Saturday, September 16, 2017

PART TWO: A Five Star Recipe: The Making of the Stehekin Pastry Company

Roberta and Cragg Courtney, 2017

Roberta and Cragg have contributed more than the beloved Stehekin Pastry Company to enhancing the Stehekin Valley. Between their official roles as Bakery owners and excavator and heavy equipment operator, they manage two handsome rental cabins, and were instrumental in keeping the backcountry horse pack trips moving for the Courtney Family for many years. (The tradition lives on through

When their two children, Quinlan and Clancy, were small babes, you could sometimes find them on Roberta’s back, in a pack, as she kept her hands moving in the orchestration of her many tasks creating scrumptiousness. Each of their children has taken a turn in the bakery, as well as helping their dad in his many callings. When high school called to Quin and Clancy, Roberta and Cragg made a way for that to happen, in the midst of all their hard work, and rarely missed any event or game that arose. Even in their relocation for five years, they maintained the high standard of all their businesses.
Fresh out of the oven! Pizza!
What advice would Roberta give to anyone starting into a Bakery business? The secret recipe is this…”They better like to work hard. If you don’t, it’s not going to go,” she proclaims.  Another part of the recipe is revealed: “Start small. Keep it simple, don’t expand till you can.”  Roberta designed her first small kitchen/bakery herself, and it became real through the efforts of Cragg, Mark Courtney, her Dad and her uncle. Later additions were made of lumber milled right here by her nephews Reed and Jake Courtney.

We’ve talked about the unfolding of the Bakery; the inspiration, the self-taught management skills, the talent and fortitude it has taken. But what about running a bakery in Stehekin? 

“Ordering, picking up supplies at the landing off the boat…handling boxes many times, putting them away, “ she sighs. “I am so happy with our brand new arrangement with Mountain Barge Services where they deliver early in the morning, everything on pallets, and no stress of a boat time crowd."

Another interesting aspect to running a business in Stehekin is, hiring. “Finding people that want to be here, but want to work, and are compatible to the Stehekin lifestyle, and to the Bakery,  is always a challenge. The seasonal aspect of the work as well as the hours requires a special kind of person. I am always looking for that kind of person.” 

What has been your most memorable day in the Stehekin Pastry Company?

“Crazy days like one day in August, when there was a convergence of everything we do. Everything that could happen, happened! There were two quick changes of the cabins which meant guests were coming in on the boat and we also had to pick them up. There was a pack trip starting which meant getting everything ready for that…plus picking THOSE people up.  There was a sick horse to care for, and then…..the health inspector showed up!” she laughs.  “Labor Day weekend is our busiest time and sometimes just blows me away.”

And down to more of the details  that guarantee success of this five star recipe to a bakery:

What are your best tools? “I could not live without my mixers: the large Hobart, the Cuisinarts, and three mixers are constantly in use. But the best tool is, really, our own hands.
What does it REALLY take to make a scrumptious Danish with raspberries and custard filling? What is all the work we don't readily see behind that beautiful creation? Roberta itemizes:

·     * Order the flour and butter and all ingredients
·      *Receive it, handle it put it away
·     * Make the dough
·      *Chill overnight
·      *Roll out the next day
·      *Have seasonal fruit on hand
·      *Have cream cheese filling ready
·      *Bakers handle shaping and baking
·      *Counter people fill with filling and apply the icing,
·      *Fill the plate full for the case in a an attractive array
·      *Make it beautiful and artsy, and it must TASTE good, bottom line!!!

     "Truly, it is a team effort all the way."

And what about that wonderful cup of coffee to go with the sublime? “Blue Star Coffee from the Methow Valley is the best, “Roberta says without question.

The all -time best seller? “Cinnamon rolls…for sure. You can order them by the dozen.” It’s true. Fans  have memorized what time they come out of the roaring propane oven, and can barely wait for the delectable cream cheese icing to be swirled on top.
“We are so much more than cinnamon rolls….we have daily salad specials, sandwiches, salads and quiche, pizza…many savory choices. Be sure and mention that,” she says with emphasis.

What is you favorite item to make? “New things, and rolling out dough. It’s just satisfying to roll out a big bunch of dough!” Roberta smiles.

For the final step of this recipe, Roberta reflects on her homeland, and her hard work in Stehekin…
“I appreciate the ingenuity that it takes to live here. Necessity requires it. It’s not all fun, you have to go through it and figure out how to make things work. Our systems are really good now here at the Bakery. I used to get up at 3am which was too early! We have it fine tuned and I can sleep longer. I don’t have much other life from mid May to mid October, but I don’t miss too much,” she smiles. “The Bakery crew are my good friends.”
Hannah, Mairin, Lindsey and Roberta, early spring prep crew

In the nearby shop, Cragg is fixing a huge tire from a dump truck that is being used on the new construction on the Stehekin road. Hops, the family Fox Terrier, is on alert to Rob’s every move, and standing at attention. Mairin returns from the bakery bus duty and talks about the customers, and the road filled with people.  The summer sun beats down on the beautiful pasture out Roberta and Cragg’s window. She is needed elsewhere now, and does not linger too long in the spotlight. There’s work to be done. And, we know whatever it is, she will be able to handle it. l.c.