visiting with people, and I want this to feel like home.”

So come to The Cookie Jar and step into those childhood memories as you walk in the door and say, “Ah, it’s snickerdoodles,” Smith said. “That’s what I want people to feel when they come in.”

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