Monthly Archives: July 2010

Winkler Bakery, Winston-Salem, NC

A wood-fired brick oven, hand-mixed dough, and a pioneer spirit mark this historic bakeshop in Old Salem, little changed since 1800.

story & photos by Bakery Boy

Winkler Bakery faces a quiet brick lane in preserved village of Old Salem.

If you want to see how bread was made before modern machinery and taste the all-natural results, go to Winkler Bakery in Old Salem. You’ll find a wood-fired beehive-shaped brick oven and dough mixed in manger-like troughs by bakers gripping long wooden paddles. These period-costumed artisans are as much interpreters as bakers, patiently explaining each step in the process to curious visitors.

Baker Bobby James with honey-wheat loaves fresh from the wood-fired oven. Photos by Bakery Boy.

Every step in the slow-paced process is done by hand.

Established in 1800 by Moravian families from Eastern Europe who settled in what is now Winston-Salem, North Carolina, the bakery uses methods unchanged for centuries. Bakers stack split white oak firewood into little log-cabin-like ricks, shove them into a 9-feet-deep, 7-feet-wide, 10-feet-high oven with a flat floor and a domed ceiling, and light them early in the morning. As fire heats the oven to 600 degrees, the bakers mix dough, weigh, knead, and shape loaves at a sturdy wooden table, and set them near the oven’s warmth to rise.

Split white oak fuels this old-fashioned operation.

They also make sugar cakes and cutout cookies, timing each batch to bake as the oven, swept clear of embers and ashes, slowly cools to just the right temperatures: 450 degrees for bread, lower for cakes, and lowest for cookies. The workday isn’t complete until bakers haul more firewood from a nearby shed and arrange it for the next day’s production.

Glowing embers heat the bricks.

“This is the way bakers have done things here for more than 200 years,” says baker Bobby James. “People can step in, watch us work, and ask questions. They’re always interested in how things happened before everything became so mechanized. It’s really a very simple process.”

Baker Jeffrey Sherrill shoves bread into the radiant oven.

One thing is different. “We use a thermometer now to determine oven temperature,” says baker Jeffrey Sherrill. “In the old days bakers knew from experience. They would toss in a pinch of flour and count how many seconds it took (24 was good) to turn a golden brown.”

ABOUT THE NAME The first bakers to work here weren’t named Winkler. Christian Winkler arrived a few years later in 1807 and baked for 30 years. His descendants ran the bakery until 1926, plenty of time to make the name stick.

WHAT THEY MAKE Winkler Bakery makes three main products daily, all for sale in the next room from women wearing long cotton dresses and neat white aprons and bonnets or from men in suspender-held trousers reminiscent of the early 1800s.

  • Peek into the cave-like chamber to see bread baking. As many as 90 loaves can fit inside at once.

    Bread: They start with the basics—water, flour, butter, eggs, sugar, and yeast—then for variety add honey, rosemary, garlic, and other ingredients to some batches.

  • Moravian Sugar Cake: A dense, gooey coffeecake similar to what some call honey buns or monkey bread, it’s rich with brown sugar, butter, and cinnamon.
  • Cookies: Thin cutouts, often laced with ginger, come in the shapes of flowers, stars, leaves, crescent moons, Thanksgiving turkeys, Christmas trees, and more.

In the shop you’ll also find oatmeal raisin cookies, cinnamon raisin bars, banana nut bread, and other treats made at a newer facility nearby. There’s an entire line of construction-paper-thin cookies too, packed in tubes or tins, that feature ginger, lemon, cranberry-orange, apple, maple, chocolate, and other flavors.

Tools of the trade.

MAIL ORDER Can’t get to Winston-Salem soon? Some baked goods, especially a variety of thin spice cookies, as well as Old Salem beeswax candles and other items, are available by mail. Click here to see the mail-order menu.

IN THE NEIGHBORHOOD Winkler Bakery sits at the heart of Old Salem Museums & Gardens, a lively historic village that recalls the community’s formative years in the late 1700s and early 1800s. It includes 100 acres of restored landscapes, heirloom gardens, 80 preserved buildings, a tavern, a gunsmith shop, and the Museum of Early Southern Decorative Arts.

Old Salem staffers look the part. Photos by Bakery Boy.

