Winter in the New South Wales Highlands means frosty days and log-fired nights best enjoyed with the aroma of pie pastry browning in the oven. We chat to Glenn Brown about winter life at Southern Rise Bakery.
Winter in the New South Wales Southern Highlands is cold. When you walk outside, your breath mists in front of your face, and in the evening, the temperature and sun both dip in equally spectacular fashion.
Overnight, temperatures often reach into the minuses, and residents commonly wake to a thick coating of frost outside the window. Once every couple of years, a layer of snow settles over the town.
Along with a wooly scarf around your neck and the radiant heat of a log fire, the Southern Highlands also call for the comfort of a steaming meat pie between your hands.
Robertson, or Robo as the locals affectionately call it, is a sleepy Southern Highlands town that’s famous for its red soil, the spuds that grow in it, and for being the place where the film Babe was shot. It’s also the place where, 21 years ago, Matthew Fitzgerald realised his dream of opening his own bakery.
“He used to cook with his mother when he was ten years old,” says Glenn Brown, Matthew’s brother-in-law and general manager of Southern Rise Bakery.
“We can remember him standing on a chair and cooking with his mother in the kitchen, so he was always going to be a baker and pastry cook; he was always destined to do it.”
Southern Rise Bakery has since opened two more bakeries, both in Robertson’s big-brother town of Moss Vale. The expansion of the business meant that Matthew could no longer run the business by himself, so he called on Glenn for help.
“Tragically, Matthew’s mother was killed in a car accident when he was 13, and my wife (Matthew’s sister) and I basically brought him up. So, when he rang and said, ‘I need help,’ that’s when we came back to the business,” Glenn explains.
Glenn lives in Brisbane, but has spent the last 18 months commuting to the Southern Highlands to manage Southern Rise Bakery.
“The finance and marketing I do through the day and Matthew runs production at night,” says Glenn.
Glenn’s son works in the bakery, as does Matthew’s eldest son, who’s just completed his apprenticeship.
“My wife is a bookkeeper so she does the books and one of Matthew’s daughters is working casually while she’s at uni. It really is a family affair,” laughs Glenn.
Cold weather in the highlands means good business for the bakery, whose pie sales rise every time the thermometer drops.
“When it gets cold we sell pies,” Glenn says, explaining it was so cold the previous week he thought it was going to snow.
“You can see the spike in sales every time we get that sort of weather.”
Asked what’s changed over Southern Rise Bakery’s 21 years in the trade, Glenn says it’s the range of pies.
“Twenty-one years ago, people wanted a meat pie or a potato pie. Now people’s diets are changing; people’s wants are changing.
“We sell about 18 different pies now and that’s the biggest change. People are becoming more discerning; they know what they want and they ask, ‘is this gluten-free? Is this vegetarian? What type of chicken is in this chicken pie?’
“All of our meat comes from a local butcher in Robertson,” says Glenn.
“Most of our produce comes from in the Highlands, and the beauty of that is we can place an order in the morning and have it that day. That’s really important because production is at night.”
Glenn hands over at night to Matthew, who Glenn describes as a stickler for quality.
“He knows what he wants from his bakers and pastry cooks.”
When I spoke to Glenn, he was preparing for Pie Time, an annual festival occurring over the month of June across the Highlands. Last year, Southern Rise Bakery won the best pie at the festival’s pie competition.
“We won the best white meat pie and then we won the overall grand champion pie in the show with a pulled pork pie,” explains Glenn, who’s entering pies from the bakery’s Signature Range this year, a range that includes Steak Dianne, Lasagne, and Satay Chicken among others.
Southern Rise Bakery: A highland winter
Pie Time, now in its second year, is organised by Destination Southern Highlands, and attracts tourists with its cool weather and hearty produce.
“Last year, we sold over 4000 pies just on the two days at the show,” says Glenn.
“But for the whole month, we were up between 15 and 20 per cent. There were a lot of out-of-town people coming in, which is business we really need.”
This year, the lead up to Pie Time attracted the media’s attention, with Better Homes & Gardens and the Sydney Weekender having visited Southern Rise Bakery in anticipation of the festival.
Pie Time runs from June 1–30; remember to pack your beanie!