The down-home baker known simply as “Sister,” whose irresistible yeast rolls are legendary in the South, shares recipes and her inspiring story in her cookbook, Cast Your Bread Upon the Waters.
I’ve been eating Sister Schubert’s Homemade Rolls for many years and for several reasons:
• Because they consistently taste terrific, from buttery to sweet to savory ends of the brown-and-serve spectrum.
• Because they’re as easy as picking up pans from the grocer’s freezer case and popping them in the oven for 20 minutes.
• Because Sister Schubert, a fine southern lady from the heart of Alabama, supports worthy charities through a foundation she created when her bread business grew from a home kitchen project into a nationwide juggernaut.
• And because I met her recently at a book signing and learned first-hand that she’s genuine “good people,” as we say down south without fretting the grammar.
THERE’S A BOOK? That there even was a book signing to attend, and thus a book, set off bells in my bakery-obsessed mind. I thought, if Sister Schubert has a cookbook out, I can make my own Parker House rolls, cinnamon rolls, buttermilk biscuits, orange rolls, and sausage wrap rolls, just like hers.
I got a copy of Cast Your Bread Upon the Waters—Recipes for Success, Cooking & Living, and sure enough recipes for some if not all my favorite Sister rolls are included, plus many more unrelated to her frozen-rolls empire. I baked several items before going to meet her, glad to add new recipes and techniques to my personal arsenal.
Even with her book in hand, I will continue picking up store-bought Sister Schubert pans. Partly because making any kind of bread at home is very time consuming. Partly because it’s just too easy, at the supermarket, to grab those green-striped packages with Sister’s smiling face on them and know that at least that part of tonight’s dinner is taken care of.
SHE’S GOOD PEOPLE Patricia Schubert Barnes of Andalusia, Alabama—dubbed “Sister” as a child by a sibling—ranks as a food celebrity in her home state. Locally the story is well known about how she started baking Parker House-style rolls the way her grandmother, known as “Gommey,” taught her, first for family, then for church fundraisers where they were an instant sensation, and soon for the world.
“I went from baking in my kitchen with a little Sunbeam mixer, to expanding onto my sun porch, to taking over 1,000 square feet in a furniture warehouse my father owned, to renting a 25,000-square-foot building, to moving into a 100,000-square-foot building in just a few short years,” Sister says of the business she launched in 1986.
“At first I took a few pans with stick-on labels to a little curb market in Troy and small grocery stores in south Alabama, asking them to sell my rolls. Now they’re sold all across the country and we’re making them by the millions every day at three locations. Two are close to home, in Luverne and Saraland, Alabama. The other is in Horse Cave, Kentucky, where we’re putting in what will be the fourth largest oven in America. That’ll make a lot more Sister Schubert’s Homemade Rolls!”
Most importantly, she adds: “Even though we’ve grown, we’ve stayed true to our roots. Our rolls have the same home-baked quality and taste as my grandmother’s. We use simple, wholesome ingredients like fresh milk, butter and whole eggs—never any preservatives. And every single roll is still placed in the pan by hand.”
“BRAND AMBASSADOR” Sister sold her company to a larger entity, Lancaster Colony Corporation of Columbus, Ohio, but she and her husband, George, remain involved in running the Sister Schubert division.
“My title now is Founder and Brand Ambassador,” she told me during her book signing at Birmingham Bake & Cook Company. “I do speaking engagements, appear on TV food shows, autograph books at kitchen supply shops and bookstores, and talk about Sister Schubert’s Homemade Rolls at every opportunity.
“When I’m home I develop new products. We’re getting into sea salt now, taking the gluten out for people allergic to it, switching to unsalted butter from the lightly salted butter we’ve been using, and things like that. It’s exciting, and it’s all going to be delicious.”
THE BOOK Cast Your Bread Upon the Waters, a good holiday gift idea for bakers and cooks, shares some of Sister Schubert’s best recipes. Her grandmother’s basic Everlasting Rolls (the Parker House rolls that started it all) come first, followed by variations with cheddar cheese, sausage, orange, or cinnamon.
She veers into non-baked items such as with smoked salmon crepes, cheesy shrimp and grits, artichoke crab dip, and chicken and sausage gumbo. But she quickly returns to her popular takes on cornbread, muffins, biscuits, scones, focaccia, challah, hot cross buns, something called tipsy eggnog bread, three kinds of pound cake, and more.
Besides recipes and beautiful pictures, the book also shares Sister’s outlook on life, faith, family, and community. Bible quotes appear, from a favorite psalm (“Let the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart be acceptable in thy sight, O Lord, my strength and my redeemer”) to a verse from Corinthians (“No eye has seen, no ear has heard, no mind has conceived what God has prepared for those who love him”).
Even the book’s title has biblical roots in Ecclesiastes: “Cast your bread upon the waters, for after many days you will find it again.”
THE FOUNDATION A portion of the proceeds from the sale of Cast Your Bread Upon the Waters goes to the Barnes Family Foundation, a charitable organization founded in 2001 by Sister and George. Its missions include:
• Feeding the hungry by funding food banks and shelters
• Sending college students to learn about other cultures through the Sister Schubert’s Annual Scholarship for Study Abroad operated by Auburn University School of Human Sciences
• Funding an orphanage called Sasha’s Home in the Ukraine (where the Barnes’s adopted their son Alexsey, or “Sasha” for short)
The foundation’s mission, Sister says, is “To show by what we do—that we are thankful for food in a hungry world, that we are thankful for friendship in a lonely world, but mostly, that we are thankful for the opportunity to help save and love all of God’s children in the world.”
Amen to that! And please pass the dinner rolls!
Two recipes from Sister Schubert’s book appear on the Bakery Boy Blog.