The Journey. . .(Part One)
On November 11, 2015 our bakery celebrated four years in business. This weekend we also celebrate the third anniversary of our first storefront. When we look back on our journey it seems a little unbelievable to us that we have come so far.
Our love of food and gathering started when we were kids. We lived in a small town (much smaller than Geneva) and many people grew their own fruits and vegetables. Our great-grandparents on our mother's side were from Ferentino, Italy and when they settled in Illinois they started a vegetable farm. The entire family would help in the fields and then our great-grandfather ("Pa") would drive them to the City. Al Capone was one of his customers. Pa did a lot more than tend the fields--he also made wine and was the head cook. He taught everyone how to make the Ravioli and the sugo.
Our grandmother Mary always hated working in the fields and was sent inside to care for the children and do the cooking. These are areas where she excelled, and she continued to be known for her abilities in cooking the most amazing food for a large amount of people throughout her lifetime, as well as becoming the beloved and best friend of nearly every child and adult near and far. She and our grandfather, Don, married young --she was 21 and he was 19. They married just before he left for the Army during World War II. They were separated for many years but fortunately our grandfather returned to raise a family---a large family of six children and nine grandchildren. After 40 plus years of service he retired from the Army and became a farmer of sorts himself---a vegetable garden that spanned his property, an orchard of fruit, vines of grapes, blackberries and raspberries, and more. We learned early on how to hoe a garden, plant a seed, grow it and pick its fruit. We learned the difference between a raspberry and a black raspberry and how to make it into jelly. We learned how to climb a ladder, pick the cherries, pit them (by hand) and turn them into pie with our grandmother's instruction.
Our love of food was born in a family that loved food. When you plant something from a seed, care for it and grow it, it becomes a part of you. We ate by the seasons. In spring, there was spinach, dandelion salad, early lettuce and radishes. Summer and fall were bountiful with tomatoes, zucchini, peppers, beans, lettuce, onions, eggplant, carrots, herbs, and plentiful fruits. In winter we had root vegetables harvested late (potatoes, rutabaga, squash) stored in the basement, as well as jars of tomato sauce, jams and pickled vegetables, and all of the frozen items (even herbs). Cooking came naturally, recipes were not needed.
My most favorite childhood memory is any gathering that occurred at the table. There was the meal and then dessert with coffee. The smell of coffee always reminds me of my grandfather. He loved dessert and coffee and he indulged in it every single night. (until his death at 89). Upon reflection I believe he felt it was his little pleasure after working all day (even after retirement he was the hardest working man I have ever known---he arose early and kept working outside all day long until dinnertime). After the dishes (which he washed every night) he would stroll over to the old Bunn coffeemaker and get out his Folger's and the smell of the coffee dripping would bring everyone back to the kitchen to gather for dessert.
When you gather---whether just for dinner or for a family party---amazing things happen. People talk, they laugh and suddenly the daily burdens are lifted, even if for just a little while.
When you pursue a job or a career you often ask the question "what do I like?" For us, when we decided to chase a dream to have a business we answered that question with "food and gathering". I had taken an interest in cakes when my children were young and started to study the science of them and decorating techniques. Nina had become amazing with pie dough and had managed a restaurant for ten years. While working other jobs we often gathered together on the weekends to bake and develop recipes. At some point we decided to experiment with Farmer's markets and selling our products there.
Looking back, when we started our business we did not have a clue what we were doing. We just loved food and wanted to share it. It was exciting for us to see others love the food we created as well. But as our business grew we realized we had to learn how to run a food business. Every business is different. When you run a food business you need to get food certified and you need to learn and comply with the rules of your local health department and the State. You actually don't just make food and sell it. It's really not that simple. Our journey brought us to the point of creating this business. Now we were about to embark on the real adventure of opening our storefront. . .
(to be continued)