Gone are the days when firefighters ate big, family-style meals, replaced by more health-conscious meals and smaller groups eating together.
"Lots of guys are on special diets, so they just cook for themselves," said Rich Newman, a firefighter since 1983. "I never cooked a day in my life until I started cooking here."
When firefighters do eat together, they start with a plan, deciding what to serve and who will make it. That guy then goes to the grocery store to buy the ingredients, and everyone in the group shares the cost.
Loren Helgevold's Lemon Cheesecake is a favorite at the Fort Dodge firehouse.
Many times the group meals are grilled meat, with baked potatoes and maybe a salad. That way there aren't bowls of food for second helpings.
Everyone helps clean the kitchen--which can get messy in the cooking process--unless arrangements are made ahead of time and someone offers to do the cleaning.
The men laugh about the time they made Swiss steak with mashed potatoes. A now-retired firefighter who wasn't part of the cooking group offered to clean up the kitchen in return for eating any of the leftovers. Potatoes were left. Gravy was left. The meat was gone. But they built up a cardboard piece of meat and covered it with gravy, setting the potatoes on the side.
No one remembers exactly what really happened, but the kitchen got cleaned and there was enough other food to keep the cleaner happy.
For firefighters at the Fort Dodge station, stories about cooking are as prized as the cooking itself, no matter how good the cook is.
Like the time Ron Hedeen made applesauce meat loaf, but used too much applesauce, which ruined the meat loaf.
"One of the guys took it home and he said even the dogs wouldn't eat it," Hedeen said. "Some 20 years later I still haven't heard the end of it."
Or the time Newman made subs for everyone, wrapped them and put them in the refrigerator. They still don't know what made everyone so sick, he said, "but they've forgiven me. Forgiven, not forgotten."
Then there was the day someone was boiling eggs when a fire call came in. The eggs were forgotten, the burners left on. When the crew got back to the station, smoke filled the kitchen and exploded eggs dripped from the ceiling and cupboards.
"The station stunk for a week with that one," Newman said.
Still, everyone seems to have a specialty dish. Such as Loren Helgevold's lemon cheesecake, which puts smiles on the faces of those who get to eat it.
On their birthdays, the firefighters bring in cake and ice cream, and once in a while they make fresh cookies. Often, however, wives keep the sweets supplied.
Each shift has its own food locker with spices, which often are different according to what each shift likes.
"When you start down here, you learn to eat things," Newman said. "Except Loren. He won't eat green beans."
1/3 cup sugar
5 tablespoons unsalted butter
1 pack of graham crackers
8-oz. packages of cream cheese (at room temperature)
1 2/3 cups of sugar
cup corn starch
1 Tablespoon vanilla extract
2 extra large eggs
cup of heavy whipping cream
jar of lemon curd
Pre-heat oven to 350 F. Grease bottom and sides of 9-inch spring form pan. Wrap the outside of the pan with two layers of aluminum foil, covering the bottom and extending all the way up the sides of the pan. Crush the graham crackers with a rolling pin and put in a bowl, next melt the butter and pour into bowl, then pour in the sugar. Mix together and then pour into spring form pan and pat down with your hand to make crust. Put into oven and bake for 12 minutes, take out and set aside. Leave oven on.
Put one package of the cream cheese, 1/3 cup of the sugar, and cup of the corn starch into a large bowl and beat with an electric mixer on low speed until creamy, about 3 minutes, scrap down the bowl several times. Blend in the remaining cream cheese one at a time, scraping down the bowl after each one.
Increase the mixer speed to medium and beat in the remaining 1-1/3 cup of sugar, the mix in the vanilla. Blend in the eggs, one at a time, beating well after each one. Mix in the lemon curd (you can find it in the jelly isle at most grocery stores). Mix in the whipping cream until it is completely blended. Do not over mix. Pour batter over your crust.
Place the cheesecake in a large pan containing hot water that goes up about an inch on the side of the spring form pan. Bake for one hour and 15 minutes to one hour and 30 minutes. Bake until the top is lightly golden brown. Remove the cheesecake from the water bath, put on a wire rack, let cool for at least 2 hours. Then cover with foil or plastic wrap and refrigerate for at least 4 hours, overnight if you can wait that long. Remove the spring form pan and cut into the desired number of pieces, I cut mine into eight.
Applesauce Meat Loaf
"The Firehouse Cookbook"
2 pounds ground beef
1 pound ground pork
1 1/2 cups minced onions
1 teaspoon sage
2 teaspoons Worcestershire sauce
1 teaspoon salt
2 one-pound cans applesauce
2 cups bread crumbs
Combine beef, pork, onion, sage, Worcestershire sauce and salt and mix thoroughly. Add applesauce and bread crumbs and mix again. Pack lightly into a loaf pan and bake at 350 degrees for one hour.
This serves 12. It can easily be halved in size for a family of six.
Note: The amount of sage may be varied according to taste.