Dedham’s bologna turns 100

DEDHAM – There’s hardly anything in Dedham that hasn’t changed dramatically since 1914, yet one tradition stays the same in this small Carroll County town – its famous bologna.

“This recipe has been handed down for 100 years,” said Dave Kitt, who owns Kitt’s Meat Processing in Dedham with his wife, Shawn. “Every meat locker has a specialty, and ours is Dedham bologna.”

It’s such an important part of the business, in fact, that the company’s slogan is the “Home of Dedham Bologna.”

While no one quite remembers who created the original recipe a century ago, the smoky, beefy rings reflect the area’s German heritage.

Dedham bologna is predominantly beef, with some pork included in the natural casings, which are tied by hand. The mild rings are hickory-smoked for three and a half hours, fully cooked and ready to serve.

Local history books note that people saved their ration stamps during World War II to buy Dedham bologna, which was enjoyed at home and mailed to servicemen from the area.

In years past, the downtown Dedham Meat Market would open after Sunday Mass so Catholic families from could purchase Dedham bologna for that day’s brunch or dinner.

As locals have known for generations, there are countless ways to enjoy Dedham bologna, which can be eaten hot or cold.

“Customers come up with all kinds of creative ways to use Dedham bologna,” said Shawn Kitt.

At Kitt’s Meat Processing, an electric skillet makes it simple to serve the crew a fast, hearty lunch of bologna fried with butter, potatoes and onions.

Some people, Kitt said, serve the bologna on meat and cheese trays, others grill it, serve it with scrambled eggs, pair it with sauerkraut, use it as a pizza topping or chop it up like ham salad.

Dedham native Helen Wiskus, 94, said she’s enjoyed this culinary tradition all her life.

“Dedham bologna has always been big here,” said Wiskus, who keeps about four rings of this “really tasty” bologna in her freezer at any one time. “When the family gets together, the Dedham bologna comes out.”

Family-owned since 1964

The Kitt family has been the keeper of the Dedham bologna tradition for 50 years.

When Dave Kitt’s father, Leonard, was in his early 20s, he worked at the local meat locker for the previous owner, John Werner Jr., for five years.

In April 1964, Leonard and his wife, Theresa, purchased the business, which offered a good way to support their seven sons.

This was an era when Iowa boasted more than 550 small meat processing plants, compared to less than 200 today.

“Those were also the days when there were about three to five farm families in every section, and everyone raised livestock,” said Leonard Kitt, who will turn 77 soon and still helps out with meat cutting and hand-tying the bologna.

While times have changed, Kitt’s Meat Processing continues to stay busy.

From the fall deer hunting season through the Christmas holidays, the 11-member crew expands to 16 or 17 employees to handle all the work.

Last December alone, customers purchased 1,300 rings of bologna, along with countless orders for homemade hot dogs, jerky, beef sticks, bratwurst and more.

Throughout the year, the Kitts said, customers from Des Moines to Omaha and beyond stop by Kitt’s Meat Processing to select their favorite items.

The Kitts will make home deliveries around town, sometimes placing the meat right in their customers’ freezers and running simple errands for older customers.

“It’s fun to meet all the people we serve,” said Shawn Kitt, who added that some of the locals hang out at the locker on Saturday mornings. “These connections are what small towns are all about.”

Growing for the future

While the hours can be long, with days starting at 6:30 a.m. and lasting until 10 p.m. during the busiest times, the Kitts said they look forward to expanding the business.

They are adding a 16-by-20-foot area to produce more specialty meats, including the bologna.

“I like to cook and experiment with various spices to see what works,” said Dave Kitt, who took over the family business with his wife in January 2002. “That’s what specialty meats are all about.”

While the business is currently considered a custom retail and custom slaughter facility, the Kitts are working toward getting an official retail status.

This will allow the company to sell its products in grocery stores, farmers markets and other places.

The Kitts said they are interested in offering their meat products at the farmers market in Des Moines.

“We appreciate people’s support for our local business,” said Shawn Kitt, who is glad the couple’s three children have had the chance to work at the locker as they’ve grown up. “We’re proud to keep the Dedham bologna tradition going.”