Louise's Chapel Hill, NC
Old-Fashioned Baked Goods
You can't live in this world not wanting to work together or let everybody have their own share. And, like I said, it all depends on your attitude. I’m not out here to take anything away from anybody. And I’m not out here to sell you nothing you don’t want. – Louise Parrish
Louise Parrish was born and raised on a farm in Chapel Hill, North Carolina. In addition to the farm’s tobacco and cotton fields, her family kept a vegetable garden and fruit-bearing trees on the property. As a child, Louise developed a hands-on approach with food. She and her 14 siblings helped harvest the vegetables from the family garden, churned butter and buttermilk, and canned peaches and other summer foods for the Carolina winters.
Louise fondly remembers her mother's cooking and baking and drew inspiration from her mother's culinary knowledge to start Louise's Old-Fashioned Baked Goods. Louise has been an artisan vendor and baker at the Carrboro Farmers' Market for 21 years. Her pound cakes are known and revered by many market-goers.Although Louise is known for her pound cakes, she also bakes layer cakes, pies, brownies, and a myriad of other desserts from scratch. She even grinds her own coconut for her coconut layer cakes. Her attention to detail and her use of locally sourced ingredients make her desserts a highlight of the Carrboro Farmers' Market.
NOTE: What follows is a portion of the original interview that has been edited for length. To download the entire transcript in PDF form, please click here.
Subject: Louise Parrish, Louise's Old-Fashioned Baked Goods – Chapel Hill, NC
Date: September 10, 2011
Location: Carrboro Farmers' Market – Carrboro, NC
Interviewer & Photographer: Ashley Rose Young
Ashley Young: This is Ashley Young with the Southern Foodways Alliance. Today is Saturday, September 10, 2011 and I am interviewing Louise Parrish, vendor and baker at the Carrboro Farmers’ Market for the Carrboro Farmers’ Market Oral History Project. We are currently at the Market. Louise, would you please introduce yourself stating your name and occupation?
Louise Parrish: I’m Louise Parrish and I’m a vendor at the Carrboro Farmers’ Market and I’ve been here for about twenty-one years.
Would you please tell me where you grew up?
I grew up in Chapel Hill on a farm and I learned to cook real early. My mother would be baking, cooking breakfast in the morning and we would get up and watch her. She made a cake. She would give us like a mayonnaise top off of a mayonnaise jar and she would put a little bit of cake in it, batter in it, and we’d put it in the stove. And it would cook and then we would have our own baked goods. [Laughs]
That sounds delicious. Would you tell me a little bit more about the farm? What do you remember about it?
Well we raised all kind of animals. We had pigs, we had cows, we had horses, we had goats, and we raised chickens—just mostly anything that you’d have on a farm. And then we raised the—a lot of food. We’d raise a lot of corn for the animals. We raised wheat and oats and we had big gardens of vegetables and then in the summer we would can or freeze whatever we grew. And we had enough food to last us for the winter. We had our own beef. We had our own pork. We had our own chickens. Everything we had on the farm we had in the freezer to last us through the winter.
Was this a family farm? What kind of extended family or was it just your immediate family that helped out?
It was our immediate family. It was fifteen of us kids in our family and as we grew we all pitched in and the smaller ones would follow us around and we would let them do things that we do. And that way they would learn and when they got up a little bit older where they could stuff then you could turn them loose and let them do some of the work.
So everybody had their own job, you know. So it was a fun time. We thought at one time when you’re young you can't wait until you get grown so you don’t have to do these things. And after you get grown and realize how important it is you do the same thing that you said you weren't going to do when you got older. [Laughs] So this is where I got my start from—from my parents not wanting to do those things when I was growing up but we had to do them anyway. Now I’m doing the same thing I said I wouldn’t do. [Laughs] And it’s a lot of fun; it’s a lot of fun. You don’t understand life until you get old enough to know that you have to participate or take care something or somebody, you know, and then that’s when it all comes back to you; that all the stuff that you learned was very important that you learn it. And I tell the kids, "Now pay attention because one day you’re going to have to do the same thing that you say you’re not going to do because you got to survive. You got to survive and it’s easy to survive with your parents gone because all this stuff that they taught you comes back to you and then you know what to do."
What do you remember most fondly or what was your favorite thing to do when you were helping your family on the farm?
