Laura Dean Bennett
Harriet Faulknier started her baking career with an Easy-Bake Oven when she was about five years old, and she has never stopped.
She’s always enjoyed cooking and baking, finally turning her talent with food into a business when she opened Harriet & Co. Catering, LLC.
Faulknier grew up on Old Buckeye Road with parents, Bill and Shirley Vrable.
She says she’s always loved the wonderful aromas and the sweet flavors of baking.
“When Mom was baking, I was, too,” Faulknier remembered.
“My mom was an excellent cook, but it was hard to imitate her cooking because she seldom followed a recipe – like a lot of ladies back then, she made things by instinct.
“She was very creative – often adding a little of this or a bit more of that – and I guess I’m the same way.
“I loved her scalloped potatoes. They were the best. I think the secret might have been the evaporated milk and butter.
“And she made wonderful pork barbecue,” she added.
“She worked at a restaurant called Sis’s on Beard Heights. They were famous for their pizza and barbecue, so Mom was pretty good at making those.
“She gave me the ‘recipes’ for both – but her recipes were just a list of ingredients, no amounts and few instructions.” Faulknier explained.
One of the first memories of her mother’s baking are of her wonderful applesauce cake.
“I remember getting off the school bus and smelling that cake and racing inside to get a piece of it right away.
“When I was a teenager, my mom gave me the greatest gift – she made me a box that contained her recipes on handwritten index cards,” Faulknier recalled.
“She’d taken the time to write them out, as close as she could come, because most of them didn’t have exact amounts for the ingredients, and she included her notes about the recipe – things like, ‘this was your Aunt Mary’s recipe or ‘this was your great-grandmother’s recipe.’
“And she added her baking tips.
“Years later,” Faulknier continued, “she was still adding to the box with recipes she seen in a magazine or a book and liked.
“I really need to get some clear covers for those cards. They’ve been well-used!
“I was in my twenties when my mom kind of turned the baking over to me.
“She’d also let me handle the bigger meals – like the cookouts and the big family dinners.”
Faulknier isn’t the only entrepreneur in the family. Her husband, Richard Faulknier, operates his own excavation business.
They have two sons, 12 year old Carter and eight year old Tyler.
You might think someone as well-versed in cooking and baking might have attended cooking school, but Faulknier’s education was in accounting, after which, she spent 20 years as a secretary in the West Virginia State Police office in Marlinton.
Faulknier started her catering business in 2007 while she was still working there.
“It was pretty difficult working full-time and catering on the side,” she admitted.
She started her business in a regular family-sized kitchen with one stove and one refrigerator.
“When I think back on it now, I wonder how I did it.
“But you just make do,” she said with a smile.
Things are different now.
The business graduated to a separate catering kitchen in its own building, which her dad, Bill Vrable built.
It’s got all the modern conveniences of a professional kitchen, including a three-bowl sink, a hand washing sink, a utility sink, two stoves, two ovens and two fridges.
“I love cooking and baking – especially baking,” Faulknier said. “Catering was a natural choice as a business for me.”
Her first catering job was a friend’s class reunion.
Over the years, she’s catered countless reunions, business lunches, all sizes and styles of weddings and wedding rehearsal dinners, Opera House events, picnics, barbecues and all manner of family gatherings.
Faulknier takes special pride in artistic setups in people’s homes or out at their chosen venue.
“I enjoy the social aspect of it,” she said. “I’ve met so many nice people.”
Having the assistance of her friend, Hannah Jordan, makes it easier.
“Sometimes Hannah goes with me to meet clients and look at the space where we’ll be serving,” Faulknier explained. “While I’m concentrating on the menu and the cooking, Hannah will often handle the set up.
“Then at the event, Hannah’s a lot of help. It often takes two of us to make sure everything goes smoothly.”
Faulknier is quiet and demure, but when it comes to finding the best ingredients, cooking, baking and food presentation, one could say that she has been known to put her foot down.
Nothing less than perfection will do.