Also in the historic village stands Salem College, the all-female liberal arts institution founded in 1772 that pioneered equal education for women in this country. Just seeing so many young people (the student population is about 1,100) moving around Salem’s brick streets and grassy paths lends a surprising exuberance to a setting known for showcasing antiquated farming, baking, building, and blacksmithing skills. Their presence reflects the original Moravian settlers’ philosophy, which held schooling in high regard.

LOCATION Winkler Bakery, 525 South Main Street, Winston-Salem, NC 27101

HOURS 10 a.m.-5 p.m. Mon-Sat, 1-5 p.m. Sun

INFO www.oldsalem.org, 336-721-7302 (Winkler Bakery), 336-721-7300 (Old Salem); for more about area attractions contact Winston-Salem Visitor Center and Visit North Carolina.

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Old Mill Square, Pigeon Forge, TN

Stone-ground grains for the baked goods served at two restaurants here come from an historic gristmill right next door.

story & photos by Bakery Boy

Head Baker Jay Connatser sets hot sourdough, honey-wheat, and multi-grain loaves to cool. Photos by Bakery Boy

Talk about fresh ingredients! Much of the grains used in the bakery and kitchens for two restaurants at Old Mill Square in Pigeon Forge, Tennessee, come from an 1830 gristmill still in use a stone’s throw away. Not that anyone would throw one of the massive 2,000-pound granite millstones that reduce whole wheat and corn to flour, cornmeal, and grits—stones turned by a giant waterwheel rigged to harness the Little Pigeon River.

Head baker Jay Connatser and his crew work in a corner of the Old Mill Pottery House Café & Grille, a corner that just happens to include floor-to-ceiling windows with a view of the nearby mill. “We get fresh flour delivered regularly from where it was milled just a couple of hundred feet away,” Jay says as he pulls large and aromatic loaves from the oven. “As an artisan baker, I like the sound of that, and our customers seem to appreciate it too.”

The Little Pigeon River turns a giant waterwheel at The Old Mill, built in 1830 and still grinding corn and wheat today.

At the Pottery House Café and the adjacent Old Mill Restaurant, a pair of country-style family places popular with visitors to the nearby Great Smoky Mountains, the biscuits, corn bread, pancakes, hush puppies, muffins, grits, and breads all include fresh-milled grains. The bakery also produces terrific pies (coconut cream, chocolate pecan, lemon meringue, peanut butter), rich layer cakes (carrot, chocolate), daily quiches (one with meat, one all vegetables), as well as brownies, cookies, and other goodies.

“Besides supplying the two restaurants and a retail counter so people can take our baked goods home, we also get to experiment,” Jay says enthusiastically. “I came up with the olive bread used for the pimiento sandwiches. Fellow bakers designed the focaccia, onion-rye, cranberry-walnut, and some of the other loaves we make.”

Simple mechanisms that are amazing to watch reduce grains to flour and meal.

TOUR THE MILL Whether you go before or after eating at one of the restaurants or just check it out while passing through, it’s worthwhile to tour The Old Mill & General Store. You’ll see antique equipment—an ingenious system of shafts, belts, millstones, pulleys, grain elevators, chutes, and sifters—still in working order. For 180 years millers have filled, weighed, and tied each sack by hand, stacking bags of yellow and white grits, cornmeal, a variety of flours, and pancake mix. These travel a few feet to the store, a few yards to sibling restaurants, or thousands of miles to anywhere by post. Tours start in the mill store; call 865-453-4628 for details.

If you like the plate your carrot cake comes on, buy one next door at Pigeon River Pottery.

LIKE ’EM? BUY ’EM! The beautifully turned, glazed, and fired plates, bowls, salt-and-pepper shakers, and other serving pieces at Old Mill Square’s restaurants—and even the bathroom sinks—are handcrafted at adjacent Old Mill Pigeon River Pottery. Buy some to take some home if you like.

