By Dianne Frances D. Powell
The Tribune-Star, Terre Haute, Ind.
As she gently formed a round sourdough, Marta Shelton seemed to hold her dreams in the palm of her hands.
“To me, it’s just beautiful,” she said of the dough she was holding, and that is something that could also be said about a recent milestone.
Dreams were realized Saturday when Marta and her daughter, Amelia Vallely-Compton, opened the doors to their joint venture, Harvest Bakery.
Although the mother-daughter duo have been selling baked goods from the storefront since November 2013, Saturday was the first time they sold goods that were baked at the newly renovated kitchen in the storefront located at 905 S. 25th St. in Terre Haute.
The bakery and its bread are all made with love.
“You put your passion and love to it, but it doesn’t stay there,” Shelton said as she scaled bread Thursday in preparation for the opening. “It’s a gift given” and shared with her customers, her daughter and granddaughter, Cece.
“This is a gift to her [Amelia] and she’s gonna have to pass it on to Cece,” 60-year-old Marta, who is mother to five children, said.
The 16-month old Cece happily played in the kitchen Thursday, as the two older women shared their early baking experiences.
Amelia, now 25, has memories of helping her mother with baking “ever since I was very, very young.”
She used to say that when she grows up, she wants to be a baker.
“I’ve always had a dream,” Amelia said.
In following their shared dream, mother and daughter briefly studied at Apicius in Florence, Italy, making trips in 2006 and 2007. The plan for a bakery was conceived in 2006 after returning home. They studied breads, pastries, dessert and cake decorating. With a smile, Amelia described one particular class, the chocolates class, as “pretty fun.”
While Marta handles most of the bread baking, Amelia does the desserts, cakes and even wedding cakes. Amelia particularly enjoys the icing work and “the beauty that it can create,” she said.
When asked about the experience in Italy, Marta simply described herself and her daughter as “outstanding students,” followed by a big laugh. “It took both of us” to get around the city and communicate in Italian, but “between the two of us, somehow, we did it,” Marta said.
Although they sometimes have differences of opinion, they also learn from each other.
“I feel like we do make a fantastic team,” Marta said.
And working with her daughter is “everything,” Marta said, as tears of joy started to flow from her eyes. “I couldn’t do without her. I wouldn’t want to.”
Harvest Bakery started as a breadshare. Later, Marta and Amelia began taking orders. They have been selling their baked goods at the Downtown Terre Haute Farmer’s Market for six years. Before the completion of the kitchen renovation at the storefront, the baking had been done in a licensed kitchen at their home.
During lunch Saturday, another mother-daughter duo, Cathie Laska and daughter Sarah, sat inside Harvest Bakery and expressed happiness for Marta and Amelia. “We come here together often,” Cathie Laska said of the Harvest Bakery. “It’s just a nice place to visit.”
Laska said they have been customers for five years and a big fan of Marta at the Farmer’s Market. They enjoy the bread and the “delicious soups.”
“She makes the best breads,” Laska said.
The bakery uses organic and locally grown ingredients when possible, including produce from Marta’s own garden.
The breads go through a slow fermentation process — each one taking two to three days to make, Marta said. The sourdough starter was begun in 2007 with grapes harvested that year.
What makes the bread special, Marta said, is the wild yeast in the Wabash Valley.
“Luckily, these wild yeast taste good,” she added, explaining that some wild yeasts are just not tasty.
Among the popular items are loaves of sourdough, white, whole wheat and seed bread.
Another regular customer, Mathea Tanner, said her favorites are the rye bread, oatmeal cookies and English muffins. She also likes “the little surprises.”
“There’s always something unexpected and special,” Tanner, who also appreciates Marta’s slow fermentation process, said. She said many large and well-known bakeries do not use the same process.
“Here we got it in Terre Haute, and it’s really special,” Tanner said.
Other offerings, mostly available for pre-ordering, include flat breads, calzones and homemade soups.
Marta and Amelia’s big dreams continue with plans of adding ice cream to the menu and a lunch carry out in the future.
They also have plans for the side room of the storefront to be a community engagement and children’s room. It already has children’s books and other learning tools. They also hope to use the bakery space for small group meetings and musicians are welcome.
“Hopefully, it will become a gathering place,” Marta said.
Those who gathered Saturday spoke highly of the product.
“We love that the breads are so personal,” Tanner said. “And you can really taste the love she puts into everything,” she added.