Continuing Tradition

The Ecklof Men Have Been Baking For Four Generations

Rowland 3.jpg When Richard Ecklof hired Suzan to work in his family bakery in 1971, neither knew they would marry and work as a team until retirement. Photo by Beverly Kehe-Rowland

“I started, like my dad, as a young kid mopping floors,” says Richard Ecklof recalling his early years at Ecklof Bakery. “After high school, I started working in production.”

The tradition of baking had been in the Ecklof Family for at least two generations before Richard became involved. His grandfather, David Eklof, came to the United States from Stockholm, Sweden in 1919 at which time his surname was changed to Ecklof. The 21-year old found work at Ideal Bakery in Warren, Pennsylvania. After moving to Jamestown sometime in the late 1920s, he teamed up with Kurt Billings and George Hedberg in Scandia Bakery on Second Street. He sold the bakery in 1945 in order to be able to spend time with his ailing wife in her final days.

The Ecklof’s son, David Richard Ecklof, commonly referred to as Dick, planned to take over the bakery on his return from military service, but came home to Jamestown to discover it had been sold. In 1956, Dick opened Ecklof Bakery. He passed away on March 8, 1968, after which ownership of the bakery was passed to his wife Carolyn. After operating the bakery for eight years, Mrs. Ecklof sold it to her son Richard in July 1976. Richard had returned home from serving two years in the United States Army after the premature death of his father at the age of 43.

He met his wife, Suzan, when she was hired as a sales clerk in 1971, in fact she was the first person he interviewed for the job.

“I married my boss,” says Suzan with a grin.

Ecklof Bakery has been known for their Pink Striped Cookies since 1956. Photo by Beverly Kehe-Rowland

Suzan took over the position of cake decorator from her husband in 1987, who had acquired the job when he was 22 years old, when the former decorator had left.

“She’s a self-taught cake decorator,” says her husband.

His wife says she actually learned from watching her husband and another decorator. The Belle Vernon, Pennsylvania native graduated from Art Institute of Pittsburgh, which she says has helped with her career as a cake decorator. At one time she was the only one in the area who drew freehand. She attributes her past job at the Post-Journal, when it was located on Washington Street, and her interior design education, for her color-mixing ease.

The couple tells about how the process for cake decorating has changed and how a computer is used to do photo cakes, a process of tracing and air-brushing the color.

“You have to keep up with the times,” she says.

Suzan Ecklof’s dishes may be used in various Christmas holiday situations. The Sausage and Zucchini Side Dish and Beef Stew (back) could be served for lunch after a morning shopping trip. The Taco Dip and Linguine Salad (front) are appropriate for holiday parties and buffets. Photo by Beverly Kehe-Rowland

His wife has recently retired, not only from decorating, but from ordering and scheduling the girls who work in the store-deli area, but still reports to work when needed in a jam. Richard is semi-retired, but reports to work daily.

“She took care of the front of the house and I took care of production,” says the business owner of Jamestown’s last retail bakery and only Swedish bakery.

“We are a full-line retail bakery. We make everything like you do in your kitchen,” says Mr. Ecklof.

The bakery is known for many products, such as Limpa Rye, a Swedish rye bread. Vort Limpa, made with ground oranges, cloves and anise seed with a molasses glaze, is available at holiday time and during the Scandinavian festival. This bread can be hollowed out and used to hold the dip in the rye boat recipe Mrs. Ecklof has shared. Other popular holiday items are the cardamom and almond coffee cakes.

Their most famous, most requested item is the Ice Cream Bar, better know as the “pink-striped cookie.” On Dick Ecklof’s first day of business in 1956, he told the sales clerks to choose a cookie to give children who came to the bakery with their parents. The cookie chosen was the Ice Cream Bar, a vanilla shortbread cookie with a pink stripe down the middle. Children refer to them as pink-striped cookies, thus their official nickname. It is estimated over a quarter million have been given to the children who have passed through the bakery doors.

“It is one of our signature items. On average we make 98 dozen six days per week. Sometimes it’s 130 dozen,” Mr. Ecklof states.

“We mail them all over the United States,” his wife chimes in.

The famous cookie has its own webpage started by Scott Constantino. During Fourth of July week the dough is shaped into a 1/2 sheet-size flag. The cookies can be color-coordinated with school colors, wedding colors or colors that coincide with birthday party, baby shower and gender reveal parties. Cakes and cupcakes are, also, available for gender reveal parties, with colored filling.

