Sometimes, you just can’t beat a family recipe. Faded notes, scrawled on the back of an envelope, stained with the remnants of meals gone by.
From soups to stews, cakes to bakes, there’s something that little bit special about home-cooked scran.
Arlene Mitchell, owner of Gladstone Bakery in Peterhead, knows all about making the most of recipes passed down through the generations.
Inspired by her nanny who would bake “constantly” when Arlene was young, a few secret family recipes live on in Gladstone’s indulgently sweet treats.
Traybakes, brownies and five-star rated butteries are at the core of Arlene’s business, which she runs from her kitchen at home.
And when she’s not cooking up sweet treats, Arlene can be found ferrying people back and forth thanks to her part-time job as a bus driver.
We talked to Arlene to find out more about it.
Q: Tell us about yourself.
I grew up in Fraserburgh. I went through school and left to become a nursery nurse. However, with the pay not being great, I turned to bus driving.
I still do that part-time and have worked the job since 2002 – I love it.
Then 12 years ago, I had my son and the hours for my work conflicted a lot with looking after him. I ended up getting another job in a café while he was at nursery and I baked a lot of traybakes in there.
But it came to a point where they weren’t keen on using more expensive ingredients (I don’t like using cheap ingredients when I’m baking) so I went out on my own with Party Bakes in 2010.
Now, having re-branded during lockdown, things have just taken off.
Q: Have you always been a keen baker?
I baked with my nanny when I was small and spent most of my time at her house. She stayed just down the street and taught me how to bake.
She baked constantly; I think all of the older people did back then, it was just how they ran their life.
She was always making cakes, scones, milky puddings and it’s carried on into me. I still make my sponge and Queen cakes the same as how she made them.
The only thing I didn’t get was her fruit cake recipe.
She never wrote it down and I’ve tried a few times to recreate it but it just doesn’t work. She died when I was 10, but standing baking with her was just brilliant.
Q: What made you want to start your own baking business?
Well, 11 years ago with Party Bakes, I was on my own with my son and it was a way to make money without leaving him too much.
Working full-time and chucking him into a nursery just wasn’t an option for me. I always baked, but come lockdown, Louise at Orka Café in Aberdeen had put a post on Facebook looking for baked goods in the café.
So, I mailed her and came down with some tasters back in May or June last year and it’s been going strong ever since.
Louise was the one that really inspired me to go bigger with Gladstone Bakery.
Once I started delivering to her, of course, she was so busy, she told me she had people coming down just for the pieces I was making. It made me think that they must be good!
Q: You’re now making almost 1,500 pieces a week for stockists around the north-east. Are you surprised with the Gladstone’s success so far?
Definitely. It’s absolute madness. I never expected it to go this far this quickly.
I thought I would’ve managed a couple of shops at most but I’ve ended up having businesses phoning me up asking for my pieces which is amazing.
I do all my baking from my home kitchen, but it’s quite a big kitchen.
I had to buy an extra fridge because I didn’t have enough space for that, but if I was to get any bigger I’d have to look at options; whether I wanted to go bigger or scale it back and stay the way I am.
My mum also helps me out with the packaging and labelling. It’s good for her and it gets her away from my dad for a little bit!
Q: How many different products do you regularly bake? What are people’s favourite options?
I have around 17 different traybakes that I make on a regular basis. The most popular would be the strawberry milky way and the Biscoff millionaire.
Rolo brownies, strawberry tarts and Malteser slabs are also popular. I make butteries too which have been a huge success.
I do them at Peterhead Producers’ Market and I’ve been told they’re the best butteries in Peterhead. I don’t know if they’re just blowing my head up or if they actually mean it!
I believe you should use proper ingredients when you’re baking.
A lot of people cook with cooking chocolate and things like that which just doesn’t taste the same.
I like to use Belgian chocolate which I order online and I use around 30kg a week. You think when it all comes in it’s going to last for ages, but it doesn’t. You’d think people would get sick of pieces but they don’t.
Q: What makes Gladstone Bakery stand out?
I think it’s maybe to do with everyone having their own way of making things. You can go by a recipe in a book, but somebody else can do the same recipe and it would taste completely different.
I’ve developed a lot of my traybake recipes over the years or taken ideas from online and tweaked them a bit.
I’ve not written my own recipe book, but all the ingredients just get thrown in and you take a guess. So, maybe it’s just my own way of doing things that stand out.
Q: Future plans?
I’ve thought about getting my own premises, which my mum has suggested as well. Or maybe even just a catering kitchen so that I’ve got a bit more space.
But I’d need to have a hard think about how it could all work. I’m not very business-minded, so I’d need a bit of help with that aspect of things.
But some way to extend the business is on the cards.
To find out more about The Gladstone Bakery, visit Arlene on Facebook.