Bless Your Spoon: A ‘more natural’ tea party in Mrs. Laura’s backyard

Published 12:00 am Thursday, May 16, 2019

By Stephanie Williams Dean

With old-fashioned roots gone trendy” the farm-to-table movement is mainstream as folks are seeking healthier food — but it’s not just that. People want to experience something off the beaten path with a more personal touch — and memorable. 

And that’s exactly what brings folks back to Mrs. Laura’s garden.

The Davie County Business Women’s Association recently held its meeting in the backyard garden at Laura’s historic home in Farmington. As the women gathered, I strolled around the flowers and herbs admiring the tranquil beauty of the peaceful morning while rays of sunlight gently kissed tiny, tender buds beginning to bloom.

Coming from the old farmhouse dressed in a hand-sewn peasant skirt with a white apron overlay, Mrs. Laura’s assistant, Robin McBride, meandered to the garden carrying multi-tiered dessert trays filled with assortments of freshly baked goodies. The outdoor, vintage farm table was draped in colorful cloth adorned with fancy lace trim which made for an elegant presentation of tea party classics.

Judging by her reputation, Laura appears to have a well-deserved claim to fame for her baking and private tea parties that are tied closely to a faithful following of loyal customers. She refers to herself as a back- to-basics cook who uses all natural ingredients with no artificial colorings or flavors in the foods she prepares. She doesn’t use shortening or lard but prefers butter and sour cream instead because they’re healthier. And free range eggs are the only kind used in her baked goods.

“I was heavily influenced as a child by my mother and grandmother with my hands in dough making homemade biscuits,” she said.

Using only fresh ingredients, Laura’s family had a garden when she was growing up, and they rarely went to the store for anything. Most of what her family had to eat, they grew themselves, or it came from her grandparent’s farm.

“Natural ingredients are what I’m used to. I’m not used to using cake mixes or pre-made cookie dough. That is something I take pride in. I’m used to cooking by scratch and grew up doing things the way grandma used to do things.”

When cooking for her family, Laura uses fresh, local ingredients. After doing some research, she began learning more about herbs and the benefits they offer when prepared in food or used medicinally. Laura started adding herbs in her foods for flavor, but now she’s using them as remedies for health purposes, too — like drinking herbal tea more as a supplement. Instead of getting on medications that have a side effect, you can order ginger and turmeric in capsules and use as supplements to avoid having to take medicines, she said.

When Laura started her business in 2003, she began getting involved with growing and learning about herbs. While working as director of Farmington Community Center, she gave seminars about herbs and the benefits derived from them.

She stepped down in 2015, a decision which allowed her more time to work on her business — a bakery at home. When Laura began the baked goods business, she focused on incorporating the herbs and spices into her products. People had come to her herbal seminars, so they naturally wanted to sample some of the things she’d baked. From here, Laura got the idea of hosting the private tea parties and lunches which offer more of a meal. From there, people began to inquire about birthday parties, so it grew into classes and seminars with children. She continues to offer educational talks in her garden.

“It’s like inviting company over. We walk around the garden and talk about the herbs. Education’s a big part of it.”

Laura gets much pleasure from making things the old fashioned way. As a child, she loved going to her grandma’s house. While there, Laura enjoyed the daily activities of farm life.

“The first thing I wanted to do was go to the chicken house and gather the eggs.”

Being emotionally close to her grandpa, Laura enjoyed evenings with him, often staying late into the night at the tobacco barn watching him priming tobacco. 

“I have good memories of my grandparents. And fortunately, I was raised around gardens at home, so everything we ate was fresh and came straight from our backyard.”

Studying how to eat healthier, Laura learned to use ingredients such as stevia as a replacement for sugar in some of her baked goods. She focused on low-sugar products and has learned more about gluten-free. While continuing to offer good old-fashioned flavor in her popular items, she’s also attempting to incorporate herbs to make the product more interesting, flavorful and healthier.

“I bake artisan-style cinnamon rolls — that’s my specialty. I take it a step further with a variety of flavors you don’t find anywhere else such as the orange, clove, and cinnamon rolls, or the cinnamon raisin, chocolate covered cherry, and lemon poppy seed scones, for example.”

Offering something for everyone, she also makes a low-sugar cinnamon roll with the stevia that tastes wonderful.

Laura also likes to take the old fashioned favorites such as shortbread and add different flavors. Starting with the traditional recipe, she adds flavors of Earl Grey tea and also makes a nutmeg log along with a mint chocolate-dipped cookie from a favorite matcha green tea. The tea has triple the antioxidants of regular tea, and the cookie is served with white chocolate on top.