IN THE NEIGHBORHOOD Pigeon Forge is clearly a tourists’ town geared toward entertaining visitors who come to be near the Great Smoky Mountains National Park (just south of town) but who don’t particularly care to spend much time outdoors. Attractions include…

  • Smoky Mountains photo courtesy of Pigeon Forge Department of Tourism

    Dollywood amusement park

  • Dixie Stampede dinner rodeo
  • Elvis Museum tributes to the King
  • WonderWorks scientific marvels
  • Belz Outlets factory discount shops
  • Dixie Stampede photo courtesy of Pigeon Forge Department of Tourism

    Live-performance theaters more than a dozen featuring music, comedy, inspiration, mystery, and magic shows

  • Titanic a detailed partial re-creation of the doomed ocean-liner

These represent just the tip of the iceberg (chilling Titanic reference intended). For a complete rundown of what’s available check with the Pigeon Forge Department of Tourism at www.mypigeonforge.com or 1-800-251-9100.

Tall stacks of freshly milled flour await buyers.

Vintage rubber stamps are used to mark flour sacks.

LOCATION Old Mill Square, 175 Old Mill Avenue, Pigeon Forge, TN 37868; 30 miles southeast of Knoxville. From U.S. 441, the main north-south route in town, turn east at Traffic Light #7 (they’re numbered for direction-giving convenience) and go three short blocks.

HOURS The Old Mill Restaurant is open 7:30 a.m.-9 p.m. daily; 865-429-3463. The Old Mill Pottery House Café & Grille serves lunch 11 a.m.-4 p.m. daily, dinner 4-8 p.m. Sun-Thu and 4-9 p.m. Fri-Sat; 865-453-6002.

INFO www.oldmillsquare.com or 865-428-0771

Why My Father the Baker Never Paid for a Haircut

This is no because-he-was-bald joke. The man knew how to swing a deal. It took a Dumpster-diving bum to solve the mystery for me.

by Bakery Boy

My well-coiffed dad

Next door to my family’s original bakery in Charleston, West Virginia, was a small barbershop run by a good-natured man called Doc Baker. Despite the name, he was neither a doctor nor a baker, just an old-fashioned no-frills hair cutter. As a small child I often tagged along to play in the rarely used second barber chair while my father got his hair cut, like clockwork, every other week.

Doc Baker, the Barber

Other than the requisite buzz cut of his Army days during WWII, my dad kept a thick, handsome wave of dark hair (later a brilliant shade of shiny gray) until he died at age 79. Every time he got up from that chair, he’d glance in the mirror and tell the barber, “Pretty good job, Doc. If you ever get it right, I’ll pay you.” They’d both chuckle and we’d walk out.

I always wondered why no money changed hands. It took a homeless man (less-charitably called bums or winos back then) to clear up the matter for me.

From about the age of 10, one of my tasks as a Bakery Boy was to drag flour sacks, emptied of flour and filled with trash and with damaged or stale baked goods, out to the back alley and pitch them into a big Dumpster. I’d been doing this for years without incident, until one day I heard muffled complaints coming from inside the big bin.

“Hey, watch out,” yelled a scraggly man who poked up from the hinged top door, his long hair a tangled greasy mess and his hands filthy claws.

“What are you doing in there?” I asked naively.

“Looking for lunch, of course,” he answered. “It’s Monday!”

“What’s Monday got to do with it?” I said, confused.

“No hair on the cakes and donuts, on account of the barbershop is closed on Sunday,” he growled, jerking a thumb toward the Doc’s back door.

“Huh?” I said, but he disappeared from sight and continued his rummaging.

Later that day, as I disposed of one last flour sack full of trash, old Doc the barber meandered out carrying a single paper grocery bag, tossed it up and over, and clapped his hands to brush off stray strands of hair.

“What gives?” I asked.

“Oh, it’s a deal I’ve had with your dad and his dad before him for many years,” Doc explained. “I don’t have but maybe a small bag of hair to get rid of every day, so instead of paying for garbage service I just piggyback on your trash bin and give your father free haircuts in exchange. Works out well for both of us.”

So that was it. They bartered haircuts for trash disposal. Worked out well for everyone but the hungry homeless people, I guess. Except on Mondays, when enterprising Dumpster-divers feasted on a sweet and hair-free buffet.


Henri’s Bakery, Atlanta, GA

Pronounce it the French way, on-REE, and then try a taste of just about anything and say Oo-la-la!

story & photos by Bakery Boy

Henri’s iconic ’60s-vintage sign rises from Atlanta’s Buckhead Village. Photos by Bakery Boy.