Well the favorite thing to do was—when Saturday came and Sunday we would go to Sunday school on Sundays and then we’d go to church. We’d come back and eat our dinner. My mother would cook on Saturday to have dinner ready for Sunday and it was really a fun time. And what I don’t understand is how they could keep stuff without it spoiling then opposed to now.
If you cook something on Saturday and leave it out for Sunday you probably wouldn’t be able to eat it; but the food preserved its own self. It took care of whatever would preserve it; it had it already in the food, you know. I remember us having a refrigerator but it was an icebox. And we had cows and we milked our own cows. We had our own butter and we had a spring. And when we had to put milk in the refrigerator or when they had to put milk on the cooler you’d take it and put it in the spring and you’d put your butter in the spring and then when you got ready for it you’d just go down there and take it out and bring it home. Nothing bothered it because you always put it in a jar or put the butter in a box of—it was like a steel box and you’d just put your butter in there. You submerged it in the water about halfway and that’s what kept it.
The water in the spring was colder than any water you can get out of the refrigerator.
Did you ever make that butter at home?
We did. We had a churn. When we’d milk the cows she would strain it and you didn't have to pasteurize anything. She just strained the milk and she would put it in a jar and leave it sitting out. And then all the cream would come to the top and the cream is what you made the butter out of. You had a churn. It was like a—it wasn’t porcelain. What is that stuff?
Ceramics, it was like a ceramic thing with a wooden dash. The dash was made like a cross but it was middle waist. It made it like it was like a four-sided thing. And they had a handle on it, and the lid on the churn had a hole in it—in the lid; so you would just take that and just keep, you know, pumping it until the butter came to the top of the milk.
Right. And then you had buttermilk. You took the butter off and then you had buttermilk.
How does that buttermilk work? I’ve always been interested in how you make buttermilk.
Well that’s how you make buttermilk. When you set the milk up for the cream to come to the top then you pour the milk in the churn and when you dashed it, they called it a dash. When you dashed it, the butter would come to the top and what was under the bottom was to be the buttermilk. It made the butter and the buttermilk at the same time.
And then we used to make cottage cheese. If you let the milk set out and let it clabber all you got to do is put it in—we put it in like a cheesecloth; you put it in cheesecloth and put it in a big pot of hot water on the stove and it would make cottage cheese.
So I’m interested when you were growing up how did your mother’s cooking or your father’s cooking influence you?
Well my father couldn’t cook but my mother cooked all the time. She would make breakfast in the morning and she would make more than one thing. We’d have sausage, ham, bacon, eggs and hash browns and we didn't eat toast; we ate biscuits. She made her own biscuits. And we would take that to school for lunch, you know, like we’d take sausage biscuits or ham biscuits to school.
We always had good food and the other kids that came to school, that didn't live on a farm, would want our lunch but we didn't know that they wanted our lunch. We just thought they were being mean but they wanted our lunch because we had the best of all of them, you know. [Laughs]
And when we first started school we didn't have a cafeteria. You had to take your lunch. Everybody had to take their lunch to school. And but it was fun; it was a lot of fun. And she made apple turnovers for us to take to lunch and she would give us something every day for dessert in our lunch for school.
Where did your family vend the foods that they were making at the farm or growing at the farm? Were there markets then or did people come to the farm to get their produce?
No, they didn't market it. What we raised, we raised for ourselves. We raised tobacco and we raised cotton. That’s what you sold but the food that we raised on the farm for the gardens we did that for ourselves. And every once in a while somebody would come and get some vegetables but most of the time when people came to get vegetables or fruit or anything they didn't charge them for it. They just gave it to them. You know, everybody shared something. You know, if you had something that I didn't have you would give me some of what you got and if I had something you didn't have I would give you, you know. We would trade, you know.
And that’s what they used to call trade. That’s what they did, you know.
When did you become interested in returning to baking and baking as part of your career?
Well what had happened, my father got sick and he was sick for probably about a year or so. And he passed and we used to go to the hospital to see him all the time. And when he passed it seemed like I didn't have anything to do. And I was trying to find something fill that void like, you know, my mother was still living but she didn't really need that much, you know, because she was still able to take care of herself.
