Billie Barker can’t stop thinking about food. When she’s weeding in the fields at Fire Fly Farm, the 20-acre property she owns in the Somerset County town of St. Albans, she’s picturing all the things she can cook with the vegetables she’s growing and the dozens of eggs her chickens lay. She listens to culinary podcasts all day. She obsessively collects cookbooks. She traveled to India last year and learned about spices and breads and the depths of Indian cuisine. She took a pastry class at Le Cordon Bleu in France.
Barker, a Michigan native who has lived in Maine for more than 20 years, is a woman with a mission — bringing delicious breads, pastries and cooked-to-order treats made almost entirely from organic, seasonal, local ingredients to farmers markets and fairs throughout eastern and central Maine. This year, the Enchanted Kitchen at Fire Fly Farm will be at the Belfast market 9 a.m.-1 p.m. Fridays, the Skowhegan (9 a.m.-1 p.m.) and Orono (8 a.m.-noon) markets on Saturdays, and the Bangor market 11 a.m.-2 p.m. Sundays, all of which open the first weekend of May, though Orono’s winter market continues every other Saturday.
“I can’t help it. It’s all I think about. I’m surrounded by it,” said Barker. “It’s something I really am totally passionate about. I love what I do.”
In addition to being the founder of the now-thriving Skowhegan Farmer’s Market, Barker has long been a staunch supporter and producing member of Maine’s organic farming and gardening community. She began farming in the early ’90s, first in southern Maine, and then in St. Albans, on her current farm. Despite all her hard work, however, she found that growing alone was not enough to pay the bills — so she began baking, and cooking, and soon became more well-known for her treats than her produce. She now does catering and special orders, on top of her market goods.
“I’ve really found that the value-added products I make have made all the difference,” Barker said. “I don’t know that I would have been able to make a go of it, since I’m on a smaller scale. I’ve still got vegetables and herbs and fruit here, but that means I get to use the food that’s in my own backyard for what I make to sell.”
Aside from the artisan bread and sweet treats like cookies and scones that she sells out of her cart at the markets, Barker makes plenty of savory items, too, in her “enchanted kitchen,” like her many varieties of homemade hummus, chicken liver pate, buttery popovers and her incredibly delicious hand pies — crispy dough with fillings such as local beef, potatoes, chicken, chorizo sausage and kale. New this year, she has hot, fresh, made-to-order crepes, cooked on a portable griddle with fillings such as her home-cured prosciutto, Appleton Creamery cheese, fresh ricotta, local berries, homemade pralines and whatever other seasonal treats she can get her hands on.
“I think it’s still kind of a novelty, to have things to eat and made-to-order food at a farmer’s market, so when people see it they get pretty excited,” said Barker. “I’m hoping these crepes take off. I’d love to go to festivals or fairs, too, because I just love being in that environment and seeing people and cooking for them. It’s so much fun for me.”
For information, call the Enchanted Kitchen at Fire Fly Farm at 938-3906.