“Toss it in the backyard,” my mother would say while scooping the excess flour off the table into my hands. “Return it to Her.” She would hold the door for me as I opened my palms to the sky and watched the white powder fly into the wind.
The “Her” she was speaking of was not a woman, but the Earth. It was our tradition to do this while baking; it wasn’t important to throw all our unused rolling flour outside, only enough to make a gesture. I do not recall ever asking her why we did this, and she never sat me down to talk about it. But I felt in this ritual its inherent importance and the reverence my mother held for the world. This ritual transformed our baking into something sacred.
It was through my mother’s hands and gentle guidance that I learned to love food, especially the sweet things like Polish kolackys at Christmas or the special chocolate birthday cakes with fresh strawberries mushed between the layers.
It was her fine attention to detail that ingrained in me the dire importance of spooning flour into a measuring cup and cutting the top with the flat edge of a butter knife. It was her selflessness that taught me to find the most pleasure in baking for others. It was her respect for how the Earth blesses us with more than we need that taught me to be grateful for the ability to create pure visceral indulgences like gooey pecan-tassies and cream puffs to share with the people we love.
Martha’s Saucy Little Tarts was born from my mother’s hands. Without her I wouldn’t have developed such a deep passion for baking. Working with local food is just one more way I integrate my own reverence for the natural world and love of community into my pastries; what better muffin is there than one made from ingredients that were grown and nourished in the soil where you live?
Since I was a child I’ve had a vision for a bakery, and through the years it has evolved to entertain the idea of a garden, a community space, skill-sharing workshops and more. Before moving to Keene, I was the resident baker at The Green Sage Café in Asheville, North Carolina. Their temporary baker, Hilary, taught me how to fold a scone and bake the creamiest, smoothest cheesecake imaginable. She passed on to me her passion for vegan and gluten-free pastries, believing firmly that everyone deserves the most delicious dessert regardless of dietary preferences and restrictions. Baking with Hilary influenced my style and confidence, and she would often say to me in jest, “Martha, you are such a saucy little tart!”. Guess what else she influenced?
Thank you to everyone who comes out to the Whole Terrain events and supports Martha’s Saucy Little Tarts. Without you all I wouldn’t be launching my dream. Many of you ask me, “Where’s your business located?” and although right now my answer consists of a fumbled, nervous laugh and description of my tiny downtown Keene studio, one day I hope to have an address, a certified kitchen, and all the locally-made indulgent pastries you can eat.
Martha Campagna is co-editor of the upcoming “Boundaries” issue of Whole Terrain. She is a student at Antioch University New England in the Environmental Education program. Enjoy Martha’s Saucy Little Tarts at any Muse Topia or Science Soiree event.