It’s hard to believe 21 years have gone by since Patricia “Sister Schubert” Barnes published her first-ever cookbook, Sister Schubert’s Secret Bread Recipes, with Southern Living Books (Oxmoor House, 1994). Since then, the south Alabama native has traveled all over the country, sharing her entrepreneurial story and inspiring other women with her message of self-confidence, determination, and philanthropy. Today, Sister Schubert is answering your holiday questions.
Q: You’re constantly juggling your successful bread company, your philanthropy, your travels, and your family. What’s your advice to other women struggling to manage all the demands on their time during the holidays?
A: First of all, breathe! You can’t bring joy to others if you don’t take care of yourself. Second, focus on your family, not the fuss. I love to bake, but I know that many women don’t. I’ve always thought of my breads as a “shortcut to special” for busy cooks—a way for them to share the warmth of homemade breads even if they’re too busy to bake them from scratch—or just prefer to spend their time in other ways.
Q: Do you think that’s especially true of young cooks?
A: Absolutely. I remember when I was a young mother, raising my children and trying to make a home for my family while starting a new business, there were never enough hours in the day. I find it very rewarding to help that busy mom or young professional experience the satisfaction of baking bread without spending so much time in the kitchen.
Q: Can you share any other shortcuts for the season?
A: I love the South’s fall greenery, especially magnolias. I also love the way neighbors are happy to share floral cuttings with each other. It just adds to that sense of welcome and hospitality that we all yearn for this season. My go-to centerpiece is a clear vase holding a single magnolia blossom, resting in a decorative bowl filled with magnolia leaves. Then I like to spread some greenery across my mantel or bookcase and add a couple of seasonal candles, or maybe scatter some ornaments over the leaves. It’s easy and inexpensive, but it adds warmth and makes my guests feel special.
Q: The Parker House rolls have been a supermarket staple for so long now that many young cooks might not realize there was a time when you weren’t a household name. How did the Sister Schubert brand get started?
A: The original rolls were my great-grandmother’s recipe, which I used to bake and donate to our local church bazaar. The bazaar was a fundraiser, so we would take advance orders for my rolls, and the number of orders kept growing every year. When I finally decided to see if I could start a bread business, I bought my first commercial oven, but it wouldn’t fit in my house, so I had to install it on my back porch. I imagine my neighbors were talking about me, what with that big oven on my porch! Over time, I went from recruiting my children to help me hand out samples at local grocery stores to distributing nationally in major food chains—but it all began with that one recipe, baked in my home kitchen.
Q: So how did you decide on a name for your first product?
A: There’s a simple fold-over technique perfected many years ago by the head chef at Boston’s Parker House Hotel. As I practiced with my great-grandmother’s recipe, I found that this same technique worked best. So I guess you could say “Parker House” was my little tribute to the chef whose technique elevated our family recipe.
Q: You’ve often said that you come from a family of wonderful cooks. With all those cooks and all those family recipes, why did you choose this one—the Parker House roll— to launch your business?
A: There’s just something about homemade bread. It’s simple and basic, made with natural ingredients. Fresh-baked bread makes the people you love feel warm and welcome and appreciated. It’s comfort food, but it also dresses up your table. Put fresh-baked rolls in a pretty basket or a silver bowl lined with a white linen napkin, and you’ve got an occasion.
Q: Since you brought up serving pieces, we’ve heard you set quite a table. Any tips on how to take the stress out of serving a holiday dinner?
A: Since I know I’ll be hosting several gatherings over the holidays, I begin in early November by sorting through favorite serving pieces I’ve collected over the years—from rustic dishes to my grandmother’s heirloom china. As I choose pieces, I’ll place a little Post-It note in the bottom of the dish to indicate which recipe I think would look perfect there. By the time I’m ready to set my table, I’ve already made all of those time-consuming choices. Not only that, but I’ve enjoyed making them because I often invite my grandchildren to help. It gives me a chance to spend quality time with them before the hustle and bustle of our family holiday meal.
Q: What would you say to busy cooks who feel guilty for serving your frozen Parker House rolls instead of making their own from scratch?
A: I would say that we all have our unique gifts. Yours might be decorating a beautiful tree or organizing the church Christmas pageant or making the best cornbread dressing in the neighborhood. My gift is baking bread, so let me share that warmth with you and your family. It’s a shortcut to special from me to you.