To Grandmother’s House We Go
By Liana Forest
Visiting Sharon Brown’s home, redolent with baking odors and festooned with hand sewn happy coats, aprons, and fabric shopping bags, I find myself humming the old tune, “Over the river and through the wood, to Grandmother’s house we go.” Cultural memories arise of trips to relatives waiting with warm hugs and holiday food. Sharon herself, a smiling, cheerful person, is “Grandma Brown,” welcoming me to share a family secret – her famous “sticky buns,” the dough for which is even now rising on top of the spinning dryer. I have known Sharon as a professionally qualified interior designer, formerly President of Portland’s American Society of Interior Designers, organizer of a course to prepare designers for qualifying tests, renovator of homes, designer of upscale residential & commercial venues, planner and problem-solver extraordinaire. She is counted upon for help with political campaigns, green-energy forums, and opera society benefits. Above all, I find her creative, adaptable, and ready with an innovative view on any problem. In her life she has needed to be very adaptable. When change comes, she bends and springs back. When recession hit our area, and her employer closed the SLO branch of the designing business she worked for, Sharon created “Grandma Brown’s Sticky Buns” as a local business and went online http://www.grandmabrownsbuns.com. “I decided to look at my life and find something I enjoyed doing, and for which I would not be beholden to anyone else,” she told me.
Typically, Sharon has not only resurrected everybody’s favorite traditional sticky bun (one fan described it as “just like I remember having when I grew up in the Midwest”) but has invented several more. Now you can order a variety of interesting combinations of fruits, nuts, and even Marnier liqueur, delivered to your door or priority mailed to friends and family. There is even a gourmet sticky bun club to which aficionados (which you may become at first bite) can subscribe. For Valentine’s Day, I ordered Cranberry Walnut.
Originally taught the traditional recipe by her mother-in-law, who wanted her son to continue to enjoy them for breakfast, Sharon has been making sticky buns for 45 years. She points out that they are quite a different critter from cinnamon buns, which are mainly bread dough with a few raisins and frosting on top. By contrast, her sticky buns spread flavor throughout because they are made with thin layers of dough and a caramel sauce layer that spreads between the layers when the buns are turned over after baking. She makes the dough all by hand, and the ingredients are fresh with no preservatives, with less sugar than many other pastries, and with butter—which she finds healthier than other substitutes. The buns are frozen until delivered, to be thawed and ready for eating after 20 minutes warming.
Grandma Brown’s latest creations, soon to go on the website, are designer fabric full-cover aprons, closing with a fabric flower in the back, for elegant cooking or hostessing. Also she makes designer bags to save the green shopper from “Paper or plastic?” dilemmas. Her next plans are to develop sticky buns recipes using heritage grains from local farmers.
Sharon seemed so happy in her new business that I asked her how she felt about the changes in her work life. What she said will long stay with me: “I think we all need to look at our life experience, and the skills we’ve gained, and see how we can use these – not only to sustain ourselves, but to contribute to our community at large.” I’m looking forward to celebrating on Valentine’s Day with the love baked into those sticky buns!