Jesse Schumann, co-owner of Fremont’s Sea Wolf Bakers, has been flexing new muscles lately.
As the coronavirus stay-home order continues, amateur bakers everywhere have been firing up their ovens, and Sea Wolf, known for flaky cinnamon rolls and wonderful bread loaves, has been doing something its never done before — selling flour.
“Probably 70% of the calls we get are asking if we have flour,” says Schumann, who’s been breaking down 100-pound and 50-pound bags of flour into 5-pound packages. (He also does 10-pound bags.)
“I scooped 500 pounds of flour into 10-pound bags yesterday, and the day before I did 400 pounds,” he says, before joking about the new muscles he’s building.
You aren’t imagining things. In households around Seattle (and the country), sourdough starters are being named, and scallions regrowing in jelly jars are crowding windowsills. People are cooking — and baking! Google Trends data shows that searches for baked-good recipes have surged in the last month and a half. Sourdough, carrot cake, banana bread and baker’s yeast were four of the top five recipe searches that spiked nationally during the coronavirus stay-home period.
What recipes have surged in popularity with people in the Seattle-Tacoma metro area? Again, Google search data indicates that, like most other Americans, we are also baking up a (flour!) storm. Our top 10 list includes carrot cake and baguette recipes … alongside Dole Whip, pudding and halibut (don’t ever change, Pacific Northwest!).
But Google presents only one piece of the pie. From a cursory look on social media — hello, Instagram food trends! — and chats with proprietors of local bakeries and bookstores (and some notable food bloggers), it appears that lockdown cooking centers on two parallel tracks: The Ambitious Recipes You Never Had Time For Before, and The Idiot-Proof, Easy-to-Make Dinners for Those Sick of Cooking Every. Single. Meal.
Those in the “Ambitious Recipes” camp are keeping Schumann scooping flour (and giving away his sourdough starter, and occasionally yeast).
“We sold over 2,000 pounds of flour yesterday,” Schumann said in a recent interview.
Lara Hamilton, owner of Book Larder, a Fremont cookbook bookstore, noticed that “Flour Water Salt Yeast: The Fundamentals of Artisan Bread and Pizza” by Portland baker Ken Forkish recently appeared on The New York Times bestseller list … eight years after it was first published.
“That didn’t make The New York Times bestseller list then, so cool for Ken,” Hamilton said.
Forkish’s book has topped sales at Hamilton’s store since the stay-home order was put into place on March 23. Some other coronavirus era Book Larder bestsellers: “Tartine Bread” by Chad Robertson and “Sourdough: Recipes for Rustic Fermented Breads, Sweets, Savories, and More” by Sarah Owens. Hamilton has also seen strong sales of “Cookies Are Magic: Classic Cookies, Brownies, Bars, and More” by Maida Heatter; “Sister Pie: The Recipes and Stories of a Big-Hearted Bakery in Detroit” by Lisa Ludwinski; sisters Emily and Melissa Elsen’s book “The Four & Twenty Blackbirds Pie Book: Uncommon Recipes from the Celebrated Brooklyn Pie Shop”; and “Art of the Pie: A Practical Guide to Homemade Crusts, Fillings, and Life” by Kate McDermott.
See a pattern? No wonder flour has been in such high demand!
“People are looking to expand their repertoires,” Hamilton says.
However, with the kids home from school and many people either working from home or juggling demanding front-line jobs along with child care, we’re all also still looking for easy ways to get dinner on the table.
“They want to bake in a project-y way or try fermentation, but they also just want simple meals,” Hamilton says, also citing strong sales of “Dining In” and “Nothing Fancy” by Alison Roman and “Start Simple: Eleven Everyday Ingredients for Countless Weeknight Meals” by Lukas Volger.
Even though many of us are supporting local restaurants by ordering takeout or delivery, there’s still plenty of meals being made at home. And what if you weren’t necessarily a wonderful cook before the coronavirus hit?
“People are still busy, just in a different way. They’re still working, still taking care of their kids, but they can’t go out to eat anymore,” says Meghan McMorrow, a Redmond-based food blogger whose website, Fox and Briar, averages 700,000 users and 1 million page views monthly.
McMorrow says she’s seen a 50% increase in her web traffic over the past 30 days.
Her most popular recipe during that time frame? An “easy chicken ramen” recipe that McMorrow originally posted in February 2016, which has seen a 70% increase in traffic over the past month — or 76,000 page views.
“I mostly focus on easy recipes for people who like good food but don’t want to spend hours in the kitchen,” McMorrow says.
Similarly, Dara Michalski of Cookin’ Canuck says she’s seen a 60% increase in traffic.
“Nothing has changed, I’m doing the same things I’ve always done. I’m doing the same social media techniques, putting up the same amount of recipes that I was putting up before,” she says.
Michalski has been a full-time blogger for nearly a decade, focusing on healthy, accessible recipes. “Especially [for] people who don’t do a lot of cooking,” she says.
Michalski’s most popular recipe, herbed pork chops with garlic butter, was originally published in 2016. Over the last 30 days, it has garnered more than 90,000 page views.
“I know it’s the most popular because [of] the analytics, but also, a ton of people are taking pictures of it [on Instagram]. People like pork chops,” she says.
“I am seeing a lot of new engagement. People are posting photos on Instagram and tagging me or messaging me photos of the food they’ve made,” McMorrow says.
Michalski agrees. “People are leaving comments, emailing me, leaving pictures on Pinterest and comments that I can respond to,” she says.
To meet the increased demand for easy recipes and try to turn first-time readers into regulars, Michalski has started an email series that doles out ideas for cooking rice and beans. Similarly, McMorrow is making sure to keep up with comments, and she’s actively asking readers for requests.
Then there’s Ashley Rodriguez, a blogger-turned-author-turned-podcaster whose cookbook “Let’s Stay In: More Than 120 Recipes to Nourish the People You Love” was originally published in 2018. Two years later, with most of the U.S. under coronavirus-induced stay-home orders, Rodriguez is looking brilliantly prescient, and her book has made a comeback.
Rodriguez says many of her longtime readers joked that she “had some sort of insight with all of this,” naming her cookbook “Let’s Stay In.”
“That cookbook has found a whole new meaning and a resurgence. I’ve found myself cooking more from it than ever before,” Rodriguez says.
While “Let’s Stay In” features “flavors that are reminiscent of childhood,” Rodriguez’s more recent project, a video and podcast series titled “Kitchen Unnecessary,” focuses on foraging.
She says her audience now is “seeking more information on gardening or somehow acquiring your own food.”
“People are more willing to jump into these projects that before felt so massive,” Rodriguez says.
This weekend, know that whether you’re attempting Julia Child’s boeuf bourguignon, shaping your first sourdough loaf or simply scrolling Instagram in listless search of easy dinner ideas while sheltering in place, you can take solace in the fact that you’re not alone. Bake that carrot cake — and eat it, too!
The opinions expressed in reader comments are those of the author only and do not reflect the opinions of The Seattle Times.