MARILYN HAGERTY: From N.D. to Arizona, Cavalier couple spreads the joy of kuchen

The recipe is in her head. The kuchen is in the van. And Karen and Ken Schwandt, Cavalier, N.D., are on their way to Arizona with a load of Karen's Kuchen for the North Dakota Picnic in Mesa next Sunday.

Karen Schwandt
Karen Schwandt and her husband, Ken, run Karen's Kuchen and are bringing a load to the North Dakota Picnic in Mesa, Ariz., next Sunday.

The recipe is in her head. The kuchen is in the van. And Karen and Ken Schwandt, Cavalier, N.D., are on their way to Arizona with a load of Karen's Kuchen for the North Dakota Picnic in Mesa next Sunday.

This will be the 43rd year for the picnic in Pioneer Park, where 5,000 people are expected. Planning has been done for the past four years by The Village in Fargo. It seems only fitting the big picnic should feature pastry well-known to the many North Dakotans with Germans from Russia backgrounds. It also seems fitting that Karen will bring the kuchen because she was eating it all the years she was growing up in Ashley, N.D.

She used to leave the baking to her grandmother, and later her mother. Then, during the course of raising four children, she decided the time had come for her to make kuchen. Because she never goes into anything halfway, she went full-blast. She got licensed and took her baking to the point of now having a warehouse behind her home and has converted two bedrooms in their "empty nest" into offices.

Karen keeps busy stocking her kuchen in 20 area stores and taking orders on her Web site, www.karenskuchens .

com. She has Karen's Kuchen in Hugo's stores of this area and has a case at White Drug Pharmacy on 32nd Avenue South in Grand Forks. That's where her husband, Lem, who is semi-retired, works part time as a pharmacist.


Kuchen is the German word for cake. It's a coffee cake, sliced like a pie. It's usually made in a pie pan of sweet yeast dough filled with a rich custard. Fruit usually is added. Sometimes, it's eaten plain as sugar kuchen.

Karen said you can eat kuchen any time of the day. She uses local products whenever possible and is a member of Pride of Dakota. Her kuchen is frozen fresh and will remain fresh in the freezer for three months. She turns out kuchen with fruit, nuts and some just with sugar. And she stands ready in Cavalier to turn out a wedding kuchen, which is thin and has sugar, cinnamon and graham cracker crumbs.

Karen makes her kuchen in 9-inch, 4-inch and 3-inch sizes.

She enjoys chit-chatting with customers online. They often tell her about their grandmothers who made kuchen. For her, the computer is easier than the telephone because she has a hearing problem. And even though she got help from a cochlear implant a few years ago, she still prefers having her husband handle the telephone.

He is proud of her determination. He grins as he talks of Karen discovering her kuchen displayed on a high shelf in one store. He said she stood firm with the manager. She told him nobody could buy the kuchen if they

couldn't see it. Before she left the store, the kuchen was moved to eye level. It is not easy getting display space in stores.

A daughter said Karen is persistent. Karen calls herself stubborn. She also is a hard worker, often putting in 14 hours a day. Her mother used to say that when Karen decided to do something, there was no changing her mind. And today, she is bringing back kuchen as an art of cooking that skipped a generation.

"Baking kuchen is a long process -- making the dough, letting it rise, making the custard, letting it cool, rolling the dough and putting it in pans," Karen said. "And then you are letting it rise again, then baking, cooling, wrapping and freezing." All of this brings back memories to her generation of their grandmothers who baked kuchen and the other "dough" food such as strudels, knepflas and dumplings.


For her, a lovely day is taking a load of kuchen to a place such as Devils Lake and then driving home to Cavalier. And this week, it will be a working vacation as she carries kuchen to North Dakotans on the desert. In the summertime, she enjoys selling kuchen at the Farmers Market in Grand Forks.

She insists that Germans show love through food and there are no calories in kuchen. She said Norwegians, Welsh and Polish people can eat kuchen. "They won't turn into Germans."

Reach Hagerty at or by telephone at (701) 772-1055.

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