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Following twenty years of farmer's markets selling locally grown vegetables, native fruits, and local honey Linda created Marianne's Kitchen in Shoreview, MN, an oasis of good food, conversation and laughter in a suburban food desert. Operating from 2011-2017 the cafe offered home made soups, fresh bread baked daily, great sandwiches and treats and a complete line of gluten-free soups, pickled products, jams, jellies, salsas and locally sourced soups, honey and grains.

The Marianne's Kitchen of sharing, conversation, and learning continues with ongoing commentary, food reviews and food finds as we grow, cook and eat our food and sample local restaurants.

Tuesday, June 14, 2016

Jim Felger, Baker 1943-2016

Jim Felger Baker Hinckley MN

Jim Felger, Baker 1943-2016

We lost one of our best friends on Saturday.   Jim Felger, the person many of you met at our special baking events, passed away Saturday evening.  Our grief is beyond words.

Jim and I met at the meeting to establish the Sandstone, MN farmers' market.  As the meeting was ending, I asked Jim if he would be willing to help me with my yeast breads (or yeast flops as I used to call them).  "Sure, sure, sure......" was his response.  I can't tell you how many times I heard those words from Jim over the next decade.  "Sure, we can make some coffee cakes."  "Sure, I can help you with your bread."  "Sure, sure, sure...."  Jim was always willing to try something, do something, help with something. 

Last year, Jim and I created a new pumpkin yeast bread.  Maybe you had some here last Fall.  It became a popular item at the Farmers Market in Pine City where Jim was a vendor each week.  When I suggested trying to create it, Jim's response:   "sure, sure, sure!"  Our recipe was pretty good.  But then Jim tweaked it (a couple of times).  Then it was really good.

A value can't be placed on what Minnesota has lost with Jim's passing.  There are very few 'old time' bakers left.  As grocery store 'thaw and bake' commercial products have expanded, most small town and independent bakeries have closed.    After his dad passed away, as the oldest son, Jim ran the bakery with his mom Stacy - Stacy's Bakery in Sandstone.  The place where Twin Cities Live filmed the fruitcake one year.  And for the next 2 weeks, Jim made 5400 pounds of fruitcake.  He said it nearly killed him....luckily for us, it didn't.  Later, Jim and Lois opened Jeffrey's Bakery in Hinckley (across the freeway from Tobie's)...named after their son.  Jim was also stepdad to Lois' 3 sons.  After Jim 'retired', he worked at Tobie's (you'll find Jim's xxxxx, or Stacy's xxxxxx, or Felger Family Fruitcake there), and Chris' Foods in Sandstone. 

When Jim worked at Chris' Foods, he always had a Saturday morning shift.  After the farmers market, I would meet there for lunch.   I'd ask, "Jim, what did you make this morning?"   Here's a lesson for all you folks who have trouble getting things done.  Jim would answer with something like (and remember, he was about 68 years old then):  80 dozen dinner rolls, 40 loaves of 8 kinds of bread, 6 kinds of bars,  packages of 12 kinds of cookies, plus making the dough for the afternoon shift (because it was only noon after all).  Let me just say that Jim helped me with my 'baking efficiency'.

Jim was a 4th generation baker.  It would be hard to describe the details of all of the skills that are implied in that statement.  When you learn at the hands of your mom and dad, skills that have been passed down from generation to generation, recipes that have been tweaked to perfection, with a standard of quality and detail that seems to be disappearing with each passing year....then you get a small sense of what Jim Felger carried in his DNA and what we will never experience again.

Our baking events with Jim were very popular.  Often, people lined up early...especially to get a handmade almond coffee cake or poppy seed ring.  I hope lots of you had a chance to speak with Jim when you were understand what a kind and gentle soul he was.   I NEVER heard Jim say a bad word about anyone...EVER. 

A few people always said, 'oh, I'll try that next time."  Foolish thinking.  When Jim made something, I tried it right now.  I've had at least one of everything Jim has made over the last 10 or more years and I don't regret a single calorie.  I've learned that sometimes there is no 'next time'.  What I wouldn't give today for 1 bite of Jim's prune strudel....maybe the most delicious thing I've ever eaten (and luckily many of you were skeptical about prunes, so I always got one for myself).

Jim's baking ability and his kindness were phenomenal, but didn't come close to his artistry.  I told him often (and I am so glad I took the opportunity every time) that I believe he is the premier baker in Minnesota.  You don't bake for over 60 years if you don't love it - and Jim loved to bake every single day.  His knowledge was priceless.  His artistry was beyond spectacular.  On our Christmas cookie plates, I always put some of my cookies and some of Jim's cookies.  I usually put mine on the bottom layer...because who would want to cover up a single one of Jim's gorgeous cookies.

My favorite stories are about the people who took home 1 dozen cookies and were going to 'make my own.'  Yup, we heard it all the time.   Then the honest ones (but more often their spouse) would come back and tell me that they took home that plate of cookies and spent an entire day trying to make something that looked just like it.  The spouses reported that their spouse ended up with  lots of disappointment and feelings of inadequacy.   I can understand.  You can't expect to be able to do what was really the culmination of 4 generations of knowledge and experience on a Sunday afternoon.  Jim would have helped anyone who asked.

"Always use butter."  Never skimp on ingredients.  I can't tell you how much Jim spent on butter.....I've never actually worked with 50 pound blocks of butter....but Jim did....all the time.   You can't make delicious baked goods when you use the artificial ingredients that you find in all the commercial baked goods today.  If it tastes like chemicals, it's because it is chemicals.  If it tastes like butter....well then you know what to buy.

Have you had a Sally Ann cookies?  Houska (mmmm....cherry houska).  Grandma's Christmas bread?  I've had some of these plus hundreds more of Jim's creations.  I can't believe I'll never taste a product of his hands....ever, ever again.

Jim had been under the weather for several months.  So much so that he didn't feel like baking.  That's a pretty amazing statement all by itself.  But Saturday evening, he went to his baking bench, turned on the oven, took out the flour and make one of his special creations.    That's where Lois found peace near the baking bench. 

We will miss him forever........