Two years ago, Tracy Utley’s husband asked her what she wanted as a Mother’s Day gift, and she started having visions of beautiful flours.
Yes, flours — not flowers.
So she asked him for an electric mill. “I have a friend who has one, and I saw how easy it was,” says the Frederick mother of four. “So I wanted to give it a try.”
Soon enough, she was experimenting with pantry staples such as whole wheat flour and oat flour, which she used in her own cooking and shared with friends. They gave her the idea to turn her hobby into a business.
“I realized that I could swim upstream and be in charge of what grains I’d work with,” she says. “It’s fun, a creative outlet and helpful for our family, so it was sort of a no-brainer.”
The big stumbling block for the eager entrepreneur was getting licensed. “There was a lot of red tape that was kind of ridiculous,” she says. “At some points in process I wanted to give up, because it was sucking the fun out of it for me.”
After some hair tearing, the business finally got off the ground in the second half of 2009. The whole family was enlisted to help with the endeavor, which Utley dubbed Red Apron Organic. (It has no connection to Neighborhood Restaurant Group’s Red Apron Butchery.) Her husband, Michael, aids Utley wherever he can, while their boys — Jack , 12; Charlie, 10; Harry, 8; and George, 5 — are hands-on with everything. From going to pick up the grains to labeling the final product and helping out at the family’s stall at the West Frederick Farmers Market, they are involved every step of the way. “And they’re taste testers, of course,” adds Utley.
She developed a stable of four classic flours — oat, whole-wheat, whole-wheat pastry and cornmeal — though she will mill other “funky flours” on special request, including buckwheat, spelt, chickpea, black bean and rye ($7 to $10 a pound). She gets her grains in Hanover, Pa., and at a food co-op in Mount Airy. Because the organic flours are made from whole grains, Utley recommends keeping them in the refrigerator for up to six months or in the freezer for up to a year.
This holiday season, she’s branching out from dry goods to baked goods with a new concept she calls Four Boys Cookies. “It’s for people who really want a homemade cookie but don’t have the time to prepare the ingredients,” she explains. The quartet of cookie doughs made with her flours are Plain Jack (a shortbread), Harry Peanut Butter, Charlie Chocolate Chip (a heartier-than-Tollhouse option that incorporates peanut butter, flaxseed, wheat germ and oatmeal) and Georgie Gingersnaps. (They sell for $12 a roll or $10 a roll for two or more; each roll makes approximately two dozen cookies.)
Orders must be in by Sunday for door-to-door delivery in Frederick and Washington on Tuesday. “But if we people find themselves in a pinch, we can work with them,” says Utley. There is a minimum order of $25 for the Frederick area and a $50 minimum for Washington.
Utley’s venture isn’t just about filling bellies; she also wants to fill the coffers of some good organizations. A portion of all proceeds goes to a few of her sons’ favorite charities, including two focused on helping disadvantaged children: Compassion International and Cakes for Cause. “We home-school our boys, so it’s important for them to see a holistic approach to our business,” says Utley. “It should teach them about working hard, being responsible, resourceful and mindful.”
Red Apron Organic; 615-364-2485, firstname.lastname@example.org, RedApronOrganic.com .