ANDREW ZIMMERN SAYS the Red Truck Bakery’s granola is the best in North America. President Barack Obama and Oprah Winfrey praise the Red Truck pies. But it took Corinna Harn, a King County District Court judge, to inspire owner Brian Noyes in his latest work.
The story started with Noyes’ first “Red Truck Bakery Cookbook,” based on recipes from the much-loved business in rural Virginia. Harn happened on the book when shopping in Sumner, browsing cookbooks at the Northlight Interiors store. “I can do this. I’ll take it home,” she remembers thinking.
Then COVID-19 struck. Daughter Chelsy returned home from California, and they began cooking their way through the book.
The book and bakery were the product of Noyes’ unusual background — a California boy who cooked with his Southern grandma on visits to her North Carolina mountain town. After years as art director for The Washington Post (plus Southern food forays with his husband and a copy of the classic “Roadfood” guidebook), he went on to professional culinary training and a new career. Noyes delivered baked goods from the shiny 1954 Ford F-100 he’d purchased from Tommy Hilfiger (although he didn’t know at the time who was behind the truck’s ad). Noyes shipped goods nationwide, the audience blowing up from two dozen online orders to 57,000 after The New York Times food writer Marian Burros happened on his goods at a picnic and listed them among her favorites — another round in his life’s repeating theme of skill and serendipity.
Viewing the cookbook, “I loved the fact there were pictures and that they were recipes that were manageable for someone who is not a professional cook,” Harn says on a bicoastal Zoom call with Noyes in Virginia and with Chelsy, now back in California.
The book included the Rise and Shine biscuits based on Noyes’ grandmother’s recipe, Southern Sweet Tea Cake, the praiseworthy granola (Jane and Michael Stern of “Roadfood” ultimately visited the bakery and loved it, too) and a curry chicken salad with red grapes and chopped walnuts.
With that project, “I didn’t feel like I was stuck at home,” says Chelsy.
Many months later, they told Juleen Pudists of Northlight Interiors what the book meant to them and how they’d cooked their way “from one end to the other.” She recorded an Instagram post and tagged Noyes. Harn later wrote him about how the baking bonded their family and how it made the lives of their essential-worker friends better, “to find something yummy and comforting at their doorstep or in their refrigerator” after a crazy-long workday with no time to eat. (It’s another theme; Harn’s official King County bio notes that she was a charter member of the Soup Ladies charity, bringing hot food to first responders.)
Noyes was floored at how the book brought people together. The theme of family comfort food struck a chord as he dealt with his own pandemic experience, on medical leave after a shoulder and knee replacement and recuperating at his isolated farmhouse.
The result was his new “The Red Truck Bakery Farmhouse Cookbook” (Clarkson Potter, $28), filled with comfort food recipes — some from his own family, some bakery classics that didn’t make it in the first book. It’s like a map of his life influences — “Southern accented,” he calls it, including everything from egg salad sandwiches inspired by a California restaurant to his mother-in-law’s peach cobbler to Oaxacan mole sauce based on one he learned from Rick Bayless. If there’s a farmers market nearby you, he thinks it’s a great place to start on his recipes from any region.
I discovered the book thanks to Bonnie Benwick, former recipe editor for The Washington Post, who tested all of Noyes’ recipes during the pandemic and posted photos on her Instagram feed. My family’s been cooking our own way through it, from the justly famous Lexington Bourbon Cake (it’s got six eggs, a half-cup of ginger ale and a cup of bourbon in the cake, plus a quarter-cup in the glaze) to the chewy granola bars that made our kids reject any store-bought brand. Finding that a Seattle family played a pivotal role in the book was an added South-North bonus.
“None of my recipes are highfalutin, and I think when Corinna started talking about what she liked about the first cookbook, [it] taught me a little bit about myself, because that’s kind of the food I like to cook, is just what people make at home,” Noyes says.
Chewy Granola Bars
Makes 24 small bars
2 cups quick-cooking oats
¾ cup (packed) light brown sugar
½ teaspoon kosher salt
¼ teaspoon ground cinnamon
½ cup sweetened shredded coconut
½ cup sliced almonds
½ cup chopped walnuts
½ cup hulled sunflower seeds
½ cup dried cranberries
½ cup dark or golden raisins, or a combination, or dried blueberries
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
2 tablespoons light corn syrup
6 tablespoons canola oil
2 tablespoons honey
2 tablespoons maple syrup
(Note: Noyes says to feel free to substitute other dried fruit or nuts, but keep to the measurements given in the recipe so the total amount of fruits and nuts stays the same.)
1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Grease a 13×9-inch rimmed baking sheet or pan with vegetable oil spray.
2. Measure out 1 2/3 cup of the oats into a large mixing bowl. Pour the remaining 1/3 cup oats into a food processor or blender, and pulse until finely ground. Add the ground oats to the bowl of quick-cooking oats.
3. Add the brown sugar, salt and cinnamon to the bowl, stirring together until well combined. Add the coconut, almonds, walnuts, sunflower seeds, dried cranberries and raisins, and stir to combine.
4. In a separate bowl, whisk together the vanilla, corn syrup, oil, honey, maple syrup and 1 tablespoon water. Add to the oat mixture, and toss until well coated.
5. Spread the granola evenly into the prepared pan, all the way to the edges. Use a rubber spatula to press the granola gently into the corners, and then press down on the rest to achieve an even thickness.
6. Bake for 25 to 30 minutes, until the edges are golden brown and the mixture looks set. Use a knife to loosen the slab around the edges. Let cool in the pan for 10 minutes.
7. Use a knife or bench scraper to cut the slab cleanly into bars of equal size. Portion to your preference: 6 bars long by 4 bars wide will give you 24, but slice larger, if desired. After cutting, let them cool completely in the pan for 20 minutes before removing. (It might be easier to cut the baked slab into halves, turn those out onto parchment paper on the counter and finish cutting bars individually.) To store, wrap the individual bars in plastic wrap, then store in a zip-top bag or airtight container. The bars will keep at room temperature for up to 1 week or frozen for up to 2 months.
— From “The Red Truck Bakery Farmhouse Cookbook”