Henri’s Bakery has made Atlanta bakery fans happy for more than 80 years, even if many still don’t get the French pronunciation right. “Some people say HEN-ree and we just let it slide,” a saleswoman told me as I bit into an enormous chocolate éclair filled with Bavarian crème. “Those who know us best and have been coming here forever get it right and say on-REE.”

It’s a moot point when your mouth is too full of goodies to talk, which is often the case at Henri’s, a mainstay at the Buckhead Village shopping and dining district in Atlanta. Founded in 1929 by Henri Fiscus, who emigrated from France’s Alsace-Lorraine region, it is now run primarily by granddaughter Madeline Leonard and co-owned by five siblings including Madeline, her sisters Suzette, Michelle, and Mimi, and their brother Ray.

FLIGHT ATTENDANT TURNED BAKER I’ve met many bakers, but never one whose path to baking matches Madeline Leonard’s. “I was a young woman working as a flight attendant when my grandfather died in 1974 at the age of 80,” she says. “I didn’t work at the bakery much growing up, but I was very close to my grandfather. It was a shock to learn that he had left the entire place to me. I basically inherited Henri’s.”

At first she wasn’t sure what to do, so she kept her airline job. “I signed up to work all-night turnaround flights, and I’d go straight from the airport to the bakery at 5 a.m. and learn all I could about the whole operation. Henri had trained his staff so well they could run it without him, but that couldn’t go on forever. I realized if I didn’t keep Henri’s going, the bank would take possession and sell it. So I studied all the formulas [bakers prefer the word formulas to recipes] and the baking techniques and the business side. Two employees who worked for Henri and taught me a lot—brothers Donalson and Willie James—are still here. In the beginning I was afraid I’d mess things up, but as I gained confidence I learned to love it.” Soon she  quit moonlighting as a flight attendant and devoted her full attention to Henri’s.

Gingerbread

KNOWN FOR It’d be easier to list what Henri’s is not known for, but here’s a short version of the good stuff.

  • Dozens of kinds of cookies overflow showcases, including standouts such as thumbprint-style shortbread cookies, raisin-buttoned gingerbread men, coconut macaroons, large-scale chocolate chip and oatmeal cookies, and (my favorite) dainty little Daisy cookies with raspberry jam atop daisy-shaped cutouts.
  • Daisy Cookies

    Traditional wedding cakes, all sizes of birthday cakes, and cakes varying from black forest to carrot, caramel, marble cheesecake, and strawberry shortcake lead a long litany.

  • Breads range from French baguettes to braided challah, dark pumpernickel, whole wheat, German rye, butter-crust, cinnamon logs, sourdough, spinach-and-garlic bread, multiple colors of rectangular Pullman loaves, poppy-seeded knot rolls, and more.
  • Eclairs

    Pastries run the gamut from layered napoleons and colorful petit fours to tiramisu tarts, baklava, cream horns, chocolate pralines, crème cheese brownies, almond-filled croissants, apricot squares, and tuxedo-style chocolate-dipped strawberries.

  • The pie case holds pecan, mincemeat, coconut crème, key lime, egg custard, chess pies (vanilla, lemon, German chocolate), fruit pies  (apple, cherry, blueberry, peach), and more.

Po’ boys

EXPANDED ROLE Over time Henri’s has diversified to include a full-scale deli and sandwich shop famous for thickly stacked Po’ boys on French baguettes picnic-ready egg salad and tuna salad, party-ready fruit, veggie, meat, and cheese trays, and a variety of quiches and pot pies. There’s also an espresso bar and indoor and outdoor seating for the lunch-and-linger crowd.

THEY DO IT ALL While the trend in bakeries leans toward more specialized niches (notice the cupcakes-only places springing up lately) Henri’s manages to excel in just about every aspect of baking. It’s a disappearing genre—and a marvel of carefully orchestrated production—that deserves our applause and support.

WATCH THEM WORK Personally I like it when a bakery lets you see what’s going on in the back room. First, it’s quite a show when all the bakers are working at once, creating amazing goodies. Second, it’s bound to be a cleaner operation if employees know the customers are watching every move. At Henri’s a broad picture window behind the display cases allows views of an array of ovens, mixers, workbenches, and busy bakers. A separate window reveals the cake decorating area, where observant visitors might pick up pointers to improve their own cake-frosting skills.

