Local lovers of all things yeast and butter have been getting their fill the past few weeks as a traveling bakery of sorts makes its way to Warren FoodWorks on Wednesdays.
Customers wait with anticipation for Julia Colgrove of Strong Arm Baking Co. to arrive with her weekly offering of freshly baked breads sold through a Bread Share program and an assortment of pastries. The anticipation comes from two things: memories of how delicious a previous purchase was, and customers not knowing until Julia arrives what types of breads and other goodies she has baked up just for them.
Strong Arm’s specialty is sourdough bread baked in a wood-fired oven, crusty on the outside and full of the uneven holes that let you know the inside is perfectly fluffy.
Since the Bread Share program started last month, Strong Arm has brought to local foodies sesame semolina and sprouted grain sourdough breads, focaccia with Kalamata olives, Parmesan and black pepper, Ciabatta, and cinnamon raisin swirl.
Customers sign up for the Bread Share monthly, and for $25 they pick up a rustic loaf of freshly baked bread each Wednesday afternoon.
But the goodness doesn’t stop with bread. Strong Arm also makes coffee cakes, sweet and savory pastries, tarts and pies, crostatas, fruit poptarts, decadent croissants, and cookies — slightly crispy on the outside, soft and chewy on the inside.
Home-based in the Granville County community of Wilton, Strong Arm Baking Co. began three years ago after Colgrove decided she needed more challenges in her work life. At the time, she was working full-time at Scratch Bakery in Durham, where she said she was given the freedom to try new things when she wanted to.
She and her husband, Thomas Blaine, started selling their products part-time at a Triangle area farmers market while both worked other jobs. This helped them gauge customer demand while experimenting on how to make the perfect loaf of sourdough bread in their wood-fired oven.
Thomas, a Marine Corps veteran who also worked a season in Colorado as a wildland firefighter, decided to build the oven in the couple’s backyard “just for fun,” Julia said. In addition to learning on his own how to do this, Julia said that Thomas is a self-taught pastry maker. (He’s the one that customers can blame for their addiction to Strong Arm’s hand-rolled buttery croissants full of rich, flaky, melt-in-your-mouth goodness.)
Julia said that Thomas handles most of the outside work, including cutting firewood, while she is usually the one who comes up with new recipes, both of them working 16- to 18-hour days, six days a week.
Julia said that customers give plenty of feedback on items they really like, such as the blueberry poptarts, which weren’t initially among her favorites. Rave reviews, including those from Warren County customers, have kept the poptarts in the pastry rotation, but offerings change throughout the year based on availability of fresh produce.
“If customers really ask for something, we bring it back,” Julia said.
Strong Arm turns to local farmers to supply their fresh fruits and vegetables, and the pastry items change with the seasons.
“We have to explain to customers why we only have things at certain times,” Julia said. “People get hooked on things, but we look forward to changing items.”
Customers here cried the blues last month when they learned that Strong Arm’s strawberry-rhubarb crostatas would not be returning (that’s because rhubarb season was over), but the tears soon were forgotten as blueberries and blackberries took the starring role in turnovers, streusel crostatas and blueberry-lemon coffee cakes.
But even berries don’t last forever, so what can customers expect next in their pastries? Peaches!
“Peaches will last about two months or so,” Julia said excitedly. “We’ll have peach pies, peach and blueberry pies … peaches shine on their own.”
As the Warren County Bread Share made its debut last month, Julia was pleasantly surprised by the support, with 17 people signed up. She said that number has dropped for July, as some customers are vacationing, but she expects it to go back up when summer starts to wind down.
Customers who would like to sign up for the August Bread Share at Warren FoodWorks may do so by sending an email to email@example.com or by calling 828-400-4826. There are several Bread Share plans: Half Share – One loaf per week, $25 per month; Full Share, Two loaves per week, $45 per month; and Pastry Plus – One loaf of bread and pastries for two, $55 per month.
Strong Arm Baking Co. also has individual loaves of bread for sale each week while supplies last, as well as assorted sweet and savory pastries, pies, cakes and cookies.
Julia is at FoodWorks, 108 S. Main St., Warrenton, from 3:45 to 5:15 p.m. every Wednesday.