Making scones in Shirley Jackson’s house | Local News
NORTH BENNINGTON – The scent hits you the second you enter the original arched doorway, a deadly combination of maple sugar and butter, maybe toasted almonds too…and maybe a faint hint of gothic horror.
It’s North Bennington’s new pop-up venture set in the historic home of one of southern Vermont’s most famous residents, writer Shirley Jackson. The smell of freshly baked scones and pastries fills the Victorian Gothic house at 66 Main St., the site of Moon Scones. This new local bakery specializes in all scone, with a side of Italian baking and Vermont literary history.
“To tell you the truth, it was wonderful,” says Wendy June Marie, owner and pastry chef of Moon Scones. Wendy grew up in Chicago smelling the freshly baked breads and pastries of her Italian immigrant grandfather.
“Pastry has always been an integral part of my life as far as my family is concerned because I was acculturated Italian,” she said with a broad smile. “I don’t look Italian, do I?” »
Wendy grew up with Italian Easter, Italian Christmas and Italian Thanksgiving. She’s a third-generation Italian-American. His grandfather came from Cosenza, Calabria, when he was 13, baking simple peasant bread and sharing it with the community.
“His bread is the kind of bread I aspire to make… simple, rustic bread,” Wendy says. “I just loved it. He was making 10 loaves a day. He had his little handkerchief on his head, his T-shirt and his jeans, and a little apron. He was walking down the street with big tomatoes and loaves of bread and gave them to all the neighbors. I just thought that was the most interesting thing.
Wendy was also influenced by her mother, a recipe tester for Quaker Oats.
“She was basically working on it when I was about nine years old. And she’d come home, and she’d talk to me about all these ways, like, ‘Oh, Wendy, when you’re measuring your food, you should use a scale, and when you do that, you should bend over to make sure it’s on the right line.
How Wendy ended up here in Vermont is worthy of a Shirley Jackson novel. She graduated from Loyola University in Baltimore with a teaching degree and moved around a lot due to her marriage to a federal government employee.
“I always had a hard time finding work as a teacher no matter where we were,” Wendy said. “I taught in many places, even at the village school. I have taught in many places in Virginia, Burlington, Danville and St. Johnsbury. I had a wonderful time.”
Her marriage ended in 2016, and with her two children already in college, Wendy decided to pursue her dream of leaving the United States for a teaching opportunity. She ended up in Seoul, South Korea.
“I’ve always wanted to teach abroad,” says Wendy. “It was the perfect time to go. I wanted this experience because I felt like it would give me something that I hadn’t had before. I’m always looking for ways to learn more. It was funny because I had applied for two jobs in DC because I was living in Arlington, Virginia at the time, teaching and applying to private schools in Arlington. I also applied for a job in Dubai and another in Seoul. I had so many connections to Seoul through people I already knew that seemed to make the most sense. When I got the four jobs, my kids said to me, “Of course you’re going overseas.” It was quite fun. They visited me there. I taught in Korea for about a year and a half, then moved back to Vermont to teach.
And then COVID hit.
“I took a home office job as a telecommuter for an education company. It was convenient for many reasons, but it didn’t give me the creative outlet I wanted. I was trying to find a way to do something different. Growing up, I wanted to be a writer like Shirley Jackson. I planned to put it together with my writing and organize it all, blah, blah, blah. I went on vacation in Europe to visit a friend I had met in Korea.
The day she returned home, she received a summons to attend a Zoom meeting with her company.
“They’re asking everyone to come to this Zoom meeting, and it’s like you’d imagine, hundreds of us are all looking at each other on the Zoom screen, and it was a layoff, thousands people were fired directly on the Zoom Meeting. And I felt so bad. Because, you know, I was just watching these women, young moms, this is the job they have because of the pandemic, and now they have to find stuff, find child care, transportation. It was horrible.”
“And then, the Tuesday before Thanksgiving, we had a roaring fire. The whole fire department came out, knocked things down the chimney and took the temperature from the walls. I was nervous. And he said, ‘Why don’t you make scones? It always makes you feel better when cooking. I did, and it worked. I walked into the kitchen and started making scones for the firefighters while they tried to find a way to put out the fire. I was able to focus enough on the stones to calm myself down.