MORE ABOUT HENRI A faded photo (shown here) of founder and namesake Henri hangs in the bakery office. “My grandfather, who came to America from France in 1921, was a true master of the bakery arts,” Madeline says. “He worked as a chef on ocean-liners and at fine restaurants in New York and Atlanta, including a stint as head chef at the Biltmore Hotel in its heyday on West Peachtree Street not far from here. He worked in a Midtown bakery, bought it, renamed it Henri’s, and moved it four times before settling in 1967 where we are now in Buckhead. He’s still an inspiration. Not a day goes by when I don’t think about him. I love carrying on the baking tradition he started.”

LOCATION 61 Irby Avenue NW, Atlanta, GA 30305 (north of downtown in the Buckhead Village area surrounding the intersection of Peachtree Road NE, West Paces Ferry Road NW, and Roswell Road NE).

SECOND STORE 6289 Roswell Road, Sandy Springs, GA 30328 (north of Atlanta about a mile north of Exit 25 on the I-285 perimeter highway)

HOURS Mon-Sat 7 a.m.-6 p.m.

INFO www.henrisbakery.com, 404-237-0202 (Buckhead), 404-256-7934 (Sandy Springs)

Savage’s Bakery, Homewood, AL

From cakes and cookies to sweet dreams known as “Meltaways,” Savage’s sets a high standard for Birmingham-area bakeries.

story by Bakery Boy – photos by Owen Stayner

Savage's Meltaways

Soon after I moved to Birmingham, Alabama, for a feature-writing job, someone brought a box of Savage’s Bakery “Meltaways” to a meeting at the office. One bite and I was hooked. I traced those glorious pastries to the central business district in suburban Homewood just a few miles away and became a regular customer.

Raspberry Meltaway

Meltaways are variations on the sweet roll theme, baked in a cupcake shape. Toppings include raspberry, apricot, lemon, cinnamon-raisin, almond, cream cheese and more, plus a drizzle of icing. Owner Van Scott explains that while many have tried to imitate this unique innovation, none have succeeded. “There’s a secret method involved, and I’m not about to give that out!” he says.

SIGNATURE ITEMS No single product rules this diversified bakeshop. It does a wide variety of things well—breads, cakes, cookies, petit fours, wedding cakes, and even deli sandwiches around lunchtime. “We’re probably best known for our iced cutout cookies in all kinds of shapes,” Van says. “Rainbows, gingerbread men, and orange smiley faces are always popular.” He’ll make custom cookies for people who bring in their own cutters. He even had a cutter designed in the shape of Vulcan, the spear-point-gripping Roman god of the forge, to honor the world’s largest cast-iron statue. That enormous figure, which can be seen from the bakery, towers above Vulcan Park on nearby Red Mountain, the iron-rich source of the local steel industry.

Savage's owner Van Scott decorates a cake with spring flowers of frosting.

FROSTING FLOWERS Van can do any task that needs done in the bakery he has owned since 1978, but his favorite role is cake decorator. Cakes teeming with spring flowers made of frosting are his specialty. “I’ve always liked working with my hands and couldn’t see myself sitting behind a desk,” the former English major says.

BROOKHOUSE ROLLS “Our Brookhouse Rolls are named for my grandmother, whose last name was Brook,” Van says. “They’re made with a different method. Instead of a dough hook we use a paddle to make a sleek sort of dough that has greater moisture retention and more gluten development than most. They’re loaded with real butter and dipped in melted butter during the shaping process, when they’re folded kind of like Parkerhouse rolls. They melt in your mouth. After you eat one, you want another.”

Many a Homewood teenager has worked at Savage's.

ABOUT THE NAME “People ask me all the time if I’m Mr. Savage,” says Van, who is not. “William Savage started his bakery in downtown Birmingham in 1939 and moved to the current Homewood location in the 1950s. In 1978 I had recently graduated with an English degree and was thinking of getting into the bakery business when he died. He had no children to pass it on to, so I bought it from his wife and kept the name because it already had such a great reputation. Savage’s has been around for 70-plus years, but I’m only the second owner.”

