Thirty-five years ago, Cathy Carlson was interested in finding a way to provide a second income without having to leave home. She had always enjoyed baking and was fascinated by wedding cakes, so she enrolled in adult education classes through North Iowa Area Community College (NIACC) in Mason City and launched a home-based business.
Today Cathy’s Country Cook’n is known for beautiful wedding cakes, creative birthday cakes and festive cupcakes, as well as other delicious baked goods like cookies, pies and breads. (Side note: I’ve always loved the Spiderman birthday cake that Cathy made years ago for our son. Because it was comprised of individual cupcakes, it was especially easy to serve to kids.)
Cathy’s baking business continues to expand through partnerships with local businesses and consumers. She and her husband, Dennis, about three years ago became charter members of a regional food working group called Healthy Harvest of North Iowa. During the Christmas season, they run a retail store inside Carlson Learning Tree Lodge that features wares from local vendors including homemade jams, jellies, candies, baked goods, sewing items and handcrafted wood items.
During the rest of the year, Carlson’s Learning Tree Lodge has a variety of uses from business retreats and environmental workshops to Girl Scout Day Camp and Vacation Bible School classes. It’s also home base for the many classes that Cathy offers on everything from wreath making to bread baking.
Cathy takes “homemade bread making” to a whole new level by growing her own wheat. Three years ago she and Dennis had the opportunity to purchase an additional five-acre field adjacent to their farm. They were talking about what to plant in that field when Cathy had the idea to try growing wheat.
Although no other farmer in the area raises wheat, that didn’t deter Cathy. She researched what type of wheat could be grown in North Iowa. She also had to find someone to sew it and harvest it since all area farmers are equipped to harvest corn, soybeans and a few oats and alfalfa.
Word soon spread and the Carlson’s neighbors offered their help. One neighboring farmer brought over his drill the first year. Another neighbor with a small combine used for oats said he would be glad to harvest the wheat. A third neighbor offered to window the wheat. Then Cathy learned that Rainbow Feed & Grain in Hampton had an oat-cleaning system that could be used for wheat, too.
In the heart of corn and soybean country, where does one go to process wheat? Cathy searched the Internet and found someone who sold mills in Iowa Falls – only about 20 miles away. Now Cathy is able to grind about 5 pounds of wheat in only 3 minutes right in her kitchen. She usually grinds 40 pounds at a time and then freezes it to bake fresh wheat bread.
Home-ground wheat must to be kept in the freezer because it includes wheat germ, which gets extracted from the wheat flour sold in stores to extend its shelf life. Because wheat germ is a protein source, Cathy’s homemade wheat bread is good source of vitamins and is higher in fiber. She’ll even sell you a bag of wheat flour if you’re interested in baking your own bread.
BAKER’S TIP: Our palettes aren’t used to 100% whole wheat, so Cathy converts recipes by using half white flour and half whole wheat flour. Pure wheat flour doesn’t rise as high as white flour, so Cathy also experiments to see how much I can add to sweet breads and still get a good rise.
Try your hand at baking muffins, wheat bread or rolls at home. Today Cathy is sharing her recipe for “60 Minute Rolls.” If you’re not that confident in your baking abilities, sign up for one of the many classes that Cathy offers.