Family traditions served up at Bakers & Co.
By Leigh Glenn, Photography by Sarah Culver
What would Christmas be without food that connects us more deeply with our family and even our ancestors? For Lucy Montgomery and Chris Simmons—spouses, bakers and owners of Bakers & Co. in Annapolis’ Eastport neighborhood—that special food is Christmas pudding. How it came to be featured as a holiday staple at Bakers & Co. is a tale that wends its way from England through Jamaica and from the U.S. Midwest to Annapolis.
As children, Lucy and Chris were exposed to different cultures and foodways. Chris’ father was an art history professor and Peace Corps director and the family lived in northern England and Tunisia; Lucy’s parents, both British, were theater designers who worked in the Caribbean and gave birth to her in Kingston, Jamaica. The family eventually left Jamaica for upstate New York, where Lucy’s father got a teaching position.
Both Lucy and Chris have fond memories of what they loved to eat as children. At a rest stop in France, a young Chris Simmons found some francs under a table and was allowed to buy whatever he wanted with his windfall. He chose a baguette—not candy–that he got to eat all himself. Lucy loved the street food in Kingston, including Jamaican patties (like Cornish pasties, but with turmeric in the dough and a filling of curried beef, onions and carrots) and fried fish and bammie (cassava).
The couple met at St. John’s College and shared a passion for travel and cooking; they might have fallen in love baking and cooking together. But at holiday time, they found that both of their families had strong Christmas pudding traditions. Lucy’s Granny Mary would smuggle her Christmas pudding and Christmas cake into Jamaica while Chris’ grandmother Fern, whose parents emigrated from England to settle in Springfield, Missouri, passed her recipe along to Chris’ father, who made the pudding no matter where the family was living.
So their first Christmas together, Lucy and Chris held a friendly competition to see whose Christmas pudding was tastier. Both puddings blended dried fruits and spices, so one can imagine the scent in that kitchen where the dueling puddings were being steamed. Granny Mary’s pudding was made with suet while Grandma Fern’s was not. Lucy had to admit Grandma Fern’s was the tastier, with a lighter, though still rich, flavor. So it is Fern’s pudding that reigns supreme at Bakers & Co.
In 2007, Lucy began baking bread at home. Her “wonderful and eccentric English aunt” challenged her to sell bread at the local farmers market on Saturdays. She and Chris—both self-taught bakers, except for a class Chris took at King Arthur Flour in Vermont—snagged a coveted spot at the Anne Arundel County Farmers Market. They worked hard to show up the first time with about two dozen loaves—instant sell-outs. It dawned on them: They’d have to do it all over again the next week. The following year, they added pastries and other items—including their Christmas pudding.
As demand for their breads and pastries ramped up, they needed a larger baking space than their home kitchen and wanted a space that would foster community. The stone building at the corner of Burnside and Chesapeake streets in Eastport, originally built and run as a grocery by the Rodowsky family, became available and they opened in 2012.
With space constraints, baking at the store is an eternal dance, Lucy says, especially on “Stir-up Sunday,” the traditional day many British bakers make Christmas pudding. By then, the chopped-up, dried fruits have been soaking in brandy for a few weeks and it’s time to mix the batter—the heaviest for the team at Bakers & Co.
From there, they scoop the pudding into pudding basins—special bowls created by another Annapolis wife-and-husband team, Printemps Pottery’s Nevan and Doug Wise, who Lucy met at the farmers market in her early days of selling. She loved the richness of Nevan’s glazes and had her create special “pudding basins” with thick walls that could withstand the first cooking and later an afternoon of steaming in a saucepan. Customers who are hooked can also return their Bakers & Co. bowls to be refilled the next season.
On Christmas Day, the pudding basin is wrapped in foil to prevent water intrusion during steaming, which takes about an hour. The hot pudding is then flipped onto a serving plate and the brandy heated in a ladle over a candle to “flame” the pudding. A brandy butter hard sauce comes next and “a dollop of whipped cream … for blithe abandon,” says Lucy. The Bakers & Co. puddings come with instructions on prepping the pudding and making the hard sauce.
By the time Christmas Eve rolls around, Lucy is ready for “Bun”—Jamaican Spice Bun, a malted treat she makes with Caribbean stout and that she enjoys with award-winning cheddar cheese from local cheesemaker P.A. Bowen Farmstand, and a nice glass of wine, all to accompany the wrapping of presents.
Bakers & Co. begins taking Christmas pudding orders the weekend after Thanksgiving. Starting December 1, puddings may also be purchased at the store, 618 Chesapeake Ave., Annapolis, MD 21403, 410-280-1119, or at the Anne Arundel County Farmers Market, 275 Truman Parkway, Annapolis, MD, and Saturdays, 7am–noon. Supplies of pudding are limited; Jamaica Spice Bun will be available during December.