LOCATION 2916 18th Street South, Homewood, AL 35209

HOURS Mon-Fri 8 a.m.-5 p.m., Sat 9 a.m.-5 p.m.

INFO www.savagesbakery.com or 205-871-4901

______________________________

Photos by Owen Stayner of ThisWorkPlace.com

Baking Beatles

All you “knead” is love.

story & photo by Bakery Boy

It fascinates me how bakery stories can rise out of nowhere at unexpected moments. I was driving to visit a bakeshop for this blog the other day and heard something on Sirius-XM Radio that suddenly put The Beatles into a bakery perspective.

Two Beatles were, like me, bakers. And no, I didn't actually heat the oven for this shot! Photo by Bakery Boy.

Deejay Dusty Street, who broadcasts her Classic Vinyl show daily from The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and Museum in Cleveland, Ohio, was introducing a John Lennon song from his last album, recorded shortly before he was murdered in 1980. She mentioned how he spent the last few years of his life cocooning with wife Yoko and baby Sean in a New York City apartment where, as a homespun hobby, he baked bread.

Okay, cool, so a Beatle was a baker. Makes a bakery-born Bakery Boy like me proud to be in such company.

Then I remembered how original Beatles drummer Pete Best, who was replaced by Ringo Starr, left what must have seemed at the time like an iffy future in pop music to take steadier work in, sure enough, a bakery. This was right before the group hit it big in 1962. Some call Pete the unluckiest man in the history of Rock & Roll because of that move, though decades later he formed the Pete Best Band and got back into performing.

So it turns out these two baking stories—one about an original band mate, the other about the first band mate to die—form bookends to the Beatles story.

I began thinking about (and humming) Beatles song lyrics that mention baked goods. Surely there are more. Let me know if you come up with any others.

  • Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds: “Follow her down to a bridge by a fountain, where rocking horse people eat marshmallow pies”
  • Honey Pie: “Honey Pie you are making me crazy”
  • Savoy Truffle: “Cool cherry cream, nice apple tart / I feel your taste all the time we’re apart / Coconut fudge really blows down those blues / But you’ll have to have them all pulled out / After the Savoy truffle”
  • Penny Lane: “Penny Lane is in my ears and in my eyes / Full of fish and finger pies in summer”

I’m not sure what the “finger pies” referred to here are exactly, and I don’t think truffles, Savoy or otherwise, count as baked goods. But the sweet sentiment is clear. Have you thought of any tasty Beatles baked-goods lyrics to add? If so, click the comment button below and let me know!

WildFlour Bakery, Abingdon, VA

WildFlour Bakery, Abingdon, VA

A bunch of aunts and one mom—scratch bakers all—influenced the gal who grew up to run this worthy find in western Virginia.

by Bakery Boy

 

WildFlour Bakery owner Donna McIntyre with some Flax Seed & Sunflower loaves and Cracked Wheat & Sunflower loaves. Photo courtesy of WildFlour Bakery.

Dark, brown, wholesome loaves laced with flax seeds, sunflower seeds, cracked wheat, and other healthy ingredients dominate the bread shelves at WildFlour Bakery in the small town of Abingdon, Virginia. Depending on the season and which fresh fruits are available, the pie rack holds fresh blackberry, peach, blueberry, strawberry-rhubarb, or other selections, plus lemon meringue or pecan year-round. On any given day the sweet aroma of cinnamon buns, scones, bear-claws, chocolate or almond-paste-filled croissants, and big oatmeal cookies tempt all who walk into the showroom.

For all of this we can thank owner Donna McIntyre’s scratch-baker mom and a bevy of scratch-baker aunts. “I’m mainly a self-taught baker, but I was definitely influenced by all the women I grew up watching in our home kitchen in Buffalo, New York,” says Donna, whose family moved south for her father’s job when she was a teenager. “I was just a little kid at the time—I licked the bowl and didn’t do any mixing or oven work—but years later pleasant memories of those days led me to learn more about baking and open my own bakery.”

WildFlour fills the 1896 Campbell House. Photo by Bakery Boy.

