Working: Cindy Nelson

By Patrisha McLean | Apr 03, 2011
Photo by: Patrisha McLean Cindy Nelson

Camden — The job description was preparing sandwiches and blueberry muffins at a neighborhood market in Camden.

But Cindy blew that baker’s assistant position wide open: “I would look through food magazines, my head was going all the time. I kept trying more stuff and it would sell, so I would try more and it just got crazy.”

Now, six years later, here’s what Cindy made on a recent shift to satisfy her ever-growing sweet-toothed fan base at Megunticook Market: French horns, banana bread, cherry pie, “magic bars”, pumpkin muffins, date-filled cookies, cherry and apple turnovers, Chex mix, apple crisp, chocolate walnut brownies, chocolate cupcakes, chocolate cake, applesauce cake and crumb cake. Also one large bowl of cream cheese frosting, plus she“cooked off” cinnamon rolls prepared the night before and packaged her previously-baked date bars and raspberry bars.

And all this working solo, with an oven that has faulty heat readings and a single electric mixer, “a hair larger than a home model.”

Her first four years on the job she worked through the night but, “I was getting burned out.” Now she doesn’t come in until midnight, and 15 hours or so later she covers the bins of flour and sugar and refrigerates the blocks of butter, mops the floor, takes out the garbage and transports her night and day’s work to the store.

“I go to sleep when everybody else does, even though I get up earlier,” she says. And sleep? “I get it on my days off.”

Cindy starts her shift by noting "what’s low, what’s sold out” in the market. Then, she sifts, stirs, kneads and crimps and like an alchemist working with flour instead of base metals, is soon pulling precious confections out of the old Silver Star convection oven. An applesauce cake is her latest hit. Straight out of the oven, “it really doesn’t look like much, but once you put the buttercream frosting on it, add nuts and wrap it, it looks nice.”

Cindy’s two thick folders of recipes come from a myriad of sources, including the market owner, Lani Temple, and Food Network Star Paula Dean. Most are rewritten by Cindy to reflect her personal taste and short-hand baking style: “I usually start with butter or Crisco and keep adding ingredients.”

She says the rhythm she gets into while baking enables her to work on four or five different orders at once without using a notepad or setting a timer. “The only time I get really uptight is when I have to make something really fancy that I don’t make that often,” such as the 18 chocolate ganache cakes for a wedding catered by Lani Temple last summer.

The summer sees lots of blueberry, raspberry and key lime pies, as well as the store’s famous lemon breads. Last Thanksgiving she made 93 pies: “Pumpkin, pecan, lemon, chocolate and a couple of mince-meat.” Whoopie pies are popular year-round.

Cindy is self-taught. “I always liked baking things,” she says, adding that when raising her two boys (one of whom runs a restaurant in Zephyrhills, Fla., called The Chowder House), “I very seldom sent them to school with bought cookies.”

She was 55 years old when she baked professionally for the first time; before that she screen-printed, glazed windows and sold shoes. And while she says, “I liked all my jobs,” if she had known about her ability to make a lot of people very happy with her baking talent: “I would have done something like this years ago.”

She recalls when she first saw a customer eating one of her creations: “I was like, ‘wow!’" She says: “I was up there last night filling the trays and a lady was at the cash register and said, ‘Oh, I want to get a brownie, too.’ She hurried over to the table and got it so I’m sure she had been there before. It just makes you feel good.”

 

 

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