“Oh, I don’t know if I’d say I’m a perfectionist – well, maybe a little bit,” she admits.
Faulknier is also known for her artistic table-top displays for her food.
She created a lovely presentation for a midnight buffet for one of the Woman’s Club’s New Year’s Eve dances, for instance.
Faulknier also catered a memorable, intimate supper for Kathy Mattea and her band when the country music star performed at the Opera House in 2019.
“I enjoy figuring what kind of layout will work best for a nice presentation at a party or an event,” Faulknier said.
The chef delivers her creations, not in a van but in her own car – very carefully stacked up to the ceiling.
“And I have to really drive slowly.”
Asked about her most requested catering items, Faulknier says they would probably be her chicken salad on homemade country white bread and her strawberry cake.
The cake is a dreamy confection consisting of four layers of yellow cake, with heavy whipped cream filling and iced with a mixture of whipped cream and cream cheese. And, of course, it is bedecked inside and out with lots of ripe strawberries.
Like most good cooks and handy bakers, Faulknier has a few cookbooks – well, “maybe 30 or 40” she said.
“Some were my mom’s. And I collect recipes as I come across them – mostly for baked goods.”
But she hardly ever uses a recipe as written, preferring to use it as a guide.
“I like to improvise and to be creative. I got that from my mother.
“And I got my sweet tooth from my Grandmother Nuckoles, who lived in Staunton, Virginia,” Faulknier said.
“She made the best three-layer German Chocolate cake in the world.
She made the greatest pound cake, too.”
Faulknier has had years of practice to perfect both, but being the perfectionist she is, she thinks she’s not quite there yet.
“My cousin tells a story about Grandmother Nuckoles and her famous German chocolate cake,” Faulknier recalled.
“Years ago, a young lady had married into the family, and she was, like everyone else, enamored of Grandmother’s German chocolate cake.
“She was so proud to tell everybody that she’d asked for and actually gotten the recipe.
“Well, everyone in the family was shocked and jealous that she’d been given the recipe and they hadn’t.
“When Grandmother Nuckoles was asked about this, she replied, ‘Well, I did give her “a” recipe for German chocolate cake…’
Following her mother’s and grandmother’s example, Harriet is reluctant to part with most of her recipes, but she was talked into sharing a narrative recipe for her four-layer strawberry cake.
“Sometimes my boys show an interest in cooking. They sometimes cook breakfast because breakfast is my least favorite meal to make.
“Richard, likes my cooking, but I have to say that my boys are my harshest critics, especially my oldest son.
“They are extremely honest with their opinions. They keep me on my toes,” Faulknier laughed.
“Tyler is more the foodie of the two, but Carter prefers his food on the basic side.
“Sometimes, one of them will remark on something I make pretty regularly, and if they feel it’s not up to par, they’ll just come right out and say, ‘It’s not as good as last time.’
“Not too long ago I had some bananas and a pineapple, and I just felt like making a four layer hummingbird cake, which, I have to say, turned out beautifully.
“While I was baking it, the boys were all excited and looking forward to trying it.
“I was pretty proud of it, but after they dug in, Carter put his fork down and said, ‘What did you do to it? It would have been fine without the fruit and nuts.’
“But when they give me a compliment, like when they tell me, ‘You’re the best cooker, Mom,’ you can be sure they really mean it.”
Harriet’s Four Layer Strawberry Cake
Harriet uses a yellow cake recipe from The Good Housekeeping Illustrated cookbook and slices the two layers in half to make four layers.
The filling uses four cups fresh strawberries and 2-1/2 cups heavy whipping cream. It has some juice from the chopped berries mixed in to make part of the filling pink and between the center layers, she uses plain whipped cream filling.
The strawberry pieces are placed in the whipped cream filling. After the cake is iced with a mixture of whipped cream and cream cheese, it is refrigerated.
Just before serving, cut the remaining strawberries and use to decorate the cake, with or without a few dribbles of strawberry juice.