Laura Dean Bennett
Lots of folks in the Slaty Fork area are well-acquainted with Jo Debra Gandee’s baking prowess.
She’s been baking bread for the Linwood Farmers Market for a while now and is known for her many varieties of bread – French, white, cheddar jalapeno and tomato bread, made with the tomatoes she grows in her high tunnel.
“I really enjoy using fresh, homegrown ingredients in all my cooking,” Gandee said.
“I love bread because it’s so important to people. It’s such a basic part of life – so much a part of life for all of humanity.
“We’ve had bread for thousands of years; ever since people have grown grain.
“I wanted to get good at it because where we live it’s good to be able to grow and raise and make your own food,” she stated.
She likes to experiment with new recipes, and she’s not afraid to branch out and adapt a lot of recipes to her own taste.
“Sometimes I like to add a little something to a recipe to make it my own,” she said.
Gandee’s found a partner in the business of breadmaking – her 36 year old son, Jason Long.
“He’s very competitive with me,” she laughed. “Always has been. If I’m doing something, he wants to do it better. And he usually can.”
Gandee and Long live and work together in the family home at the base of Snowshoe in Linwood.
“Mom and I both like to bake bread,” Long said. “I guess we make it because we love to eat good homemade bread, so we just started making our own.”
Long has worked as a cook, bartender and a server at several Snowshoe restaurants over the past 10 years.
When Covid-19 struck, he decided to take a break from working up at Snowshoe, especially because he was afraid of bringing the virus home to his mom.
And they’ve both been “seriously baking” ever since.
Gandee started concentrating on baking about 2010, learning to make all kinds of breads and baked goods.
She says she’s still trying to perfect yeast breads.
“Yeast breads can be tricky,” she said.
“A lot depends on the weather – the humidity, the time of year.
“Summer or winter makes a difference.”
Mind you, Gandee has pretty high standards and considers anything less than perfection in her bread a failure.
Even after years of experience, she still considers herself a student of bread- making and doesn’t rule out the possibility of a failure every once in a while.
As we spoke, Gandee was making Cider Cheese bread.
“It’s on its first rising in the oven now, and I’m hoping that it’s not going to be a failure,” she said.
“We didn’t start baking bread for the Farmer’s Market until we sold the market at the Exxon at Big Springs.
“My mother started that business years ago and took me in as a partner,” Gandee explained.
“In 2010, after she passed away, we sold the business.
“After that, I worked at Old Spruce in the prep kitchen for a while and I learned a lot,” she continued.
“They assumed I knew how to make potato salad and coleslaw, but I didn’t, so I had to learn how to do that.
“I’d never liked potato salad or coleslaw, so I’d just never learned how to make them.
“It was a good experience for me.
“It was about then that I started really seriously baking. My mom was a great cook and made wonderful bread,” she remembered.
“She could make the best loaf of white bread – just a plain old-fashioned loaf of ‘light bread.’
“It was amazing.
“I loved eating it warm with peanut butter on it,” she said.
“She baked by sight and touch – rarely ever used a recipe – she just knew how the dough should look and feel.
“She taught me a lot about baking.”
From generation to generation, the love of baking and cooking continues to be passed down in the family.
“Jason likes to cook, and he’s good at it,” she said.
“It’s great. He cooks a lot of our meals, so I don’t have to cook as much these days.
“I do a lot of the prep work, but he’s got great knife skills and can cut up vegetables to make them look fancy.
“We have a lot in common. Besides the fact that we both like to cook and bake, we’re also both voracious readers, and we can often share books because we have similar tastes.
“I’m always on the computer,” she said.
“I have Kindle on it and I do my reading on the computer.
“Baking forces me to get away from the computer and do something else,” Gandee laughed.
The two have decided to convert a garage apartment at their home into space for a new business – a drive-thru grocery/delicatessen/bakery.
It’s hard to imagine it will be anything but a huge success.
“We’re getting everything ready for it, and when the virus is under control, we’ll open,” Gandee predicted.
