By Mike De Felice
Special to Kitsap Daily News
PORT ORCHARD – Twice a month, Sandi Fleury drives her nondescript silver Honda to a parking lot in Port Orchard to deliver bags filled with a selection of mouth-watering joy to a growing legend of fans.
Mind you, nothing nefarious is being delivered by this silver-haired grandmother. What she pulls out of her vehicle are freshly baked goods — from rich cinnamon rolls to aromatic sourdough bread and tangy gingersnap cookies — for folks who have eagerly awaited her arrival.
There’s no need for a traditional brick-and-mortar storefront from which Fleury sells her baked items. The orders are all transacted and pre-paid on Facebook, then made ready for a quick drop-off to customers.
Fleury’s company, called “From the Garden to the Table,” started in 2018 after she decided to leave the dentistry field. She worked over a span of 30 years as an office manager for several dentists, including some who had offices in Port Orchard.
Cooking has always been a passion of the manager-turned-baker, so she decided to turn the pastime into a profession. Originally, she offered cooking classes for people wanting to delve into the cooking fad at the time involving Instant Pots, a multi-function cooker that does everything from pressure cooking to slowing cooking and steaming. Many who had purchased the device found themselves intimated by it.
Fleury developed instructional classes on how to cook with the pot. The sessions were a hit and she ended up conducting classes in nine cities spanning Poulsbo to Olympia.
When the pandemic hit and her cooking classes were halted due to COVID restrictions, Fleury donned a bakery apron. She acquired her prized Amish sourdough starter, which literally caused her business to start to rise.
“Sourdough cinnamon rolls are the top seller,” Fleury said of her current bakery selections. Those tasty sensations don’t come with frosting because the baker wants the sourdough flavor to shine.
“Most people add frosting to a traditional cinnamon roll because it needs more flavor. Mine, though, have sugar and cinnamon all rolled up in each gooey roll.”
Amazingly, her popular cinnamon rolls are a recent addition to Fleury’s baking repertoire. “Up until recently, I hadn’t baked a cinnamon roll in my whole life and I just turned 70,” she revealed.
She credits her winning cinnamon roll recipe to a mentor who showed her how to make the rolls — combined with her own trial and error.
Another hit from her bakery basket for those who prefer a little spice is roasted jalapeno and cheddar sourdough popper bread. Each loaf is topped with fresh jalapenos that she often roasts on the grill. Other delights include roasted garlic and herb loaf bread, as well as cranberry, walnut and sunflower-seed wheat bread.
Drive-up customers can also purchase an assortment of cookies, including snickerdoodles and ginger snaps made with cloves and freshly grated ginger.
An Amish starter
The key to her baking success, she said, is the sourdough “starter” she uses. A starter frequently takes on a life of its own, affected by light, temperature and what you feed it.
“What you feed it a secret,” she whispered. “The starter is a really prized element in any sourdough business.”
For non-bakers, a starter is a mixture of ingredients — in this case, flour, water and sugar — which ferments over time. The mixture, often housed in a glass jar, is the foundation for all of Fleury’s baked goods.
Fleury’s natural wild yeast starter came from an Amish family in Sand Point, Idaho. “It’s an heirloom sourdough starter going back generations,” she explained. It even has a name — Mrs. Miller — named after its originator.
Truly homemade, Fleury’s menu of goodies is concocted in her home’s kitchen, set inside a rambler situated in a country setting in Allyn, just outside Belfair.
“I have a one small 1970s oven, so it takes time,” she chuckled. “I can only do two to three loaves of bread at a time. It takes only about 30-40-minutes to bake a loaf but baking 20-24 loaves a day means I get up early.”
She logs in 14-hour days, “but I sleep well.”
Her goods are cooked in a vintage cast iron pan assortment that includes a Dutch oven pot.
“It gives you the best crust,” she noted.
The smells that tempt
On days she devotes herself to baking, Fleury rises around 4 a.m. While the baking process takes place, the scents wafting through the house are intoxicating, she said.
“The smell of home-baked bread is warm, rich and inviting,” she said. “And on cookie days, oh my gosh, the smell of molasses and cinnamon is heavenly.”
The good sniffs can overwhelm her dog Sonny, a labrador-chow-beagle mix. Once, while waiting for some bread to rise, Fleury went outside to do some gardening. The dog, meanwhile, discovered one of mom’s cooling racks and managed to pull off a layer of sourdough dinner rolls. Sonny enjoyed quite a treat.
More helpful around the kitchen is her granddaughter. Gracie, 15, occasionally helps out in the kitchen.
“She is my little sous-chef and helps me do some prepping.”
On delivery days when Fleury pulls into a local parking lot — much like the yeast-laden bread dough in her kitchen — the baker is seeing the number of customers lining up to pick up their orders rising higher these days.