The Times Change but the Recipes Haven’t

Family

Times Have Changed, but the Recipes Haven’t

The secret to Blake’s has to do with the particular way we approach food — and to what’s inside a certain little blue box.

It has become one of the Blake family heirlooms: a scuffed and faded blue plastic recipe box with a hinged lid. Inside, on faded newsprint, on old 3x5 cards filled with the precise script of Clara Blake and Clara’s daughter-in-law, Virginia, are treasures handed down: simple, wholesome recipes for cookies and puddings, sauces and casseroles, turkey pot pie, shepherd’s pie, macaroni and cheese, macaroni and beef. Those recipes have served generations of Blakes. Some of them serve as the foundation of the Blake’s family business.

We’re committed not only to the recipes, but to how they’re prepared: from scratch, by hand, made just the way you would in your own home.

Originally, first for the family dinner table and then in the early days of the pot-pie business, the cooking was done in the farmhouse kitchen. At some point after we started making chicken pies along with the turkey, we cleaned out the addition off the back of the house and expanded into it. We hired a local woman named Beverly Robertson — she worked seasonally for us dressing turkeys for the holidays — to run the kitchen full time. Charlie’s wife, Sally, did the books for the business and helped with the cooking; her sisters pitched in during busy times. As we kept growing, we converted the old hatchery on the other side of the driveway into a full-fledged commercial kitchen, with plenty of room for freezing and storage. Eventually, though, we needed more cooking space, and made the decision to convert the farmhouse to offices and design a proper facility that could handle the growing business and expanding product line. A dozen years ago we built what looks from the outside like a new barn — with board siding and a green metal roof — but which is actually a state-of-the-art, USDA- and organic-certified, production-level kitchen and food processing facility. Charlie and Sally built it two-thirds larger than they needed. (“It’s a good thing we did!” says Sally today.)

Even with 40 people working in the kitchen, most of them working a 7 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. shift, there’s a strong family feeling here, still. Several of the kitchen workers have been with Blake’s for more than decade. Charlie and Sally’s daughter, Amy, makes lunches from the chicken salad. Her two daughters have gotten a taste of the business by helping to weigh the chicken and turkey portions that go into the pies. Beverly Robertson is in her 70s, now, still working after 40 years with us. “She came home early from a vacation, once,” says Sally, “because she missed being here.”

Some things can be done right only by hand, of course. But in a larger sense, the human touch — like the heirloom recipes, like many parts of our business that we know our customers will never see — is the difference between food manufactured in a factory and meals cooked in a kitchen.

It’s on the inside, and to us, it matters.