I called the Carrboro Town Hall and they told me who the Manager was of the Farmers’ Market. So I called him and he told me, you know, what to do to get in the Market and I did that. And his name was Mr. Chester Copeland and that was the first manager I knew [Interviewer's note: William Chester Copeland]. And the Market—if I’m not mistaken, I think it was on Carr Street up by the Fish Market. And so anyway, I started over there and, like I said, I was over there for a long time and it just started growing.
I was doing it just to have something to do. And then it just turned out that everybody liked what I was doing just to have something to do [Laughs] and it just got bigger and bigger and bigger and, you know, and it’s to the point now where I’ve got about as much as I can do. [Laughs] So it’s been fun; it’s been a lot of fun. The customers at the Market are different than—they’re the same customers that go in the grocery store and it’s a lot of difference in attitude and the personalities and it’s being outside I think give people the freedom of being just feeling free, you know.
But if you go in the grocery store and you see that same person in line they’re in a hurry to get out and everything is going wrong and they don’t see people like they see them out here, you know. And when they shop at the Market they go from here, they shop—and they might come here and buy something; they take it to the car. They come back and buy something else and they take that to the car. And they just walk like that all the time.
In the grocery store you cram all you can cram in the basket and then you have a hard time—you don’t have the luxury of somebody taking the groceries to the car and helping you put it in and you have to do that yourself. They do the same thing out here. They do it their self but they got people to help them. If they need something, they got people to help them to take it to the car. But it’s just so much fun. It looks like everybody meets their friends out here. And everybody is friends to everybody, you know, so—.
Where did you learn how to bake or who inspired you?
My mother did. She baked—like I said, she cooked three full meals a day. Lunch was like what people serve for dinner now. She would make that for lunch. She had a full course meal. Every time cooked she had a full course meal and she cooked everything from scratch.
What we would do in the morning when we were out of school in the summer, we’d go to the garden and get all the vegetables that she was going to cook for the day and we’d bring them home. I would say if we were having lima beans we’d sit and shell lima beans. If we had okra, potatoes, we’d dig the potatoes and bring those and she’d cook the potatoes—whatever we had, that’s what we would do. We had all that for lunch. Everything we had was basically fresh. We didn't have anything in the can except what we canned ourselves.
They used to have a place up at White Cross called the Cannery and they canned it in tin cans just like you see in the grocery store but you just—they didn't have labels to go on them. We just had to write on top of the can. So we would go up there and like if we was canning peaches we’d just take peaches and we’d take bushels of peaches up there and we would probably can all day. And just write peaches on the top of the can. If we had apples we’d do the same thing. If you had sausage you’d do the same thing. You’d take the sausage up there and put it in the can and put it in the—they had like a big vat and you’d put the cans down in there and it took so much time to cook. And everything that we had—we had a basement and we had a pyramid downstairs. I can't tell you how big it was but it was a pyramid of nothing but just canned meat, canned fruit, canned vegetables—everything and we canned it ourselves. We started canning in the tin cans was after we had canned in glass cans before—you know, glass jars before then and when the cannery opened then that’s when we started canning in the tin cans because it was a lot faster; It was a lot faster, so—.
And was the growing season similar to what it is now? Did you grow all year long?
Ah well there’s some things you can grow in the wintertime but some things you can't. And we grew everything in the spring and the summer and that’s what we did. We canned in the summer whenever the vegetables and stuff came in so you didn't have to grow anything in the wintertime except that you could plant a turnip green salad or turnip green patch or either you could plant collard greens or stuff like that—would take part of the winter, you know.
And it had to be awful cold to kill a turnip green patch or mustard, whatever greens that you planted. It would have to be awful cold for it to kill that. And then in the spring if it killed it, that stuff would voluntarily come back up itself, you know. So like I said, we had plenty of everything.
When you were bringing back baking and decided to do this did you ask your mother how she baked? How did you get the knowledge; or did it come in recipe form? How did you actually pull that knowledge from your mother?
Well for one thing we watched what she did and she had recipes but she didn't go by the recipes—like I don’t go by no recipe now. I can make a cake without a recipe. I just know how much stuff to put in it; you know. But we had a lot of fruit. We had a lot of fruit. My mother used to make a lot of fruit pies. And she’d make peach, apple, blueberry, strawberry; we raised all that—not blueberries, we raised blackberries—all that stuff, and the blackberries grew wild. All you had to do was go out somewhere; it was blackberries everywhere you went. It was a blackberry patch somewhere and you could get enough blackberries to last you for a year because all you had to do was go wherever it was and pick them at the end of a field where we had tobacco. It was a blackberry vine and it grew blackberries and every year it would get bigger.