Her current WildFlour Bakery opened in 1997 (she had another by the same name in the early 1980s in nearby Bristol, Tennessee). It’s located in the Campbell House, a picturesque 1896 Victorian-style farmhouse built by and named for her husband’s great-grandfather. The bakeshop fills one end of the house. Other rooms hold café tables used for serving lunch sandwiches and salads daily and dinner Wednesday-Saturday. Displays of pottery, paintings, metal sculpture, and other artwork throughout (all for sale) lend the place a gallery atmosphere.

 

Jodi Peterson (left) and Gail Tignor bring infectiously positive attitudes to bread making. Photo courtesy of WildFlour Bakery.

“I love living in this area,” says Donna (nickname: Wild Baker Gal). “Our house is right near the Virginia Creeper Trail, where I like to walk my dogs and ride a bike now and then. We get a steady number of customers heading for the Creeper who want their sandwiches or desserts packed to take as picnics on the trail.There’s also the Barter Theatre [the State Theatre of Virginia] and the Martha Washington Inn [a genteel bastion of Southern hospitality] close by, which bring a lot of people to town who eventually find WildFlour Bakery.The biggest crowds always seem to come during the two weeks of the Virginia Highlands Festival that takes place in late July and early August. That’s also when the arts and crafts in our gallery get the most attention too.”

“WAR BREAD” The name comes from war times past, Donna explains. “During the big wars, key ingredients such as basic wheat flour were in short supply, so people substituted whatever other grains they could find,” she says. “We use a blend of cornmeal, oatmeal, and whole-wheat flour in our War Bread.” Also from the bread oven: Honey-Wheat, Rosemary-Parmesan, Sun-Dried Tomato, Sunflower Cracked Wheat, Rustic Country, Sesame Oat, Sourdough, Beer-Cheddar, Cuban White, and others.

 

Mariah Bowman prepares a variety of WildFlour "bars" for display. Photo by Bakery Boy.

“BARS” WildFlour Bakery makes a variety of treats under the umbrella name bars. “They’re not round like cookies, they’re square but not exactly what you could call brownies, so we call them bars,” Donna says. “Some have multiple layers, like the Holly Bar with a shortbread crust laced with coconut and then topped with layers of raspberries, white chocolate, and dark chocolate. There’s an Almond Amaretto Bar with a pecan pie-like filling and sliced almonds poking out.”

 

Rooms next to the bakery area serve as both cafe and arts-and-crafts gallery. Photo by Bakery Boy.

SLOGAN: “Best Buns in Town” (referring to the cinnamon buns)

LOCATION 24443 Lee Highway, Abingdon, VA 24211,  just off I-81 at Exit 19 in far western Virginia.

HOURS Mon-Tue 7 a.m.-5 p.m., Wed-Sat 7 a.m.-9 p.m., Sunday brunch 10 a.m.-2 p.m.

INFO www.wildflourofabingdon.com or 276-676-4221

Muffin Man Bakery, Abingdon, VA

Give this former schoolteacher an “A” for his effort to refashion himself as The Muffin Man in this far-western Virginia town.

by Bakery Boy

Photos by Bakery Boy

I give Muffin Man Bakery an honorable mention here mainly because of owner Dean McGraw’s enthusiasm for the role. A longtime educator who taught for 17 years in Abingdon, Virginia schools, Dean took early retirement to be more involved at his church and then, as he says, “sort of backed into this bakery thing.”

“I was already volunteering as a cook on Wednesday nights at a Presbyterian church based at King’s College over in Bristol, Tennessee,” Dean says. “After retiring from teaching I became the food services director there. I started making muffins and really liked that part best, so I opened a little storefront on downtown Abingdon’s Main Street.

Abingdon is home to the famous Barter Theatre, the Southern-style Martha Washington Inn, the bicycle-friendly Virginia Creeper Trail, and other attractions, all of which can build a visitor’s appetite for good muffins. Customers also find doll clothes and greeting cards for sale, handcrafted by Dean’s wife Janet, who painted the place’s cute muffin man logo too.

Dean McGraw

The muffin variety is rather limited compared to other muffin-intensive bakeries, but Dean does a fine job of assuring they are fresh, moist, and chock-full of whatever ingredients he’s working with on any given day. Blueberry, Mixed Berry, Apricot, and Almond Muffins are favorites he keeps in heavy rotation. He also makes Sausage Ball Muffins, an oddity that started during his church-kitchen period and remains on the menu due to popular demand locally.

