Irene Fishburn, a native of Holland, pictured at her bakery in Newburg, north of Mabel. The one-day a week bakery specializes in French pastries. (Photo by Sharen Storhoff)
A tiny bakery thrives in Newburg
NEWBURG — Deep in the countryside of Fillmore County, there is an unexpected treasure in the little hamlet of Newburg, north of Mabel. A thriving–but almost secret–authentic French bakery is open only on Saturdays, and only for two hours. Yet throngs of the cognoscenti place their preorders on Friday, or arrive to take their chances on what appears in the display case. Welcome to Newburg Vintage Home and Garden and Small Batch Bakery.
Sixteen years ago, Irene and Glenn Fishburn left their high-powered California life for Cedar Rapids, Iowa, to be closer to grandchildren. They began their quest for somewhere peaceful to retire. They landed in Newburg, where they settled in with their new neighbors and created first a garden shop, and then a bakery. Locals and visitors from afar find their way at the appointed hours to partake of exquisite croissants and other sweet delicacies made by Irene, baker extraordinaire.
The couple had traveled for two years seeking the right place. After their first idea of a lavender farm in Oregon fell through due to lack of a well, and then a Door County opportunity turned sour when they saw the summer tourist crowds, a stay in Lanesboro stirred their imaginations. Always on the lookout, Irene says “I found this place on the Internet on a Friday night, and called the realtor the next morning, and that was it!”
The hundred year old store with an attached home had sat empty for ten years along County Road 24. It sits down in the valley by the Methodist Church, amongst a few other homes and farms.
“A close community of nineteen people became like instant relatives from day one that we arrived.” Irene says. “People told us about everybody that looked at the place, but nobody ever really had a vision for it. Or nobody was crazy enough to take it on.” The Fishburns honestly weren’t sure what they were going to do with it when they moved in.
Glenn’s passion for fly fishing and Irene’s dream of an enclosed garden came first, before any business ideas. The pair loves to go out to area trout streams together, and then walk in opposite directions as they ply the waters for fish.
They work together on the garden. Irene says, “I’ve had so many gardens that I’ve had to leave because we moved. I want a final one. Everything I’ve ever seen in other gardens, I wanted to put into this one.” Her dad had a variety of fruit trees, and luckily the property came with seven apple trees, and three more were added.
“I like the English folly, a building whose only purpose is ornamental, like my three garden houses,” says Irene. An enclosing fence opens to reveal a big open garden space. “Before anything else got done, I started drawing out a walking labyrinth,” says Irene. “It was a crazy idea and I planted it with colorful zinnias. Visitors loved to stroll the curving trail.”
In their second year, Irene used her past business career as a buyer of garden decor to turn the old store into a delightful marketplace. She used her good taste to fill the shop with useful garden gifts for sale. “People drove quite a ways to find our shop, and when they happened to find us, the first thing they asked us is if we had any food! I got some cookies out, or even a loaf of bread and peanut butter.” Of course that triggered their next business inspiration of opening a bakery.
Irene had baking in her background. “Our family was from Indonesia and lived in Holland. I helped my mother. She was one of those that measured every little thing, so I measured everything. I went with her to deliver things, and I always loved the way the bakery display counters looked.”
The Fishburns started offering baked items four days a week, with scones, cream puffs and items Irene was able to make fresh every day for those who were in the know about where to find the Newburg Bakery. Aqua Kitchenaid mixers lined the walls, often mixing up different doughs at the same time.
Covid changed their plan, and for the past several years the bakery has been open on Saturdays only, for a couple of hours at midday. A menu of items for sale is posted a couple of days before on social media, and customers are encouraged to pre-order and pick up at the door. Those who come in to shop are treated to an exquisite display case full of authentic, delicious and fancy baked treats. The long drive, the cluster of cars parked on an otherwise empty country road, and the treats awaiting inside create an ambience of excitement and pride. Late arrivals may miss out entirely, as everything sells quickly.
When asked for a few baking secrets, Irene is quick to point out that most failures come from the way we measure ingredients. It is critical to weigh dry ingredients. “When I first discovered this I would do both methods of scooping flour into a measuring cup, and then I would weigh it. It was a big difference, and that’s why a lot of pastries fail. Too much flour and not enough liquid.” The liquid ingredients are generally accurate and do not need to be weighed.
“Eggs are the worst! Large eggs are not all the same, and it really matters when you’re making cream puffs. I weigh eggs out of the shell. Butter has changed too, as even European butters have water added to it. The fat content has to be between 83 and 85 percent for French pastry.”
Newburg Bakery has become well known for its delicate croissants. Customers often exclaim, “Just like the ones I had in Paris!” Irene spends hours overnight rolling out the thin layers of laminated dough. She also likes puff pastries, but she keeps the additions simple, emphasizing the delicate pastry itself.
Glenn gets much of the credit for his support and assistance, which includes a big dishwashing role. Irene says, “Whatever ideas I have, he makes them come alive. He’s always ready to make whatever. He’s very supportive.
Balancing success with a quiet country life can be a challenge.
“I’m trying to find that little happy spot where you make enough pastries to fill everybody’s need and yet you don’t kill yourself. I get up Friday morning about three AM, and then I bake all day and all night and no sleep… That’s not the healthiest thing. Last week I forgot to put a cut off time on my pre-orders and I got more orders than what I had time for, and Glenn was baking in the house oven while I was baking in the store, and we had all these timers going off all day Friday into Saturday.”
Irene’s recent addition of filling large wedding orders of cupcakes can add to the stress. “Having helpers or sharing the work helps. One friend has been helping me in the bakery, and then when she does her commercial gardens in spring I go over there and seed her plants and help get ready for her business. So we help each other. I also have another friend to help me box all the orders on bakery morning, and then we fill the whole display case and start filling customer orders.”
Irene muses about why she works so hard. “It’s about just seeing people enjoy it, and especially people that have never tasted a croissant before. We hear from people who have tasted them and you know they do appreciate what goes into it. I like doing it the way we want to do it, and at the scale we want to do it. So if it doesn’t feel right, we tweak it.”
Visit the Newburg Vintage Home and Garden and Small Batch Bakery Facebook Page to learn more.
Loni Kemp worked for forty years bringing organizations together to create sustainable agriculture, renewable energy and a healthy environment. She gardens and forages at her home near Canton.