“It was a Tuesday. The next day I woke up knowing I had to do something. I knew I had to make a change in my life. From the beginning, I was collecting information, attending workshops and trying to educate myself on what to do. I discover it gradually. I get severance pay from this company. Why not take the next few months and see how it goes?
“I wanted to model the business on baking as much as I wanted and then shut down after it was all sold out. I love this model. I decided to try it on Saturday. So that’s what I decided on Wednesday. And I didn’t think anything would happen. I started this following Saturday, Small Business Saturday, so I had three days to get together and be able to pitch something to sell to people by Saturday, and I did that right here on the porch.
Wendy caught wind of her new venture via Facebook and Instagram for the first few days. She also used a site called “Front Porch Forum”, which provides information on upcoming local events. Part of the message spread revolved around Wendy donating scones to more than 50 businesses in town.
“I did this campaign that I called ‘everyone is talking’. I would take these scones to different businesses. People were like, “Wait, I’m going to get my boss”, and I was like, “No, no, no, no, you don’t have to take your boss”. You can keep them. All I want is for you to taste them and talk about them if you want. They loved it. I didn’t ask them anything. In fact, I did very well. I did all the remaining Saturdays until Christmas. I felt amazed, humbled by everyone who showed up.
Wendy also brought people to her door who weren’t necessarily looking for good scones. They were what she calls “Shirley People”.
“These people follow me on Instagram because they know I live in Shirley Jackson’s house. They are interested in the restoration of the house and the work I do here. From time to time I will post pictures, fixing that closet or the wallpaper we chose, that sort of thing.
“I thought I’d start with the scones because it’s something I like to do. I hate to say it out loud, but I’m good at it. I feel confident about this. If there can be a shop dedicated to bagels, a shop dedicated to donuts, and I thought if there could be a shop dedicated only to macarons, there could be a shop dedicated only to scones, delicious scones.
Moon Scones uses no cane sugar, only locally sourced maple sugar from Glastenview. She uses only King Arthur flours, Cabot butter and dairy products from Battenkill Creamery in Salem, New York. She also used berries and herbs from a garden that dates back to the Jackson family.
“I also have my old garden, about 13 blueberries and 100 strawberry plants. I also have a bunch of herbs.
Moon Scones has also started introducing other products, Italian pastries that are a nod to her Italian ancestry. She also makes chocolate truffles which she calls Stella Tartufo, which means star truffle. She also offers vegan and gluten-free options for people who call ahead and pre-order.
Moon Scones is soon applying for Certified Home Baker Kitchen status. She has already started talking about repairing the rear service quarters in preparation for a real commercial kitchen as part of an Airbnb project of Shirley Jackson’s house.
“I think it’s important that I stay here,” Wendy says of the Jackson home. “I think it’s because of this connection with Shirley Jackson. It just makes sense. I’m going to cook breakfast for the people who stay here. People come partly for her. She wrote ‘Raising Demons’ here in this upstairs bedroom. This book is about this house. The cover has a picture of the outside. It’s not just about my scones. It’s also about people who are interested in the house.
But the amazing melt-in-your-mouth scones don’t hurt.
“It would be amazing to give people something so wonderful that they would look forward to Saturday,” Wendy says. “It’s really humbling to hear people talk about what you do, because it’s a part of you. Most people don’t really think about cooking like that, giving pleasure in such a simple way.
Wendy still misses teaching, but she felt it was time to move on.
“I think it’s something new for me to stretch and have no limits, expanding not just physically into space, but my line of what I could do. I have to elsewhere took a pastry course in Paris.I have a recipe for croissants, hoping to incorporate them in the spring.
“It’s a small business,” says Wendy. “I think it’s important to try to support as many local people as possible. That’s why I go to Battenkill Creamery. That’s why I go to Glastenview Maple Farm. It’s a big problem. I feel very settled now. Once installed, you finally know who you are. It feels good. He feels good. It’s really nice to have no restrictions on what you can do. I guess I should have started this a long time ago.
She’s here now, right in North Bennington. Follow your nose to Shirley Jackson’s house.
Moon Scones sells her baked goods right from Shirley Jackson’s porch at 66 Main St. most weekends. It will extend its days to Saturdays and Sundays in the spring. For more information or to pre-order, visit the Facebook and Instagram pages @moonsconesvt or send an e-mail [email protected].
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