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Farmville woman expands passion for baking into business

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Baker Coleen Starling serves up a plate of raspberry cream cheese muffins with a white chocolate drizzle at Thursday’s Coffee & History series at the Farmville Public Library. Starling is renovating a building downtown to open a bakery.

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By ANGELA HARNE
The Farmville Enterprise

Monday, May 21, 2018

FARMVILLE — Coleen Starling said she cannot remember a time when she was not interested in baking.

Starling is the oldest of five siblings. Her mother was never comfortable in the kitchen, a trait Starling did not inherit.

“My mother wasn’t allowed in the kitchen growing up. My father was a picky eater,” she said.

Her mother was a nurse and her father worked for a petroleum company. Both worked long, odd hours, so her family members all ate at different times.

By age 10 or 11, Starling started cooking the family meals using the 1957 Betty Crocker recipe book.

The first recipe she tried: Veal in white sauce.

“Of course, I used hamburger meat,” Starling said.

She then found her passion for cookies and pastries.

Her parents each had a dozen siblings, so her grandmothers are avid cooks.

“They had to feed them, but cooking was not just nourishment, it was a gift of love,” she said.

Starling recalls sharing the kitchen with her grandmothers, donned in their aprons, and the aroma that came with it — ribeyes with sauerkraut or stuffed cabbage.

Being of German and Russian decent, all of her family’s meals had an eastern influence. Her favorite German meal is galumpkis — stuffed cabbage filled with rice, onion ground beef and pork covered with a tomato sauce and homemade sauerkraut.

“In the kitchen, I felt successful,” Starling said.

She joined her school’s 4-H club and honed her skills in cooking and sewing. After graduation, Starling had the opportunity to travel to Europe. At the time, she was an art major.

“I grew up in Kansas. The grocery stores were dismal,” she said. “Everything was in cans or boxes. Food became industrial.

Starling said this was the era when the food industry shifted to make cooking meals easier for women, so they could spend less time in the kitchen.

“This was the opposite of what I wanted,” she said. “This is when we lost quality, flavor and knowledge of cooking techniques.”

Starling became a self-taught cook.

“I was possessed by Julia Child. I’m amazed by her,” Starling said, adding she also finds inspiration by Jacques Pepin.

Her favorite meal to cook is roasted chicken with risotto, greens with vinaigrette and wine. The roasted chicken has been expanded into roasted duck, turkey and pheasant, too.

“Don’t be afraid of cooking. On the other side of that fear is a three-tiered cake and beef bourguignon,” she said. “Remember quality over complexity. Make your guests feel welcome with wonderful flavor.”

Starling married young and is the mother of four, whom she loved to cook for.

Her plan as an art major did not pan out and neither did her marriage. She has since remarried.

“My husband is so appreciative of all I make, and I have blossomed (in the kitchen),” Starling said.

As a mother, Starling worked for 21 years in the cleaning service industry and held jobs in bakeries. She worked in the bakery at Harris Teeter, Lowe’s Foods, Whole Foods and Raleigh-based Edible Art.

“Edible Art is the boot camp of cake decorating,” Starling said.

Her life led her to Farmville, where she and her husband now live.

“For a year, I vacuumed, dusted and bought antiques. I wanted more in life. I wanted to be creative, so I starting donating cakes to the fire and rescue departments,” she said.

Soon, Starling was receiving requests for a cake. She reached out to Todd Edwards, owner of Todd Edwards Construction, to see if the kitchen in her historic home could be renovated into a commercial kitchen.

“I was told it would no longer be a family kitchen,” she said, adding Edwards told her Farmville was in need of a bakery and wine shop.

Her husband’s desire to invest in commercial property and her desire to bake came together, and now the couple is renovating a building on Wilson Street in downtown Farmville to open Sweetly Southern Bakery.

“The adventure beginth,” Starling said with a smile. “I’m just a plain old person from Kansas. We are all on a different journey, but it is important you do what you love.”

Her shop will feature cakes, cupcakes, pastries, bread, wine and more. It will also feature a lunch menu and Lanoca Coffee roasters. She plans to partner with Raleigh-based Lady Fingers Gourmet and sell lasagna, ham rolls and quiches. Her in-house lunch menu will feature sandwiches and soups, along with vegetarian and vegan options.

Sweetly Southern Bakery should be open by late-summer or early fall.

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