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Best Buns in Town

September 14, 2010

Women working in Paul's bakery in the 1930's; courtyard of Milec bakery 1930's; old Milec courtyard today in 2010 (it looked better when the Milecs owned it 80 years ago)

Paul and Maria settled into their new home in Pivnica, and quickly set up a bakery in the long wing of the house that fronted the street (remember that traditional Slovak houses were U shaped buildings turned sideways and facing an inner courtyard, typically).  The two young preschool boys were still at home, and Pauline looked after them during the day; at 15, she had finished public school, and had not gone on to higher education.  She would make the family meals and clean the house during the day while Maria tended the bakery.

Paul soon had 4-5 people working for him during the day in the bakery. They would start arriving in the pre dawn hours to help Paul bake the bread, rohliky, zemle and kifle, while Maria’s job was to keep the place tidy and to look after the workers by making their meals and cleaning uniforms.  This was a work pattern established between the two of them three decades earlier, in Akron, Ohio, where Paul set up the first bakery and Maria ran the boarding house.

Tonya making kifle with Daniela in Vojvodina

Very quickly, Paul’s kifle became known as the best in town.  People would come from across town daily, passing by the two other bakeries, just to buy his buns (rohliky, zemle and kifle are best eaten the day they are baked).  To this day, his customers like 94 year old Katya Klucik remember the taste of his buns and claim that have never had baked goods as delicious as his, despite searching for something similar for the past 70 years.  As I interviewed them, I was amazed that people like Katya had such strong food memories from nearly a century ago.

Bakery street entrance, May 2010, side of bakery today, and Slovak Meeting Hall across the street

The bakery was immaculate.  The walls in the bakery were tiled stark white, scrubbed clean daily.  The courtyard was neatly trimmed, the house freshly painted.  The door to the bakery was through the gate and into the courtyard; later the blue door above was added, to provide access from the street side of the building facing the Slovak meeting house, above.

Pauline would sometimes stand in the bakery behind the counter selling the baked goods, greeting customers and handling the transactions.  She was a beautiful teenager, and she caught the eye of several boys in town.  Pauline also loved to bake, and she learned how to bake cakes, bread and other recipes such as palacinky from her father.  She had made close new friends in town, and a year after they arrived in Pivnica, on June 13, 1929, she received a handwritten cookbook from her friend for her 16th birthday.  Pauline’s Cookbook.

Pauline, Andy and Peter Milec as kids circa 1930, in front of the bakery. Today, the place is a private residence owned by a young family.

2 Comments leave one →
  1. Mary Milec permalink
    September 15, 2010 10:38 am

    Did you ever find a recipe for zemle?

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