Peppernuts galore: It’s busy baking time at Prairy Market & Deli

By Wendy Nugent

NEWTON—Prairy Market & Deli in Newton bakes about 40,000 shy of 1 million peppernuts, and that’s just in November and December during the holidays.

That’s right. They make about 960,000 peppernuts this time of year. Peppernuts, or pfeffernüsse, are bite-size German spice cookies, many of which have a black-licorice flavor, or anise flavor. Prairy Market uses the German Mennonite recipe with anise spice.

“Peppernuts—that’s the holiday tradition,” co-owner Aaron Gaeddert said. “Those things fly out of here.”

They also bake up and package wheat-free and anise-free peppernut varieties, which are marketed under the name Prairy Bites, along with other tasty treats, like Lemon Sugar Cookies, Orange Dream Cookies, Chocolate Crunch Cookies and Wine Tasting Crackers. All are small like peppernuts since they use the same machine to form them. They also make, package and sell trail mixes and granola under the Prairy Provisions label.

“We sell to wineries all over the country,” co-owner Aaron Gaeddert said about the Wine Tasting Crackers.

“And they’re delicious,” added Gwen Obermeyer, director of wholesale sales, marketing and social media. “We hope to expand the lines and sales.”

Prairy Market & Deli employee Christian Fisher works on packaging peppernuts on Monday morning at the market.

When they bake peppernuts, they do 120 pounds of dough at a time, which makes about 60,000 cookies.

“If you ask anybody who makes peppernuts at home, they’ll say that’s a lot of peppernuts,” Gaeddert said.

Gaeddert said 1 percent of all the Prairy products sales go to the Prairy Foundation, which helps the Tallgrass Prairie and its historic communities.

“All of our packages are marked with the 1 percent donation logo,” he said.

The Gaedderts purchased the building where Prairy Market is located in the fall of 2017, and they’ve used the same peppernut forming machine as they did in a smaller kitchen now used for bread baking, although in that kitchen, trays of peppernuts were put in ovens by hand. Now they make Prairy Bites in a different kitchen at the back of the store, which includes a conveyor belt and pass-through oven.

“So the kitchen can be run by one or two people,” Gaeddert said, adding it used to require three.

The pass-through oven cooks the items continuously.

On Tuesday morning, a couple of employees, Rachel Hutchins and Beth Becker, were busy mixing dough, getting peppernuts punched out and separating various peppernuts too close together. Another employee, Christian Fisher, packaged them.

Gaeddert said different families have different names for two peppernuts attached to each other, and he thought his sister called them “padiddles.”

Gaeddert said they thought they were done with baking peppernuts for the last two weeks, but now they’ll probably have to bake six more times.

“Ideally,” he said.

Rachel Hutchins pour what appears to be molasses for the making of peppernuts, which are sold at Prairy Market and online.

The store’s products are listed online and can be purchased at shop.prairy.com, as well as From the Land of Kansas website and Amazon. The From the Land of Kansas’s general idea is to grow and promote agriculture-related business and small food production in the state, Gaeddert said.

Gaeddert said that during the off-season, the non-holiday season, they mostly bake wine-tasting crackers, as people go to wineries when it gets warmer outside. They bake those once or twice a week, although they still sell and bake peppernuts during the off-season.

They have plans for the future.

“We’d like to grow the wholesale sales of the Wine Tasting Crackers and just have a wider exposure to the healthy products we have,” Obermeyer said. “Just the tagline—deeply rooted, widely shared—reflects the passion and the commitment to the Tallgrass Prairie.”

Yes, busy they have been. Peppernuts were baking on Tuesday morning, filling the store with the scent of the sweet treats. Customers came into the store to purchase them, as well as other items.

“We have an order going out today to Alma, Kansas,” Gaeddert said. “They sell a lot of peppernuts in that little town.”

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