The popular tea cookie will soon be offered for retail at the The Factory Coffeehouse and other stores in Mocksville and boxed if you want to give as a gift. 

Describing the accolades she receives on her baked goods, Laura said, “I’ve been told my cinnamon rolls taste better than the bakery at Cinnabon. When using anything artificial, customers can taste it and tell the difference in the flavor.”

Baking the old-fashioned way has made Laura’s homemade goods sought after. Aside from her products, many customers choose to have lunch in her garden because they’re looking for a shady and comfortable spot that’s private — a place where they can retreat from the hot sun, not feel rushed, and take their time for fellowship. That’s an experience they can’t get anywhere else.

One of Laura’s favorite moments is after she’s served the food to the guests. They’ve already eaten and are relaxing comfortably in her garden.

“I stick my head out the door of my house, and I hear talking and laughing. I like the fact they enjoy my food, but to see them in a setting where they’re enjoying fellowship with friends — that makes me happy.”

It’s for this reason Laura wants to offer more to the public. The timing is right, and she’s ready to push herself to reach for the stars.

When she considers timing, one of the things Laura’s learned about herself is that it makes her the happiest when she’s serving others.

“Baking gives me a way to provide enjoyment to other people. Hosting tea parties while offering education allows me to serve them,” she said.

Laura enjoys cooking because she can be creative. She prepares many things at home, and the family rarely goes out to eat. Her love of baking provides her with a business. While there are many good bakers around, Laura places greater focus on healthier ingredients and has moved away from using high-fructose corn syrups or artificial flavors and colorings.

She enjoys finding innovative ways to make good food. When working at the community center, she started an after-school program. When kids got off the bus, Laura provided a healthy snack and activities that got them outside and enjoying nature. She researched ADHD and autism in children and was reading a lot of possible links to these problems from high-fructose corn syrup.

“I learned so much about how these things affect people.”

Since starting the baking business, Laura’s been reading more food processing magazines and researching new trends. “Clean label” is one that’s growing in popularity. That term means that the generation coming up is starting to look at labels. Parents are becoming more aware of ingredients and how they impact their children’s health.

Now more than ever, people are looking at ways to offer their families good food with quality ingredients. It’s an excellent time to provide old-fashioned, homemade products that have a healthy twist and are made from all natural ingredients. People are more aware now of what they chose to eat and how that decision affects their health.

Laura had much to say about helping others prepare better food at home.

“People using sugar are used to that and this idea of using stevia — I think people are scared to use it.”

She suggests focusing on the benefits of food.

As far as using stevia? “Just go for it, try a recipe and use it. If it messes up, don’t give up, just try something different. There are innovative ways to make our food healthier. Just don’t give up.”

And don’t be satisfied with what you buy in the store. One of the difficult things these days is getting people to try to cook. More and more people are getting used to not making food for themselves. And many people who are baking, are still using a mix rather than trying to make it homemade because they’re fearful of baking one from scratch.

For those who are afraid to make a cake from scratch, Laura was puzzled, saying, “If you’re buying a cake mix and having to add oil, water, and eggs, then why can’t you make one from scratch? That’s all your doing is adding ingredients.”

What a good point. Step out of the box and try something new. Don’t get stuck in the norm.

Laura was born in Mount Airy and raised near her grandparent’s farm in Surry County. Her parents moved near Lewisville where much to her delight, they lived in an area behind the LA Reynolds garden store where she often rode her bike.

When she and her husband, Kenneth, got married, they moved to Clemmons, and then in 2001, the couple moved from Clemmons to Farmington.

Laura and Kenneth met at South Park Baptist School when she was 14, and he was 16. The school went from elementary through high school. Now married for 35 years, the couple have two sons, Keith and Adam. Keith was born on the same day as his dad, on May 31. He’s married to Cindy who is a graphic designer for the Girl Scouts and often helps Laura with graphics for her marketing. They live in Winston-Salem. Laura’s younger son, Adam, is 23 years old and lives at home. He took a culinary class at Forsyth Tech and helps his mom do some baking on busy days.   

“I’ve always been one to travel down roads less traveled. I homeschooled my children when I knew no one who homeschooled. I homeschooled them all the way through high school.”

Laura had a desire to preserve her community’s school because she loved the history of Farmington. So she worked to get programs there. That was out of the norm. Now she’s pushed that same philosophy into the baking.

“The outdoor tea party experience was pushing it — I have creative, novel ideas.”

