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Artists among us

The Rowlands: tarts, hearts and crafts

Posted: February 12, 2013 5:00 p.m.
Updated: February 13, 2013 5:00 a.m.
Denise Schnese/C-I

A Sandra Bernhardt pastry decorated with a single rose and gold leaf sprinkles.

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Sarah Bernhardts are only made once a year in Camden: the week of Valentine’s Day. Mulberry Market Bake Shop owners Peter and Fran Rowland make the pastries to the delight of a number of Camden residents. Named after French actress Sarah Bernhardt (1844-1923), these delicious treats consist of an almond macaroon base which are filled with mocha butter cream (or “chocolate ganache” if you want to be fancy), and dipped in marvelous melted chocolate.

Traditionally a pyramid shape, the Rowlands put their own creative spin on the treats by making them in the shape of a heart. This form is not only appropriate for the time period that they sell the pastries, but truly is a labor of love.

Peter and Fran make the pastries together. Standing opposite each other, the pair works harmoniously. Jazz music playing in the background, they joke and quip with one another while one rolls the base and the other adds the toppings.

Then the debate begins. Who is the true artist?

Not the typical argument, the two begin to dispute who really is the most skilled -- making the case that the other is better than themselves.

“Anybody that can take water flour and sugar and turn it into the wonderful things that he does … that is an art form,” states Fran.

Peter kindly retorts, “Now don’t believe that for a moment. She is the true artist. She got a BFA (Bachelor of Fine Arts) from Carolina. She paints; used to make her own dyes … she always was very prolific. The art from all of this comes from her.”

The pair met when Fran was a student at the University of South Carolina (USC). As Peter helped customers out front, Fran gave her account of their first encounter.

“Red Lobster …. We were both in college at USC, and that was my weekend job waiting tables at Red Lobster. I had gone home for Thanksgiving vacation and when I came back there was a new employee,” Fran said with a wink and a nod.

A few years later they decided to get married.

“Then we traveled a while,” Fran said. “We took off after I got out of school in May 1975 and hitchhiked up the East Coast, all the way up to Nova Scotia and back down. Peter happened to have some friends who were living in Provincetown (Cape Cod) and so we decided we would go back and spend a summer in Provincetown. Peter’s friend was working at a bakery there. The bakery had a sidewalk café attached to it. Peter was hired on as bakery help that summer and I was given a job in the sidewalk café waiting tables,” Fran said.

After that, they came back to Columbia. Peter went to work at a bakery in Columbia Mall first, then was employed by an Austrian baker for a number of years. This was followed by a stint in Montana where they worked at a deli.

“Then we came back home (to Camden) and had kids. Peter worked at the sawmills. After a while Peter decided he didn’t want to work for anybody else. That is when we opened Mulberry Market. ” Fran said.

That was 20 years ago.

Peter returns to the kitchen and says “We have a good time together.”

He rolls out the dough for the base and insists that his part is the craft, hers is the art. The discussion continues …

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