Red Leaf Eats
Deborah Dennis has been baking since she can remember.
“My great-grandmother got me started years ago,” she said. “I’ve been baking all my life. She was very strict and forward thinking. ‘Preservatives were horrible,’ so we grew everything and canned, froze or dried it. She was was ahead of her time.”
Dennis worked as a nurse for most of her professional life, but after she visited Italy in 2010, she began to explore the idea of baking professionally.
“I went to rural Italy with a friend whose family has owned this sort of compound for more than 600 years,” she said. “There’s 80 acres of olive trees. I learned the old style of baking and how food is so central to the group. You learn to cook by feel… Food is communal. There’s a sense of tradition and a sense of community spirit.”
Rural Italian festivals were a common occurrence, she said.
“They line the road with tables and tablecloths, and everyone brings food,” she said. “Everyone is enjoying themselves and eating. Well-fed people are happy people, typically.”
Dennis’ time in Italy influenced her baking when she returned to the states.
“In rural Italy, they don’t use butter,” she said. “Rural Italy has very little in the way of refrigeration. They don’t believe in ice. If the water is hot, the water is hot. In the winter, they stick things outside to keep them cold.”
Instead of butter, they used a different kind of fat, she said.
“They’ve got readily available olive oil,” she said. “You go downstairs to the big tank and pour yourself some olive oil. You’re not going to find much in the way of other fats. They make everything with it — pie crusts, cakes, cookies, etc.”
When Dennis returned to Oklahoma, she began working toward opening her own bakery in Guthrie.
“I’ve been baking for friends for years,” she said, and now sells her baked goods at farmers markets and 1907 Meat Co. “I go through 300 to 400 pounds of flour a week.”
Dennis makes Olive Oil Cakes, a sort of pound cake that uses olive oil instead of butter, as well as hamburger buns and hoagie rolls for 1907 Meat Co.
Dennis is the oldest of five children, so making a lot of food is not a foreign concept to her.
“It’s just something I’ve always done, and I enjoy it,” she said. “Taking simple ingredients and turning them into something that sustains people. The simplest ingredients you can turn into something that can feed people. Bread is water, flour and yeast. It’s almost mystical what happens with a loaf of bread.
“I really enjoy the satisfaction of providing something that someone is going to enjoy.”