Tuesday, October 18, 2011
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Barbara Storey's Rum Cakes began with a cake for her husband's office party. It has grown into a full-time endeavor including eight flavors, a commercial bakery, hundreds of bottles of rum, and worldwide demand.
December 28, 2010
MONMOUTH -- Barbara Storey remembers being roused from bed on Christmas Eve in 1997 -- when she was still living and running her bakery business in Cornelius -- by a pounding at the front door.
Outside stood a man clad in an overcoat and a furry ushanka hat.
"I would like some rum cakes," the man growled in a thick accent, per Storey's recollection. "I have a flight in three hours ... I'm going back to Russia."
"It's 11 o'clock and it's Christmastime," a bewildered Storey said. "I'm almost sold out."
"I'll take what you have," the man replied.
Storey never learned how the guy knew about Barbara Storey's Rum Cakes -- or whether he made it to the airport in Portland to catch his plane back to the motherland, though he did leave her place with six cakes: three chocolate fudge, two original and a cinnamon raisin.
He must have been "haunted" by the flavor -- to the point where he just had to have it. Storey said that's how people should react, anyway, if she's done her job correctly.
"We use that description because (the cake) calls for you," she said.
Many years ago, Storey sampled a friend's rum cake. So enamored with the taste, she asked for the recipe and tweaked it.
In 1988, she baked a cake for her husband's (Steve's) office party. She baked 50 for the same party the following year.
A 400-square-foot USDA-certified bakery in Storey's home allows for large quantity production of the cakes.
Barbara and Steve later took the cake to a food and craft bazaar in Washington -- and sold everything they had.
Ultimately, the couple threw up their hands and were "forced into business" in 1992.
Today, Barbara Storey's Rum Cakes churns out cakes on a near continual basis from October through January from a house-bakery near Monmouth and by appointment during the rest of the year.
"You have to re-energize somewhere," she said.
Unfortunately for Barbara Storey, it's getting harder to do that as the cake and its unmistakable flavor -- good lord, does it taste like rum! -- becomes less of a secret every day.
Storey ships her product to loyal customers all over the United States. She also knows the dessert has admirers in places as far away as France, Japan and Australia.
Shipping boxes await their cargo in the bakery as Steve Storey sorts orders and paperwork between helping with the baking and packaging of rum cakes.
Storey has a modest website, hits a major bazaar in Portland in November, and has done a few interviews with different media outlets.
But most of the advertising has been simply word of mouth.
"Somebody just tries it at a friend's house, and that's how it happens," she said.
Count RayeAnne Gaskins as one of those victims. The Salem resident said she had been at a party where somebody had put out an original rum cake. An internet search led her to Storey's home recently.
"It was instant love," Gaskins said.
Barbara and Steve, a retired postal worker, operated Barbara Storey's for nearly 14 years in Cornelius. As the variety of cakes -- lemon, pina colada, etc. -- and the orders grew, the couple began hunting for a new home and larger kitchen across the Pacific Northwest in the late 1990s.
They settled on their 100-year-old late Victorian residence in Monmouth in 2006. They also added a 400-square-foot kitchen, its cabinetry and appliances done almost entirely in blinding white. Storey said it makes it easier for her to spot messes.
Steve said the amount of supplies needed fill entire rooms, including the alcohol. Steve estimates they go through more than 40 cases of rum -- nearly 500 bottles -- a year.
"We're the largest rum purchaser in Oregon," Steve said. "We have people courting us."
Most of the work is done exclusively by Barbara and Steve. For bigger jobs, Barbara will call in a friend or two.
"It has to be somebody who will sign an agreement that they won't repeat what they see here," she said. "If you take from here, it's like taking from my purse."
Storey glosses over the specifics of bake days. She and Steve will beat eggs, mix batters and pour the contents into cake pans, careful to make sure the weight doesn't exceed 3.5 pounds.
The desserts are then cut, sauced and wrapped. As for details on baking times or sauce, Storey is mostly maddeningly mum.
But she's candid about her cakes being able to withstand the test of time. All of her large cake varieties must remain edible and maintain their taste for up to a year after coming out of the oven.
"Everything about the cake has to be perfect," Storey said, noting it's the combination of alcohol and sugar that preserves them. "They have to be bomb shelter cakes."
Storey currently has peach rum cakes -- a new flavor -- sitting in a cooler, waiting to be sampled this spring. And she's bound to get some new customers with it.
"You never know where they'll end up," she said, recalling how a family friend working in Washington, D.C. ended up taking one of the cakes with her to Malta.
"It ended up at the prime minister's formal dinner," she said.
For more information about Barbara Storey's Rum Cakes, visit www.barbarastoreyrumcakes.com or call 503-606-0755.