But this time of year while the Linwood Farmer’s Market is in full swing, the mother-son team is up to their loaf pans in the business of baking bread.
The Linwood Farmer’s Market is on Fridays, so on Friday mornings, the kitchen at their house in covered in beautiful loaves of bread in all shapes and sizes.
“We try to have a good variety of breads, and we’ll also do special orders for people,” Gandee said.
She estimates that they make about 15-to-20 loaves a week, plus sweet rolls, blueberry and cherry muffins, cookies, honey cakes, blueberry lemon cakes and cinnamon rolls.
Gandee said Jason’s cinnamon rolls are “simply to die for,” and she likes to make honey, ginger, and lemon cakes as Christmas gifts.
And what bread are they most often eating at home right now?
“Right now, our favorite bread is Bushman’s Bread,” they said.
“It’s a really dense bread, a dark rye like something that we tasted at the Outback Restaurant,” Long explained.
“Like a lot of breads, I think it tastes best hot, fresh from the oven,” Gandee added.
“I found the recipe online and made a few changes.”
They like it with honey butter.
“We whip honey and butter together,” Long said. “It’s just so simple and so delicious.”
Long started taking an interest in cooking when he was a little boy.
“But I guess I started really baking bread when we were living on Vieques Island about nine or ten years ago, and I’ve been baking ever since,” he recalled.
Gandee’s parents, Wallace and Pauline Galford, lived in Linwood where she grew up.
She graduated from Marlinton High School, the last year that the school was open, in 1970 and graduated from West Virginia University with a degree in theatre.
With her quick wit and outgoing personality, it seems natural that she’s always been an entrepreneur, never hesitating to jump into a business venture.
“You’ve got to be willing to take a risk sometimes,” she advised. “If you fail, just get back up and try something else.”
She’s traveled extensively, but she loves life here in Pocahontas County, and she’s happy to have her daughter, Rachel Fanning, and her family living close by.
Fanning has an administrative position up at Snowshoe and she and her husband, contractor Stuart Fanning, have two daughters.
Gandee’s two granddaughters, Zara, 9 and Ayla,7 visit often.
“Zara and Ayla, like the rest of the family, like bread,” Gandee said. “And, of course, we’re passing down the kitchen skills to them now. They’re learning how to cook and bake.
Gandee loves living in Pocahontas County, where the spirit of self-sufficiency thrives.
“I like doing for myself and my family,” she said. “Those are good skills to have – to know how to grow a garden, hunt, fish, cook, bake and can food.
“We’re growing our own wheat now, so we can grind our own flour and bake with flour without any preservatives in it.
“And Jason is even experimenting with growing hops.
“So many people here in Pocahontas County are doing so many interesting things.
“It’s just a good place to live.”Jo Debra Gandee’s
Garden Focaccia Bread
With all the vegetables coming on, Gandee shared her recipe for her Garden Focaccia bread:
2 3/4 cups of flour
1 pinch black ground pepper
1 teaspoon salt
1 Tbsp. sesame oil
1 tsp. sugar
1 cup water
1 Tbsp. yeast
1 tsp. garlic powder
2 Tbsp. olive oil
2 Tbsp. Italian seasonings
Assorted fresh vegetables: tomato, onion, peppers, etc.
In a large bowl, stir together the flour, salt, garlic powder, pepper and Italian seasonings. In a smaller bowl, stir yeast, sugar, and water together and set aside till a foamy sponge appears, then add sesame oil. Combine the dry and wet ingredients and then knead for 7 minutes with a Kitchen Aid mixer or by hand until smooth, elastic, and springy. Place in a light oiled bowl and cover. Let dough rise for 30 minutes.
Preheat oven to 450º.
Slice veggies and set aside.
Punch down and remove dough from bowl, then place on lightly oiled baking pan. Pat into 1/2 inch thickness and decorate with sliced veggies. Push veggies into dough and brush olive oil on top.
Bake in the preheated oven for 15 minutes or until golden brown.
Serve with seasoned olive oil.