Wilhelmina Bruning began baking at a very young age with her mother, Betty. She sold her first items, yeasted rolls, as a teenager in front of Walker’s Stand in Little Compton. After graduating from Johnson & Wales in the late ‘70s, she moved to the San Francisco Bay area, where the farm-to-table movement was already in full force. It’s no surprise that she would often visit farms and farmer’s markets for her ingredients, and leaned towards natural and organic cooking while working at various restaurants.
She’s maintained a similar philosophy since returning to RI: sourcing from local farms and highlighting the beauty and simplicity of area produce. We talked about her inspirations for Wilhelmina’s Catering, where she sources from and her favorite holiday baked goods.
Who are a few of the culinary minds that have inspired you along the way?
As far as inspiration, I don’t really follow any of the cooking shows; I’m too busy for that. I do however lean towards Ina Garten. When looking for recipes and ideas, I gravitate towards her [recipes] then modify them to fit my needs. Also, years ago in a restaurant where I worked – Flea Street Café – we had a Julia Child quote hanging in the kitchen: “Be fearless and above all have fun.” I have always followed that advice.
Can you describe the process of creating tried and true recipes?
The recipes are a combination of aspects most cooks and bakers usually use: drawing on past experience, going through books for ideas and formulas, as well as family recipes. Some of my recipes still go back to those early days when I first began baking. Simple is better. I like to have the food taste like its main ingredients. Our apple pies, for example, have just a slight touch of cinnamon, so the flavor of the apple really comes through.
Let’s talk Turkey Day. What are some holiday dishes you make this time of year?
We have been preparing Thanksgiving pies, side dishes and turkeys for 16 years out of our kitchen on South Shore Road. I’ve done this since 1998, which was the first Thanksgiving we were operating. While they began as items purchased by locals, customers now drive from Newport, Bristol and Providence for our Thanksgiving pies, turkeys and side dishes.
What are your favorite pies to bake, and which are your most popular?
Probably the pumpkin pies. I start with fresh pumpkins, including Long Island cheese heirloom pumpkins and sugar pumpkins, both grown by Walker’s Farm in Little Compton. After baking and pureeing the pumpkin, I prepare the filling with cream, eggs and spices. They come out delicious!
What other farms do you make a point of sourcing from?
Locally, from Walker’s Farm, Wishingstone Farm and Old Stone Orchard in Little Compton, Orr’s Farm in Westport and Middle Acres Farm in Tiverton. I use all natural ingredients and organic when available.
I noticed that you have tea breads on the menu. Tell me how they differ from traditional bread and how you choose the ingredients?
Tea breads are prepared with eggs and baking powder for leavening. They are considered a sweet bread, used primary for a sweet treat for afternoon tea or breakfast. Mine are made with natural ingredients like bananas, pumpkins, fresh cranberries, orange zest, good chocolate and butter.
Having traditional cranberry sauce is a rarity. What makes yours different from the stuff you see in a can?
Our cranberry sauce is prepared with local berries from Middle Acres Cranberry Bog in Tiverton. Farmer Lucien Lebreaux grows a bunch that are usually made into juice, but he handpicks some for local chefs. We prepare ours by using orange juice and zest and allowing them to cook down.
Where and when can folks find your baked goods?
We are taking Thanksgiving orders now, and the pickup is on the Wednesday before Thanksgiving. We also prepare preordered pies on Fridays and Saturdays until January 1.
41 South Shore Road, Little Compton