SMALL TOWNS: Gills Rock canning company provides taste of home
DOOR COUNTY, Wis. (WBAY) - It’s a legacy that began more than 60 years ago on the northern tip of Door County. A sweet and savory legacy making homemade jams, jellies, pickles and pies that are enjoyed today by people all over the country.
This week in Small Towns, we travel to Gills Rock, the home of Bea’s Ho-Made Products.
At a four generation homestead, about a half mile east of Gills Rock along Highway 42, you’ll find the canning business that started by accident in 1961.
“When Bob and Bea Landin’s oldest daughter wanted to make some extra money she was selling extra produce out by the road off the picnic table and she did so well the first year, the next year she asked her grandmother if she could see some of her chopped cherry jam.” (butt) 7:56 “And that sold so well the next year they did raspberry jam and strawberry jam and it just kind of snowballed from there,” explains Jeni Tveten, Bea’s General Manager.
Unbelievable demand led to the founding of Bea’s Ho-Made Products, which today consists of a kitchen, bakery and retail store filled with all kinds of canned goodies, jams, jellies and pies.
“We’ll have people in the fall, they come up with three or four coolers and they’ll walk out of here with 18-20 pies,” says Jeni.
Jeni started working at Bea’s as kitchen help back in 1993, around the time Bea turned over the business to her two daughters.
It’s remained in the family ever since, with the same original recipes and a strict dedication to the absolute highest quality.
“Our motto has always been, if it’s got the Bea’s Ho-Made label on it, we make it in our kitchen, we do not private label anything, we do not put our label on anything that we have not made here,” says Jeni proudly.
As for the pies, which one this day are peach, but include a variety of fruits, there is one key ingredient.
“The number one thing with our pies is we use lard in the crust, which is the best crust you can make and we do not use pie filling, our pies our made the old-fashioned way, the bottom crust goes in the pie tin, and then some sugar, and then the fruit, and then a flour and sugar mixture, and then the top crust goes on, so when our pies, when they bake, they actually make their own filling,” explains Jeni.
So just how many pies does Bea’s make during the year?
“Probably between 6,000 and 10,000, I’ve never counted, ignorance is bliss, my hands tell me a lot,” says Jeni laughing.
On the canning side of the business, cucumber season can mean more than 2,000 pounds of cucumbers into jars in a week.
And that’s just pickles.
“And this is all done just as you would do it in your own kitchen, everything is hand packed, hand poured, regular kitchen stoves, water baths, so you get 10 pints to a water bath or seven quarts, and you just work all day at it. When we’re going good, when we’ve got enough help, when the supply chain is running as it should, we can put up between 200,000 and 250,000 jars of product a year,” says Jeni.
That includes Bea’s most popular product.
“Why would you make jam when you can get chopped cherry jam from Bea’s, that’s how it is,” says customer Kay Davoux from Michigan.
That’s right, that very first product is still the favorite, to the tune of more than 15,000 jars a year.
And people travel hundreds and hundreds of miles to get their hands on it.
“We’ve been buying jelly from Bea’s for years and years and we give it for Christmas presents, and people expect it, during the pandemic we couldn’t get up here and everything was closed, so we had to give Smucker’s and they were not happy with that,” says Dorothy Martinek from Iowa.
For so many, a stop at Bea’s is an annual, must do tradition.
“When you come to Door County and you come up here, you stop at Bea’s, I have to take a supply home, hot pepper jelly and four berry jam, got to have enough to make it through the winter until I get back next year,” says Jim Pfieffer from Illinois.
“There’s people we always look for and there’s people we always worry about when we don’t see them, so there’s people we’ve come to know over the years and they’re like part of our family,” adds Jeni.
And thanks to all those loyal customers, Bea’s has no plans of slowing down anytime soon.
“Just keep on doing it, I mean as long as people like it and want it, why not,” says Jeni with a smile.
Have an idea for a Small Towns story? Email firstname.lastname@example.org
Watch all our Small Towns reports here: https://www.wbay.com/news/small-towns/
Copyright 2022 WBAY. All rights reserved.