When the pandemic lockdown hit last year, baker Karen Rundle got busy whipping up loaves of sourdough bread. Initially, Rundle was worried when she saw bread being wiped clean from grocery aisles. Not only that, but there was no yeast available in the stores. “Many people in our community were posting in neighborhood groups, worried about not having enough—or any—food, and I realized I could leave fresh bread at the food pantries or on people’s porches, whatever I could do to help.”
Rundle says the more she baked, the better she got. Less error than trial. “I was home with a lot of time on my hands. And, I’m fundamentally incapable of cooking or baking in any form of moderation,” she says. “Also, I love entertaining and spending time with friends. So when Covid hit, I truly missed feeding my friends.”
And that’s how her now thriving bread business Baked, Together We Rise was born. (Cute name, eh?) We caught up with Rundle to find out more about her booming business and the importance of doling out a whole lotta loaf, er, love.
First question, why bread? And when did you realize bread was your jam, so to speak?
“I didn’t really bake much of anything before. Like, I usually will even buy cookie dough to decorate with my kids, despite growing up in a home with a mom who baked all the time. But we were all stuck at home, and the distribution lines were a mess, and it was questionable at times what you might find in a grocery store, including yeast.
A friend of mine had a sourdough starter and gave me a split off hers. Plus, as the youngest of five, I’ve never been able to make food for less than an army. So I started baking with the starter, but not very seriously. Our quarantine buddies, our next-door neighbors and best friends ate a lot of bread bricks last summer!”
And that name—clever!
“Sourdough starters are incredibly resilient, and they’re also flexible once they’re in good shape. Once Hamilton (my starter, he Rise(s) Up, get it?) was back on his feet, I started exploring various inclusions into the dough, and that’s when everything really took off.”
And a carbo-cottage industry was born? I’m obsessed with sourdough. I mean, who isn’t?
“People will suggest different blends, or I’ll happen across an inclusion that bakes really well, so it’s a project in a constant state of evolution. That’s one of the most fun parts about sourdough breads, too—since it’s alive, it’s impacted by heat, humidity, etc.—so when a dough turns out really well despite changing conditions, that’s a bit of a feat. I like the fact that it’s constantly evolving, which is really indicative of who we should be in our lives, right?”
What are you famous for—or is there a particular bread/pastry that’s a crowd favorite?
“I really can’t come close to narrowing it down; I add new loaves all the time. The lemon and goat cheese is amazing, particularly toasted with some raspberry preserves. The hot-hatch chile and goat-cheese loaf is pretty incredible. It’s definitely spicy, but it’s also been known to convert those who aren’t fans of heat. Eat them warm! The flavors really come out when they’re toasty.”
And there’s a philanthropic piece to your business, yes?
“One reason why I started baking during the pandemic was to share food, particularly as it became apparent that so many would be decimated without help from their communities. Now that I’m selling my bread, part of the proceeds of each bake goes to helping the houseless and food insecure in our community. While I was shopping with Penzey’s one day for my dried inclusions, I learned more about the Trevor Project, who works with at-risk LGBTQ youth. (I bought a whole lotta of dried dill that week.)
I found out that 40% of the unhoused youth on our streets are LGBTQIA+ children, turned out of their own homes by unsupportive parents. By the way, if that’s you, I’m your mom now. My best friend is an ordained minister, she can marry you in her large backyard where we can be Covid-safe. We’re here for you and love you. Also, please don’t forget to eat your vegetables.
So many people, LBGTQIA+ or otherwise, struggle with depression and anxiety and mental illness, which have been major issues in my own life, so I want to do what I can to give back and help people out in the situations that can trigger the worst of times.
Every single thing we can do to help people in our community, to help make unhoused and food insecure people’s lives just a little bit easier, can make a difference. Every little bit. A hot meal. A warm loaf of bread. A hug, a smile. People are people regardless of their circumstances, and they just need love and support.
We can do that, together. Together, we rise.”
Interview minimally edited for content and clarity.