My future should have been clear to me from the start.
From the time I was tall enough to stand on a kitchen stool and stir a pie filling or dip a finger into a pan of Mama’s fudge, I was destined to cook.
Everybody in our town of Troy, Alabama, knew it.
“Sister,” they’d say—I’m called Sister because my older sister couldn’t pronounce my real name when I was born—“want to come over and make okra patties?” Would I lend a hand with the chicken salad for the church picnic? Could I brush melted butter on my grandmother Gommey’s yeast rolls so they turned golden brown in the oven?
Of course! Cooking was what my grandmother and the other ladies in the neighborhood—Miss Pat and Miss Ann and MayMay—did, and they took me under their wing.
They showed me how to cool a custard and separate an egg and knead any dough so it was smooth as silk. Sunday lunches at Gommey’s after church were a highlight of the week.
I especially loved the smell of those Parker House-style rolls of hers—the most wonderful aroma would rise up from her oven, waft over the dishes on her sideboard and fill the whole house. It was like a second Sunday sermon calling me on the path God meant for me. If only I’d followed!
What I wanted to do was sell furniture like my daddy. In college I majored in interior design and learned all about how to run a decorating business.
Sure, I still made fudge and rolls, but just for friends and beaus. There’s nothing like some down-home cooking for a homesick college boy. I got married to one of those fellas and settled down back home in Troy to work in Daddy’s store.
Still, people were always asking me to cook for them. “Sister,” they’d say, “I’m having a dinner party on Saturday. Could you bake up four pans of your rolls for me?”
Word travels fast in a small town, and soon I was catering the whole dinner. “Sister, you did such a great party the other night…could you do one for me?”
I was working hard selling furniture, but what everybody wanted was my rolls. They were in such demand at our church bazaar that I went from baking 20 pans to 300!
Then my marriage ended. At 40, I found myself a single mom of two girls, and I worried my income from working at Daddy’s store wasn’t enough to support them. I felt so alone.
“God, I can’t do this on my own,” I prayed. “I’m in your hands now.”
The answer came back: Trust me, Sister. There’s one thing you love doing more than anything else. Do that. I knew he meant Gommey’s rolls. Could I really make a living out of them?
I baked up samples and took them around to every grocery store in a 50-mile radius. They only needed to be heated up in the oven to taste as good as Gommey’s.
“We want more,” folks said in store after store. It was the easiest sell ever. A lot easier than selling a bedroom suite.
Daddy agreed to let me turn part of his warehouse into a bakery. While I waited for the renovations to be finished, I made rolls at home. I packed them in a Styrofoam freezer chest and delivered them in our old wood-paneled station wagon.
I had customers in Birmingham, Montgomery, Dauphin and Troy, of course. But I couldn’t go much farther than Birmingham without risking a big thaw.
Sister Schubert’s Homemade Rolls grew by leaps and bounds. We took over all of Daddy’s warehouse and hired a staff. One really helpful person was a food broker named Mr. George Barnes. He expanded our distribution to major chains throughout the South. And as you might notice from my byline, he’s an even bigger part of my life because he became my husband.
We’re a big business now, but we stick to our old recipe, the one that came down to me through my family. We use fresh milk, butter, whole eggs—never any preservatives. The rolls taste just like Gommey’s.
When I pop a batch in the oven and take in that intoxicating aroma, I thank God that I finally got his message: Do what you’re meant to do!
Try Gommey’s rolls with Sister Schubert’s Grape Chicken Salad!