If necessity is the mother of invention, then Boetje's Stoneground Mustard was born from 19th Century American cuisine.
Having immigrated to the Quad Cities from Germany in the late 1880s, Fred Herman Boetje brought his love of his homeland's hearty food with him. Unfortunately, Boetje couldn't find the same sweet and sour German flavors in Midwestern dishes.
Boetje "didn't like the puny taste of American food," said Will Kropp, general manager of Boetje Foods Incorporated, located at 2736 12th Street in Rock Island.
So Boetje used a recipe originated by his father Frederick in Germany to start making his now-famous mustard in his garage at 300 Fifth Street in Rock Island.
Boetje's entrepreneurial spirit led him to sell his homemade mustard door-to-door from a bucket, filling customer's jars for a nickel. The business grew, leading the operation to move two times in Rock Island: first from the original garage to a facility near the old Farmall plant, and finally to its current home.
Boetje's Stoneground Dutch Mustard recently won the gold medal for coarse-grained mustard at the 15th-annual Napa Valley Mustard Festival.
Kropp says he was thrilled for Boetje's to have won the award, but he shared that he entered the competition because he was "just shooting for a mention." Kropp said he is most proud that Boetje's has used the same recipe for 119 years.
Since 1889, Boetje's has used ground Canadian brown mustard seeds that are blended with water, distilled vinegar, sugar, and salt.
Walking through the factory, Kropp can't stop smiling while talking about mustard.
Kropp shows a 5,000-gallon oak barrel where the mustard marinates, and then he walks into another room to show a one-ton green metal grinder from the 1920s that's no longer in use. He points to the newer, high-speed grinder nearby, where the company grinds its seeds twice.
It takes 1,000 pounds of seeds - which provide large amounts of mustard oil to combine with the wet ingredients - for every batch of 9,000 8.5-ounce jars. The pungency that clears your sinuses comes from a chemical reaction that occurs when mustard oil combines with liquids, creating a compound called allyl isothiocyanate. It's a mouthful to say, and a mouthful to taste.
The combination of mustard oil, vinegar, and water creates that spicy, biting sour flavor at the tip of the tongue. The mustard fills the mouth with heat, and then a touch of sugar mellows some of its acidity.
Local grocery stores and restaurants carry and use Boetje's, as well as many online food shops such as DutchMall.com and ItsAllAboutBBQ.com.
Dewey's Copper Kettle Café, adjoined to the Moline Public Library at 3210 41st Street, chose Boetje's mustard and its spicy flavor for its new turkey-with-apple-butter panini, said owner Salma Arabi. "We tried a lot of other mustards, but Boetje's was the best," Arabi said. "It complemented the sweetness of the apple butter."
The condiment is available upon request, but she wanted to give that specific sandwich recipe the kick that it needed. Arabi likes the idea of supporting other local businesses, as well.
The Blue Cat Brew Pub, located at 113 18th Street in Rock Island, is also a fan of the mustard. While the Blue Cat does not use the mustard on its main menu, it often improvises by using it in specials, and it's also an ingredient in its beer mustard.
"I've used it in soups before, like our ham-and-cheese soup," said Blue Cat co-owner and soup chef Martha Cleaveland. "It's wonderful. It has a nice texture and a nice heat to it."
The brewery and restaurant also hosted a "Beer, Sausage, & Mustard" beer dinner in 2006, featuring Boetje's mustard and sausage from Stashu's & Sons alongside a beer flight provided by the brewery. "We featured six appetizers, six types of sausage, and six kinds of beer," Cleaveland said. "Both Will Kropp from Boetje's and ‘Sarge' [Ken Krol] from Stashu's came in and talked about mustard and sausage during the beer dinner."
The Kropp family also uses the mustard as a mainstay in their kitchen - particularly hamburgers.
"I'll take a one pound of ground beef and add four tablespoons of the mustard," Kropp said. "Then I make the patties and put them on the grill. They're the most moist and tender burgers."
Boetje's Foods has also complied a list of its favorite recipes (see sidebar) for those folks with a spicy palate.
Boetje's Favorite Recipes
1 lb. ground beef
1 Tbs. fat
1 large onion (ground)
1 green pepper (ground)
2 Tbs. sugar
2 Tbs. Boetje's Dutch Mustard
1 Tbs. vinegar
1 tsp. salt
¾ cup ketchup
Brown meat in fat until crumbly, but not hard. Add remaining ingredients. Cover pan and simmer for 30 minutes. Makes eight servings.
Pork Chops with Honey-Mustard Sauce
4-6 pork chops (not real thick)
2 Tbs. Boetje's Dutch Mustard
2 Tbs. honey
¼ tsp. dried rosemary (crushed)
½ tsp. salt
¼ tsp. pepper
Grill chops on outdoor grill until browned. Mix other five ingredients and brush on chops. Continue cooking and turning until the glaze is browned. Watch closely because it can burn quickly if not attended.
1 can sliced pineapple
Boetje's Dutch Mustard
ham into 1-inch thick individual servings. Spread each with Boetje's
prepared mustard. Top each piece of ham with a slice of pineapple,
then half a cooked sweet potato. Pour a small amount of pineapple
juice over top and sprinkle with brown sugar. Back uncovered one hour
German Rolled Steak (Rouladen)
1½ lbs. round steak
Boetje's Dutch Mustard
2 dill pickles sliced into 3 pieces each
¾ lbs. bacon (diced)
1 onion (chopped)
1 Tbs. brown sugar
String (to tie roast)
Pepper (freshly ground)
Brown diced bacon, drain. Set drippings aside. Pound round steak 1/8-inch thick and cut into six three-by-five-inch pieces. Spread meat with Boetje's Dutch Mustard, place slice of pickle, sprinkle bacon pieces, onion, brown sugar, salt, and pepper on each piece. Roll up and secure with string, dredge rolls in flour and brown quickly in skillet with remaining bacon drippings. Place in casserole. Take 2 Tbs. flour from dredging flour and sprinkle over drippings in skillet. Cook, stirring. Add beef broth and bring to boil. Pour over beef rolls, cover, and bake about one hour at 325° or until tender.