She gets a lot of that from her parents. Laura’s dad was an entrepreneur. He worked for Reynolds Tobacco, but he always had a little business on the side. Her mom and dad both sold Amway. She can remember riding around in her dad’s station wagon and going to customers houses. Then after retiring from Reynolds, he opened a hotdog stand in King.

“I got my ambition and drive from my dad. So now, maybe it’s my time to have a small business.”

That old-fashioned way of cooking, Laura got from her mom.

“Momma always loved having company over for dinner and cooking for neighbors and friends.”

So that’s how Laura learned. Her mother started her in the kitchen early. Laura remembers not being able to reach the sink as a little girl.

“I had to pull a chair up for me to stand on to be able to wash the dishes.”

Her mother also taught her biscuit making and how to bake other goods although she still can’t do it as her mother did.

“Even though I learned to make things from scratch from her, I had to go my own way and do it my way — a healthier way.”

And she’s still doing just that — and successfully.

Classic Waldorf Salad

• 5 boneless, cooked, chopped chicken breasts

• 5 ribs chopped celery

• 1½ cup seedless green grapes

• 1½ tsp. dried thyme or fresh

• 1½ tsp garlic powder

• ½ cup chopped cashews (or pecans)

• ½ cup golden raisins

• 3 cups premium mayonnaise

• Salt and freshly ground black pepper

Chop cooked chicken into bite-sized pieces. Cut grapes in half. In a bowl, combine chicken, grapes, thyme, garlic powder, nuts, and raisins. Add the mayonnaise until desired consistency and mix well. Serve on lettuce cup or as a spread for homemade rolls.

Herbed Rolls
with Honey

• 7-8 cups unbleached all-purpose flour

• 1½ pkgs. active dry yeast (1/4 oz. each)

• 1 tbsp. salt

• 1 cup honey

• 3 cups warm water (110 degrees)

• ¼ cup olive oil

• 1 minced red onion

• 3 minced cloves garlic

• 1 bunch chopped parsley

• 1 bunch chopped dill

• 3 Tbsp. fines herbes

• 2 beaten eggs

• 2 Tbsp. water

In a large mixing bowl, combine 4 cups of flour, the yeast, and salt. Stir in honey and warm water until smooth. Gradually stir in remaining flour to make a soft dough. Knead on a floured surface for 10 minutes until smooth. Transfer to clean bowl, cover, and let rise 2 hours until doubled.

In a skillet, heat oil and add onion, garlic and saute 10 minutes until tender. Add parsley, dill, and fines herbes and saute 3 minutes. Remove from heat.

Punch dough mixture down and cut into 24 equal sized portions. Place a bit of herb mixture in center of each dough piece and shape into a round roll, making sure herbs are entirely enclosed. On a baking sheet lined with parchment paper, place rolls 2 inches apart, and brush some of the herb mixture on the outside of rolls. Cover rolls and let rise in a warm spot for 1 hour or until doubled.

In a small bowl, mix eggs with water. Brush each roll with egg wash. Bake in a 350-degree oven 15-20 minutes or until golden brown. Makes 24 three-inch rolls.

Garden Sandwiches

• 8 oz. softened cream cheese

• 3 Tbsp. diced onion

• 3 Tbsp. diced green pepper

• 3 Tbsp. chili sauce

2/3 cup chopped pecans

• 3 diced hard-boiled eggs

• ½ tsp. salt

• Freshly ground black pepper

In a mixer, combine all ingredients and refrigerate to blend flavors. When ready to use, let stand to soften. Spread on white or wheat bread after crusts are removed. Cut frozen sliced bread with cookie cutters in scalloped or petal shapes for party sandwiches. Save crusts and freeze for later use as bread crumbs.

Mini Chicken Quiches

• 2 homemade crusts or refrigerated rolled crusts

• ¼ cup of chicken spread

• 3 oz. shredded Gruyere cheese

• 2 eggs

• ¼ cup light cream

• Freshly ground black pepper

Roll out pie crust until thin. Cut out 36 circles that are 2½ inches. Lay circles into 1½ inch muffin tins. In a mixer, beat together the eggs, cream, and pepper. Into each muffin tin, put ½ tsp. chicken spread, a pinch of cheese, and 1½ tsp egg and cream mixture. Bake in a 400-degree oven for 18 minutes or until golden. Cool for 5 minutes and remove from pan. You can use crispy cooked bacon or prosciutto, or sausage.