And we had like plum trees. We had apple trees, pear trees; all that stuff grew when we were growing up; that’s what we had. And like I said, the only thing we had to go to the grocery store for was condiments. You had to buy your sugar, your salt, your pepper and stuff like that. We even had our own flour made, our own flour and our own cornmeal. See, my father raised wheat and he raised corn and he would take it to the mill and get it processed and he could get it made. You could get self-rising or you could get the plain and you’d do the same thing with the cornmeal. And it was put in like fifty-pound bags. And you’d just bring it in and you’d have someplace to store it, you know. [Laughs]
When you first came to the Market the one that you believed was on Carr Street, did you face any challenges when you first started at the Market? Was there anything in particular that you faced as a challenge?
No, not really. See, if you’re a new person on the block it takes people a little while to get used to you. Not the vendors. I didn't have no trouble with the vendors. And didn't have no trouble with the customers, but people have to get used to what you got. You know, you wouldn’t go to the Market and expect to do what I do, you know, because people know what they’re looking for. And I don’t have to tell them what they want; they already know what they want because they’ve had it.
But you have to give them time to decide or to sample—to know what it is that you’re selling in order for them to like it, you know. And it’ll sell itself; you don’t have to push anything on anybody. It’ll sell itself. [Background Noise—oh the little pies look good.] See, she knows what she wants. You got a customer walk up and they tell you what they want because they’ve had it already, so—.
What kinds of products do you sell?
Okay. I make pound cakes and that’s basically what I bring to the Market and I make pies. I make whatever people order. They can order some of the stuff that I don’t bring to the Market. I make layer cakes. I make coconut, pineapple, German chocolate [Laughs], red velvet but you have to order those because this is not something that I bake and bring to the Market to sell on Saturday.
If you make a fresh coconut cake you don’t want that to sit out in the sun. That needs to be picked up and carried home and put in your refrigerator. The same thing with pineapple; anything that’s a layer cake other than caramel and chocolate needs to go in the refrigerator and if I made something with cream cheese like a cream cheese like a cheesecake that needs to go in the refrigerator. You know, that needs to go in the refrigerator. You can't let that stay out and get hot. So, usually when people order that they come and pick it up.
I can either bring it to the Market or they come to my house and pick it up. And just the normal; I bring the same stuff every week because people want that. That’s what they want, so you don’t change what they want. What they like you don’t change it. The only time you need to change that is when they decide that you need to change. They don’t tell you they decided that they didn't want that. You just know how your sales are going. And if your sales fall you know that they want something different, you know.
But so far they decided that they wanted me to change it. They keep telling me don’t change it; don’t change it, so—. [Laughs]
What is your most popular item here?
The pound cakes are the most popular one, I have to say. I got small, you know, like little small pies; people like to walk around and eat something while they’re shopping; and I make apple turnovers and I make brownies. I make like I said the little pies, sweet potato and pecan, the same thing I make the big ones.
And I’ve started selling cake by the slice because people are always asking, "Well, can I get it by the slice?" So I’ve started selling it by the slice and it’s going pretty good too.
Can you tell me a little bit about how you make for example a coconut layer cake? Can you talk about the more kind of elaborate process of doing that?
Well for one thing you got a recipe for a layer cake—it’s three layers. And when you make your batter up you have to do the same thing you do with a pound cake pan but you have to have three pans.
So you make your icing after you put it in the stove, you cook it, make your icing and I grind my coconut. I get fresh coconut and I have to, you know, crack that, peel it, grind it up. And so, when you do that that’s a long process, and when you icing your cake you got all your ingredients ready. Your coconut is ready to go on. When I get pineapple I like chop my pineapple and make it not chunks but crushed pineapple. And I use that. You make them basically all the same way. And when you make a German chocolate cake, you know, you got to put your German chocolate—it’s all layer cakes. And like I said it’s three pans. It’s a lot more work. It’s a lot of work and but people order that around Thanksgiving and Christmas time.
I was wondering, why do you think it’s important to make these cakes from scratch, to actually make the pineapple, you know, grind that yourself?