“We’ve done quite a bit of those,” says Mrs. Ecklof. “When decorating with blues and pinks for gender reveal, we must be sure each color is used equally, or the same number of flowers, polka dots, etc. of each color is used.

They still hand-cut all cut-out cookies, with sugar cookies being available year-round and ginger or pepparkakor available for Christmas only.

Another popular item that is available only at this time of year is Tom and Jerry Batter. Richard started making the raw batter in the early 1990s, using homogenized eggs for safety.

“We start the beginning of November and do about 1,500-2,000 quarts of batter. We get 50 quarts out of a batch, which takes an hour on the mixer. The yolks and whites are mixed separately and the yolks are folded in later. It can be used with hot chocolate for children and non-drinkers,” he says.

Tom and Jerry batter is available in 1 quart, 2 1/2 quart and 4-gallon containers. It will keep one week in the refrigerator or four weeks frozen. The family shares recipes using Tom and Jerry batter.

The bakery has a deli area where they sell cold cuts, cheeses and deli items and where lunch may be purchased.

The couple’s son, Chad Ecklof, has been working with his dad since he was a little boy when he would ask to go along with him to work.

“Nine times out of ten I’d fall asleep on the flour bags,” says the son.

He worked over summer vacations during high school, starting at 4 a.m.

“I was told if I didn’t get a good education, this is the kind of work I would be doing. So, I went into the Navy and finished two colleges with Associates Degrees and I’m still working here.”

In the years the younger Ecklof served in the United States Navy he was an electronics technician who worked on million-dollar radar systems and navigation equipment.

Following in his father’s tradition, he sometimes takes his sons to work at 4 AM when they’ve asked to go with him. He is a baker, does all of the deliveries, handles the social media and has begun to do administrative work.

The Christmas season is extremely busy for the family and its employees. The bakery will participate in Julmarknad (Swedish Market Day) on Saturday, December 1, with Swedish tastings, along with several other locations around the city, as well as 15 vendors at Jamestown Community College. On Sunday, Dec. 9, the bakery will have their tenth annual Gingerbread House Workshop from 1-3 p.m.. The event is open to adults and children who are accompanied by an adult and who have registered by Monday, Dec. 3. The cost is $35 per gingerbread house, including decorating supplies. Each additional house is $25. The father and son cut and bake all of the pieces by hand and assemble them. The participants will be given a demonstration on decorating gingerbread houses. This event is very well received with some families registering for as many as six houses.

“For Christmas, we work 14-, 15- and 16-hour days. We really don’t have much of a chance to celebrate Christmas.

We try to stay awake on Christmas Eve after working (long hours),” says Richard Ecklof.

The bakers start at 10 p.m. on Dec. 22 and work until 1-2 p.m. the next afternoon. They return at 7 p.m. and work until 3 p.m. on Dec. 24.

“That’s what Christmas has been like for me for 50 years,” states Richard.

His wife usually starts work at 5-6 a.m. on Christmas Eve and works until the store closes at 5 p.m..

“And a lot of hours leading up to that,” she adds. “We love Christmas, but it’s a nightmare for bakers”

They admit it is hard knowing they have to go back to work the day after Christmas.

The couple has had a total of four vacations together with the last being in 2000. Mr. Ecklof has gone on a few fishing trips over the years.

Although the couple’s other son, Devin, no longer works at the bakery, he is a talented baker like the rest of he men in his family.

Ecklof Bakery is located at 832 Foote Ave. The hours of operation are Monday-Friday 6 a.m.-6 p.m., Saturday 6 a.m.-5 p.m. and Sunday 8 a.m.-1 p.m. Lunch is served 10 a.m.-2:45 p.m.. Call 488-1516 by Dec. 3 to register for the Gingerbread House Workshop and by Dec. 23 to order Christmas items, although orders given earlier in the month are preferred. No Christmas orders will be accepted after this time.

FYI: Ecklof Bakery has a rear parking lot. Use the back door to come and go from bakery.

Tom and Jerry

1 heaping T Ecklof’s Tom and Jerry batter

3/4 jigger rum

3/4 jigger brandy

Hot water or coffee

1 spoonful Ecklof’s Tom and Jerry batter

Nutmeg or cinnamon

Put batter into a regular or large coffee cup. Add rum and brandy. Fill cup with hot water or coffee and stir. Top drink with spoonful of batter and sprinkle with grated nutmeg or cinnamon.

