My dad’s older sister, Martha, married Claude Bailey and lived in Burnt Hills, in upstate NY.
Claude’s father was a retired World War I admiral. After the war he moved to New York State, bought an apple orchard, and gave it a name–“Fo’Castle Farm.” Claude inherited the orchard, including a wonderful house the admiral had designed and built. Claude and Martha worked hard keeping the farm going even though the admiral had left them very “comfortable.”
Martha was ambitious and a true entrepreneur. She was never satisfied with “comfortable” and was always thinking of how to make things better for the family. Somewhere along the way she decided to add to their income by opening a fruit stand. At first it was just that, a small stand selling apples on the roadside. By the time I visited for the summer in 1956, it had grown into a thriving country store.
Martha had a flair for marketing and seemed to know what to buy and sell and how to turn a dime into a dollar. She would leave before dawn several times a week in a VW van for a trip to the farmers market in Albany. Apples were always for sale, but Martha expanded to other fruits and vegetables. Jams, jellies, pickles, cheese and of course maple syrup also filled the shelves. She would go to estate sales, buying used books for a quarter and reselling them for a dollar. The sign out front was carefully worded– “HOMEMADE BREAD—FRESH BAKED APPLE PIES.” Full of good ideas and hard work. Her work ethic was contagious as I learned one summer.
She had turned one of the old farm buildings into a bakery. Not a full-fledged bakery, but one that produced only loaf bread and apple pies to be sold in the country store. She hired an older Swiss couple to do the baking. In the summer, the couple would take a few weeks off to return home. There is where I came into the picture.
I had visited the farm several times on family vacations and loved it. There were apple storage and equipment barns to explore, tractors to play on and cool nights. In 1957, when I had just turned 15, Martha invited me to visit for the summer. I think my parents had engineered that visit.
Martha and Claude had three sons. Bob, the middle one, and I were the same age. I was also the middle child of three boys.
It was not long after I arrived when I was introduced to the bakery. Bob was working there for the summer and, along with his mother, taught me how to make and bake the bread. During the summer months, they averaged selling over 100 loaves of bread a week mainly on the weekends. After training, Bob and I were soon rising at four in the morning daily to get the bread started. A large mixer was soon filled with the flour, yeast and water, and was working away. The dough was turned out on a big table that was heated from below to aid in the proofing process. The commercial stack oven that could bake multiple loaves was heating up. While the bread was proofing the first time, and before it was divided into the right size, hand kneaded and put in the pans to rise again, we would enjoy a big breakfast Martha had prepared next door at their house.
By eleven each morning, the loaves of bread were coming out of the oven and brushed lightly with bacon grease. It was sold for 60 cents a loaf. The cost of a loaf of sliced grocery store bread at the time was 19 cents. People were often lined up waiting by the time we delivered the first loaves of the day. The old barn where the bakery was located was a good distance from the store, so no customer was allowed there. We delivered the bread and pies as needed.
Now, how about those apple pies? Here’s where Martha “pulled the rabbit out of the hat.” There were several large storage buildings with walk-in coolers for the apple harvest located well back in the orchard. There was also a back road to the buildings through the orchard. About twice a month, a truck using the back road would arrive with a load of premade frozen apple pies. I don’t know if Mrs. Smith’s pies were around then, but you get the idea. The cases of pies were quickly unloaded an into a well-hidden freezer in one of the barns.
I have failed to mention that when Bob and I got to work, it was still dark. Our very first job was to bring the day’s supply of frozen pies to the bakery where they would be sprinkled with extra cinnamon sugar and baked.
Martha liked to time the delivery of bread and pies to the store so the aroma lasted longer. She liked for customers to wait a bit, believing people appreciated what they had to wait for more, and therefore knew the bread and pies were fresh. We had a pie carrier that held 6 pies. The hot out-of-the-oven pies were delivered to the store 6 at a time. I don’t remember what they sold for, but there always seemed to be people waiting.
One time when I walked into the store with a rack of pies, a lady rushed up to me saying, “What type apples do you use in your pies?” I did not know one apple from another, much less what was in the premade pies. Luckily Martha was close by and took over the conversation.
Bob and I were finished by early afternoon and had the rest of the day for fun and trouble. A wonderful couple of summers. I should have gone back for a third but during my senior year, I caught a case of puppy love and could not leave my sweetheart. That didn’t last long, but I missed my third summer on the Farm. One of those things that comes along and may or may not make a difference.
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