It’s the people—it’s a lost art. That’s the way people used to bake like that a long time ago. And nobody is teaching their kids to do this. The people that got kids now didn't learn it from their parents, so they don’t know how to do it. So they go to the grocery store and get it but they really don’t like it but this is the best that they can do.
But I think everybody should teach their kids how to bake or cook. You need to teach them how to cook and if you give them a recipe and let them try it, if it don’t come out right the first time you just have to keep trying it. That’s how you learn how to do things. You learn what your mistakes are.
If we’re thinking about the Market, what do you like most about the Carrboro Farmers’ Market?
I like the attitude of the people—the customers that come out here and the vendors too. Everybody has got a different attitude than they do if they’re someplace else doing other things, you know. If they’re not having fun someplace it's—you got your mind on going in the grocery store, rushing to get out; you know, or whatever it is, everything is in a hurry. And this is the only place that I know people can come and stay all morning and not be in no hurry.
Now some people are in a hurry but they’re happy with what they get so they’re not unhappy. You know, their attitude is, you know, that if it lasted all day like that it would be good. [Laughs]
How would you describe the community among the farmers and the vendors here because you’re stationed next to the same people every week, right?
Yeah. Uh-huh. Well what happened is that none of us are doing the same thing so you don’t have no competition. Nobody out here in competition with others; this is the way I see it. Now I don’t know how they feel. But I’m not in competition with anybody out here because he’s doing one thing and I’m doing something else; and if he was doing the same thing I was doing, his still wouldn’t taste like what I make. Everybody have their own way of doing things. It was three of us vendors out here that basically made the same thing but every one of us had different recipes. And somebody said that they wanted to write a book on how good we got along because it was almost like it was competition. I said, "We don’t have no competition; it’s enough out here for everybody." It’s people that bought stuff from them that didn't like what I made. It was people that bought stuff from me that didn't like what they made.
Everybody don’t like the same thing, you know, so you got your going to get your share and they’re going to get their share. You can't live in this world not wanting to work together or let everybody have their own share; and like I said, it all depends on your attitude. I’m not out here to take anything away from anybody. And I’m not out here to sell you nothing you don’t want. You know, but I’m happy. [Laughs]
And we got along really good. I’m just sorry they left because one of them got sick and she had to leave and the other one, you know, she retired because her brother came to live with her and she wanted to take care of him. But we had a ball. We’d go to lunch together sometimes after the Market and just do things, you know. Life is sweet if you live it the right way.
How has the Farmers’ Market changed since you have worked here?
Well they got a lot more young people and it’s good because there’s still farmers, you know. We still are getting farmers and we’re losing a lot of our—lost a lot of art and heritage. And if the younger people don’t do it then we won't have anybody. And it’s just good to see that they’re that interested. And they’re really farming too. I don’t even think half of the farmers out here work—I mean have another job. I don’t think they do.
But they’re really interested in what they do. And they’re interested in having the best stuff and they got a lot of new products that’s out and that I don’t know if they cross breed a lot of new stuff, or what, you know but it’s really interesting to see them do it.
Now do you have your own vegetable garden at home or do you grow any of your own vegetables now?
No, because I’m so busy baking, I don’t have time. That takes all my time. The vegetables that I get are from the Market because you have got a lot of good vegetable growers so you don’t have to worry about what you got or where you get it from because it's all local, you know.
And when do you normally bake all of these goods and where do you bake them?
I bake at home and I start on Wednesday and I bake Wednesday, Thursday, and Friday. I make cakes Wednesday and Thursday and I make pies on Friday.
Do you have any family members helping you here at the Farmers’ Market?
Well my nephew; he comes every Saturday and he's thirteen years old and he can set this market up as good as I can. He can do all the things that I can do except for drive. And I can't wait until he gets to the right age that he can come to the Market by his self. If he could drive he could come to the Market by his self and set this whole thing up; and set it up just like I do.
And before we conclude this interview I just wanted to ask is there anything else that you’d like to talk about or anything that I forgot to ask you? You’re feeling good about it. Well thank you so much, Louise. We really appreciate your participation in this Oral History Project and I guess this will conclude our interview at the Farmers’ Market.
Well thank you. [Laughs]
To download the entire transcript in PDF form, please click here.