Cynthia Carroll made her first cake when she was 6 years old. When she was 10, she received a Pillsbury cake baking set for Christmas, and by the following summer, she set up a cake stand beside her brother’s lemonade stand in the front yard of their Concord home.
“I don’t think we ever sold anything, but we had great snacks and lots of friends,” Carroll says.
Three years ago, she published Southern Suppers and Such, a collection of recipes she gathered and created throughout a lifetime of preparing meals and confections for others.
From the beginning, food has been about more than a meal or a way to earn money. Carroll remembers spending every Sunday afternoon at her grandparents’ home, where she and her cousins played in the yard and felt sure they were going to starve before being called in for dinner. Her grandmother Broomie served fried chicken with mashed potatoes and gravy, green beans, biscuits, and banana pudding. “There’s an unwritten law in North Carolina that ’nana puddin’ has to be served at all Sunday dinners, family reunions, church homecomings, and funerals,” Carroll writes in the cookbook’s introduction.
But more than the flavors and a full belly, Carroll recalls the happiness and security she felt at those gatherings. “Family meals are what I love, what have always made me feel like a part of something,” she says.
Those days and dinners set the course for her career. Within a year of receiving the baking set, she started decorating and selling cakes to family and friends. For the next 35 years, she ran her own wedding and special-occasion cake business. Six years ago, she and her husband, Doug, opened Shady Wagon Farm, a bed-and-breakfast inn in Chatham County that plays host to weddings and special events.
It’s a business the couple built on Carroll’s love of not only cooking, but also bringing people together.