Herbed Fresh Tomatoes

• 2 pints of fresh cherry tomatoes

• 1 Tbsp. chopped Italian parsley

• 3 Tbsp. chopped fresh basil

• 1 Tbsp. fresh chervil leaves

1/3 cup extra-virgin olive oil

• 1½ Tbsp. balsamic vinegar

• Kosher salt

• Freshly ground black pepper

Cut the tomatoes into half about 30 minutes before serving, and lay them out on a flat dish.  Drizzle with the oil and vinegar, and salt and pepper. Sprinkle parsley, basil, and chervil over the tomatoes. Let stand at room temperature for at least 30 minutes. Toss all together and add salt and pepper to taste at serving time. Refrigerate.

Mini Rosemary-
Orange Muffins

• 2 beaten eggs

• 1 cup sugar

• 1 stick softened, salted butter

• 2 cups all-purpose flour

• 1 tsp. baking powder

• ½ tsp. salt

• 1 cup sour cream

• 1 cup golden raisins

• 1 orange, zest and juice

• 1 Tbsp. fresh rosemary

Grease and flour mini muffin trays that are 1 ½ inch in diameter. In a mixer, beat the eggs. Add the sugar and then the butter. After sifting, add flour, baking soda, and salt together. Add the flour to butter mixture while alternating with sour cream. Mix well after each addition. Chop raisins, orange zest, and rosemary in a food processor. Stir the raisin mixture into batter. Spoon batter into muffin cups and fill each cup almost to the top. Bake in a 375-degree oven for 10 minutes or until golden brown. Brush tops with the fresh orange juice. Remove from tin and cool completely. You can also use regular sized muffin tins.

Ginger and Banana
Tea Bread

• 1½ cup self-rising flour

• 1 tsp. baking powder

• 3 Tbsp. salted butter

1/3 cup dark brown sugar

• 4 Tbsp. milk

1/3 cup chopped, preserved ginger

• 2 ripe bananas

In a mixer, add flour, baking powder, and butter until bread crumb consistency. Stir in sugar, and add milk and chopped ginger. Mash the bananas and add to flour. Combine until a soft dough forms. Spoon mixture into a greased and lined 1 pound loaf pan. Bake for 40-45 minutes in a 350-degree oven. After baking, run a spatula around edges to loosen. Turn out on wire rack and cool. Slice and spread a slice with herbed butter and strawberry preserves.

Herbed Butter

• ½ cup softened or whipped butter

• 1 Tbsp. fresh parsley

• 1 tsp. lemon juice

• ¼ dried, crushed savory

1/8 tsp. salt

• Dash of freshly ground black pepper

Old Fashioned Strawberry Jam

• 1½ pounds strawberries

• 3 cups sugar

• ¼ lemon

Hull strawberries and mash half of them. Warm the sugar in a 250-degree oven. In a pan, combine mashed and whole strawberries with lemon juice. Simmer over medium heat until fruit is barely tender. Add warmed sugar slowly, allowing it to dissolve over low heat. Then bring jam to a rapid boil until it reaches a setting point. Test for setting by pouring 1 tsp. of jam into a saucer and letting it cool. When a wrinkle forms on the surface when pushed with a finger, the jam will set. Remove from heat. Let stand 10 minutes and then stir. Transfer to sterilized jars. Keeps for up to a year if unopened. Refrigerate after opening. 

Mixed Berries In Wine

• 1 pint raspberries

• 1 pint blueberries1-pint blackberries

• 3 cups small, halved strawberries

• ½ cup sugar

• 3 cups chilled Fragolino wine (or Moscato)

In a large bowl, mix all berries. Add sugar, and toss to coat. Pour wine over berries. Chill covered for at least 2 hours.

Poppyseed Sweet Bread Loaf

• 3 beaten eggs

• 2½ cups sugar

• 1¼ cups vegetable oil

• 3 cups cake flour

• 1½ tsp. baking powder

• 1 tsp. salt

• 1½ cups whole milk

• 1½ tsp. vanilla extract

• ½ tsp. almond flavoring

• 1½ Tbsp. poppy seed

In a mixer, beat eggs. Add sugar and oil and beat until fluffy. Sift flour, baking powder, salt, and add to egg mixture, mixing well. Add milk, vanilla, almond, and poppy seeds. Mix well and pour into 2 greased and floured loaf pans. Bake in a 350-oven for 35-40 minutes or until done. Take out of the pan. For the glaze, mix orange juice, sugar, vanilla, and butter flavor. Pour over bread while still warm.