Cold version-

Put two tablespoons batter into a water glass. Fill glass 3/4 full with milk. Stir vigorously and serve. It tastes almost like eggnog. May use chocolate milk.

Children’s version-

2 T Ecklof’s Tom and Jerry batter

Hot water or hot milk

Spoonful Ecklof’s Tom and Jerry batter

Nutmeg or cinnamon

Candy cane

Put batter in regular or large coffee cup. Add hot water or hot milk. Stir. Top with spoonful of batter and sprinkle with nutmeg or cinnamon. For extra flavor, add a candy cane, mint stick or cinnamon stick.

Christmas Eggnog Made with Tom and Jerry Batter

1 qt Ecklof’s Tom and Jerry batter

1 c bourbon

1/2 c dark rum

1/2 c amaretto

1/2 qt milk

2 T vanilla

1 1/2 pts heavy whipping cream

In a large bowl, whisk until smooth, all ingredients with the exception of the cream. Whip cream until stiff and then add to other ingredients and whisk until smooth and creamy. Refrigerate. Serve in a punch bowl. Top with nutmeg. It will be very thick and foamy. Freeze for long-term storage. Alcohol will prevent from freezing solid. Do not reuse or serve eggnog that has been left out of refrigeration.

Bacon and Cheese Dip

1 lb Swiss cheese, shredded

1 lb bacon, cooked and crumbled

1 small jar mayonnaise

Mix all ingredients in casserole dish. Bake at 350 degrees for 35-45 minutes. Serve with baked whole wheat crackers.

Sausage and Zucchini Side Dish

1 lb sweet ground sausage

1 lb hot ground sausage

2 small zucchini, diced

2 small yellow summer squash, diced

29 oz tomato sauce

29 oz tomato puree

6 oz tomato paste

1 medium green pepper, diced

1 small onion, diced

14.5 oz stewed tomatoes

1 pkg sliced mushrooms

Cook and drain sausage. Combine in Dutch oven. Cover and cook for one hour, stirring occasionally. Simmer for 2 additional hours.

Linguine Salad

1 box linguine, cooked and drained

2 medium cucumbers, peeled and diced

1 medium red onion, diced

2 stalks celery, diced

2 medium tomatoes, diced

1 bottle Italian dressing

2 T Salad Supreme Seasoning

Cool noodles. Combine with remaining ingredients. Chill.

Beef Stew

1 pkg stew beef

2 T vegetable oil

4 large red potatoes, peeled and diced

4 carrots, peeled and diced

1 small onion, diced

2 stalks celery, diced

3 T parsley flakes

5 c water

Sear beef in oil in Dutch oven. Add water. Boil. Skim broth. Add remaining ingredients and simmer 2 hours. Thicken with water and flour base. Let simmer 30 minutes.

Sausage and Pasta

1 lb sweet or hot sausage links

1 box rigatoni, cooked and drained

2 small zucchini, diced

2 carrots, peeled and diced

1 medium green pepper, diced

1 small onion, diced

1 jar spaghetti sauce

Cook and slice sausage. Combine all ingredients and bake in 9-inch by 13-inch baking pan or dish. Bake at 350 degrees for 45 minutes. After baking 30 minutes, sprinkle 1 lb shredded mozzarella cheese on top and finish baking.

Taco Dip

1 lb ground beef, cooked and drained

1 pkg taco seasoning

1 pkg cream cheese, softened

1 can refried beans

1 jar salsa

1 pkg shredded cheddar cheese

Prepare taco meat according to directions on seasoning packet. In a 9-inch by 13-inch baking dish, layer cream cheese, refried beans, meat, salsa and cheese. Bake at 350 degrees for 35 minutes or until cheese is melted. Serve with tortilla chips for dipping.

Rye Boat

2 loaves Ecklof’s round limpa rye bread, unsliced

1 pt sour cream

1 1/3 c mayonnaise

2 tsp dill seed

1 small onion, grated

2 1/2 oz chipped dried beef

Parsley

Cut out center of bread, leaving 1/2-inch on bottom. Cut this and second loaf into cubes for dipping. Dice beef. Mix with remaining ingredients. Best if mixed the night before. When ready to serve, add dip to center of bread. Garnish with parsley, if desired.

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