Karen Gilliard has been fascinated by baking ever since she was a little girl helping her grandmother in the family kitchen. Now the bakery kitchen and the customers at Friesen’s get the benefit of her experience and enthusiasm.
“We inherited Karen when we took over the restaurant and bakery part of the business in April and we couldn’t be happier to have her as an employee and a friend,” said Allison Kooijman. She and her husband, Steve, a Red Seal Chef, have kept the menu favourites and added their own flavours, along with continually trying out new ideas. What works, stays, and when something is not popular with customers, well, there are always lots more things to try. Suggestions from customers are always welcome.
Marion and Ed Friesen, who started the business, still run the farm part of the business, with son Lowell Friesen in charge of canning. The restaurant features other local items that can’t be produced on the farm, from honey to art.
“When we met Karen, we noticed she had an affinity for baking and she could do everything. Once, she made 30 sandwiches in half an hour when we got a last minute take-out order. She pours her love into her work. We have been able to add cakes, napoleons and florentines and other pastry. We’ve discovered there are a lot of people who like to come in just for dessert,” said Kooijman. “Karen loves her job and she brings so much experience from home. She had not worked outside the home until the last few years so I don’t think she realized how much talent she has to offer. Maybe women who have not worked outside home don’t know how much they know.”
Gilliard, who married during her Grade 12 year of school, had always baked for family and friends. Many people in the area have probably tasted her goodies, as she is a longtime member of the Catholic Women’s League and contributes to bake sales.
“I always wanted a pantry fully stocked with everything I would ever need for baking and now I have it here, all the best traditional ingredients so I can bake from scratch. It’s a real dream for me,” said Gilliard.
Some days, the dream starts at 3:30 a.m. with a to-do list that could include five different kinds of bread, cinnamon buns, pies, cheese bagels, carrot cake and whatever fancy pastries she wants to make.
“I just love the people here. Allison and Steve are like a couple of extra kids for me and their girls are two more grandchildren. Jaryn (11) helps decorate the cookies, and Layla, who’s five, likes to come out and chat to customers if they look lonely. The customers like that,” said Gilliard, whose husband, Moe, sometimes comes along to help out around the place when he’s needed. He has been known to comment that he has to come to the restaurant to get some of his favourite home baking now.
“It was great to have my 60th birthday party here on September 26 and see all my family and friends. I say I’m going to be here until I’m 80. I’m lucky to be here and there’s still so much to do. People should be able to enjoy dessert, just in moderation, like everything else,” said Gilliard, who shares a favourite family recipe that she makes for the bakery:
Almond Butter Cake
2 cups all-purpose flour
1 cup granulated sugar
1 cup butter (no substitutes, please!)
1 tsp. almond flavouring
1 tsp. baking powder.
Cream butter and sugar, add egg and mix. Then add flour, baking powder and almond flavouring. Mix well. Pat into 8” pie plate.
Brush with heavy cream and sprinkle with sliced almonds.
Bake at 360 degrees F until light golden. When cool, slice and enjoy.