“I do this because I love it,” says Dean, who was sitting reading a novel the quiet summer day Bakery Boy dropped in near closing time to buy his dwindling supply of muffins as fortification for a pending backpacking hike on the nearby Appalachian Trail. “I don’t do this to make a lot of money, just to make good muffins and to make people happy.”

 

Dean's daughter Angela, now a teacher, made this tribute to her muffin-making dad.

LOCATION 284 West Main Street, Abingdon, VA 24210. From I-81 Exit 17 go north on Cummings Street, turn left on Main, go two blocks and see it on the left.

HOURS Mon-Sat 8 a.m.-5 p.m.; the website has the hours wrong, but an update is expected whenever Dean’s tech-savvy daughter gets around to it.

INFO www.muffinmanbakery.com or 276-619-0037

Steve’s Authentic Key Lime Pies, Brooklyn, NY

More than 1,300 miles north of his Miami roots, Steve Tarpin brings a tropical-fruit delicacy to a Big Apple audience.

story & photos by Bakery Boy

A mural points the way to Steve's warehouse on the Red Hook waterfront. Photos by Bakery Boy

I’ve traveled through the Florida Keys many times and eaten more slices of key lime pie than I can count, but I never expected to find one of the best in, of all places, Brooklyn, New York.

When I stumbled upon Steve’s Authentic Key Lime Pies while visiting the nearby Valentino Pier, a small park in the Red Hook neighborhood with a terrific view of the Statue of Liberty, I took one bite of the creamy, pucker-sweet creation and knew there had to be a Floridian behind the story.

A vignette straight out of South Florida brightens this pocket of New York City.

Pie-maker Steve Tarpin is a Miami native whose love of the Florida Keys began in childhood and grew stronger with each camping, canoeing, and fishing trip there. He started making key lime pies at home for family and friends out of frustration with the mediocre versions he found served in many restaurants. “It was one of those ‘If you want something done right, do it yourself’ situations,” he says, “and I always knew where I could grab a handful of key limes right off the tree.”

He moved to New York in the mid-1980s for what he thought would be six months, but the place grew on him and he stayed, working first as a carpenter. Laid up by a back injury and invited to a cookout, he brought a few homemade pies as his contribution to the festivities. Another party-goer happened to own a steakhouse restaurant, liked what he tasted, and contracted Steve to make three pies a week. Steve’s Authentic now produces thousands of pies a week and delivers them to dozens of restaurants, markets, and caterers all over the city, as well as to walk-ins who find his warehouse location.

Steve has settled in as a New Yorker but manages to continue a favorite South Florida pastime. “I have a fishing boat docked nearby so I can slip away when conditions look good. Yesterday I caught a 30-pound striped bass in New York Bay, and it felt just like being back home.”

SIGNATURE ITEMS Key lime pies in three sizes: 10-inch ($25), 8-inch ($15), and 4-inch tarts ($5). There’s also an innovation called a Swingle—a 4-inch key lime tart dipped in dark, semi-sweet, Belgian chocolate and frozen to a stick.

SECRET TO SUCCESS No secret, really, just use the best and freshest ingredients possible. The crusts are pure Graham cracker crumbs and sweet butter. The filling contains fresh sweetened and condensed milk obtained directly from a Wisconsin dairy; pasteurized egg yolks; and the juice of fresh-squeezed key limes (never concentrates) imported from Mexico.

LOVE THOSE LIMES Steve maintains a separate web site, keylime.com, devoted to all things key lime. There you can learn about the ping-pong-ball size greenish-yellow fruit and its many uses from culinary to cosmetic.

LOCATION 204 Van Dyke Street, Brooklyn, NY 11231—at Pier 41 in the historic Red Hook district with its fine view of the Statue of Liberty and the New York Harbor.

HOURS Unpredictable. This is mainly a wholesale operation, after all, though everything is available to front-door customers whenever the place is open. As a humorous sign on the door declares, “Hour contingent on highly imperative fishing schedule.” Apparently you can take the boy out of laid-back South Florida, but you can’t take the laid-back South Florida out of the boy.

INFO stevesauthentic.com or 718-858-5333