Glaze

• ¼ cup orange juice

• 2½ cups sifted confectioners sugar

• ½ tsp. vanilla extract

• ½ tsp. butter flavor

Lavender Tea Cake

• 3 beaten eggs

• 1 cup sugar

• 1½ sticks softened, salted butter

• 1½ cups self-rising flour

• 2 Tbsp. fresh lavender flowers (or 1 Tbsp.dried)

• ½ tsp. vanilla extract

• 2 Tbsp. whole milk

Glaze

• ½ cup sifted confectioners sugar

• ½ tsp. water

A few lavender flowers

In a mixer, beat eggs. Add sugar, butter, and cream until fluffy. Fold in sifted flour, chopped lavender, vanilla, and milk. Spoon batter into a greased and floured pan with a removable bottom, and bake in a 350-degree oven for 1 hour or until done. For the glaze, mix confectioners sugar and water until smooth. Pour over cake and decorate with fresh lavender flowers.

Orange Shortbread Cookie

• 4 sticks softened salted butter

• 1½ cups brown sugar

• 4 cups unbleached, all-purpose flour

• 2 oranges, zest

• 2 beaten eggs

• 2 Tbsp. water

In a mixer, cream together butter and brown sugar. Beat in the flour gradually until it forms a semi-stiff dough. Add finely grated zest from 2 oranges. Wrap dough in plastic wrap and refrigerate 2 hours. Roll the dough to ½-inch thickness on a floured surface. Cut dough with 2-inch cookie cutters. Place cookies on greased cookie sheets. In a small bowl, beat the eggs and water. Brush over tops of cookies. Bake in a 350-degree oven for 15 minutes or until golden brown. Cool.

Chocolate
Cherry Scones

• 2¼ cup all-purpose flour

• 1½ tsp. baking powder

• ½ tsp. salt

• 8 Tbsp. unsalted butter

• ½ cup semi-sweet chocolate chips

• ½ cup chopped dried cherries

• ¾ cup buttermilk

In a mixer, combine flour, baking powder, and salt. Cut butter in until pea-sized crumbles form. Add the cholate and dried cherries. Add buttermilk in small amounts until a dough forms and begins to pull away from the sides of the bowl. Lay dough out on a sheet of wax paper. Top with second sheet of paper. Roll out to ¼ inch thickness. Cut into triangles. Place on a baking tray lined with parchment paper. Bake in a 400-degree oven for 20 minutes or until the dough has risen and is browned. Makes 8.

Mrs. Laura’s Lemon Balm Scones

• 11/2 cups of plain flour

• 4 tsp. of baking powder

• 5 Tbsp. butter

• 5 Tbsp. sugar (optional)

2/3 cup milk

• 1 Tbsp. dried lemon balm

Glaze

• 1/2 cup powdered sugar

• Lemon juice

Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Sift flour and baking powder into a bowl. Rub the butter and sugar into the flour to form a fine crumble. Add dried lemon balm and blend. Mix in the milk and gently knead together until smooth. Roll out onto a floured surface and cut out scones with a small biscuit cutter. Place on a cooking sheet lined with parchment paper and allow to sit about 15 minutes before baking. Bake for 12-15 minutes or until lightly golden brown on top.

While they’re baking, mix your glaze. Add lemon juice to the powdered sugar until it has a consistency of honey. Remove from the oven, lightly glaze each scone and serve warm.

Mrs. Laura’s Iced
Berry Hibiscus Tea

Four servings of loose Berry Hibiscus tea, blend in a large tea ball or you could use 4 Raspberry Zinger tea bags from Celestial which has hibiscus leaves. Heat 4 cups of hot water and drop in tea bags. Let the tea steep for 4-5 minutes. (For natural sweetness, put 1 teaspoon of dried stevia leaf in a tea ball and steep with your tea.)

Allow to cool. Add 4 cups of 100% cranberry juice and any additional water to taste, chill.

Hint: When serving iced tea on hot days, make extra and pour some of the tea into ice cube trays. When chilled, add to your iced tea. This will keep your tea cold without watering down the flavor. There are three famous French herb mixes: fines herbes, bouquet garni, and herbes de Provence. Fines herbes is the most delicate of the three and is a blend of fresh parsley, chives, chervil, and tarragon.

Herbal Accents/ Mrs. Laura’s Rolls and Treats is at 1842 Farmington Road, Mocksville. For more information on private parties call (336) 998-1315.

For upcycled clothing, call Robin McBride at (336) 413-6758.

For more information on Davie Business Women’s Association, call Andrea Kimura at 336-701-0372.