Food & Drink

A New Cookbook from Virginia’s Beloved Red Truck Bakery

Brian Noyes talks pandemic baking, ugly tomatoes, and borrowing from the family recipe stash

Photo: Angie Mosier

This week, Brian Noyes of Red Truck Bakery in Marshall, Virginia, released a new cookbook, The Red Truck Bakery Farmhouse Cookbook, and it’s packed with eighty-plus recipes for pies, cakes, buckles, rolls, and more, including mouthwatering savories like heirloom tomato pie and crab cakes dabbed with jalapeño-cilantro mayonnaise.

Noyes opened Red Truck Bakery in 2009 and penned his first cookbook in 2018, and his latest collection of recipes lets local Southern ingredients and seasonal produce shine. “I wanted to base it on our little farmhouse on the edge of the Shenandoah Valley,” he says. “It’s a kind of farmers-market comfort food for the whole family.” Below, we caught up with the chef and talked about his favorite Southern ingredient providers, why he loves ugly tomatoes, and a sweet last-minute addition to the cookbook.

Tell me about how this cookbook started.  

Well, it started during lockdown. We came out to our farmhouse, which is kind of our weekend place. I brought recipes and a list of things that people had queried us about introducing in the bakery. I started looking online at Instagram, and it seemed like so many families were baking things from my first cookbook when they were all stuck at home together. And I thought, people are cooking their way through this pandemic, looking for family comfort, looking for activities together based on what ingredients are local or within reach.

I love the section where you highlight some of your favorite ingredient providers.

Yes, we have some of our favorite vendors listed. The first one I have to mention is Allan Benton; he’s revered throughout the South for his smoky hams and bacon. I use a lot of their products in the bakery and at home, and I’m just dying to get on this book tour and stop by their house and knock on their door and rock on the front porch with Allan and Sharon.

And then there’s this woman who’s down in southeastern Virginia. Her dad had a peanut farm and she married a peanut farmer. For thirty years, they’ve been producing a plump, classic Virginia peanut. I wanted to reinvent the classic Virginia peanut pie, which is a diner staple from back in the day. I thought about those peanuts from Patsy Marks and put together our take on a peanut pie, and that recipe is in here and it tastes like a big old candy bar.

Before we get into the sweet stuff, I noticed there are lots of savory dishes as well.

Oh yes, I want people to know there’s more than baked goods. There’s corn chowder, there’s crab cakes, there’s tomato pie…that tomato pie seems to be the thing everybody zeroed in on. In the first cookbook we had a green tomato pie, but some folks don’t want to be playing around with green tomatoes. People started asking if they could make it with big red ripe tomatoes. So I made this recipe to accommodate juicier tomatoes, and I’m a BLT guy, so I knew we were going to need a lot of smoked bacon too.

What tomatoes do you like to use? 

I always push for heirloom tomatoes. It’s like when you cook with wine or bourbon and they always say make sure it’s the best you can afford because it really shows up in the flavor. It’s the same way with tomatoes, right? I go for the ugliest tomatoes because I like them when they’re not perfect. They have a better shape and form and they don’t fall apart. Uglier tomatoes seem to have just a little more flavor to them. I always grab those right off—the ones that aren’t just round and sizable, but also kind of cauliflower-shaped with lumps coming out of the sides.

Ok, let’s talk about some of the bakery goods. All the editors here were drooling over the photo of that Farmers’ Market Galette.

I’m a fifth-generation Californian, and I came to visit my grandmother in the mountains of Western North Carolina as a kid, and it was like foreign cuisine to me. I remember one time she picked me up at the airport in Asheville and took me to a meat-and-three diner, and she had to order for me because I didn’t know what any of that stuff was. But I just grew to love it all and learned to cook it. I became enamored with those weird-sounding, sweet desserts, like pandowdy and buckle. The Farmers’ Market Galette is like a quick version of a pie, basically. It’s accessible and changeable—you just get whatever fruit looks good and use it.

And that birthday cake recipe lends such a personal touch. 

The Noyes birthday cake was the jewel of the family going back to the mid-1800s. Dad always wanted it when we were growing up in California. It’s like a Boston cream pie that has got a tart chocolate over a very rich, crazy white meringue icing. I kept thinking about it because I was going to dedicate the cookbook to my grandmother in North Carolina, who taught me how to make it. She was the caretaker of the family recipes, and this was straight out of her recipe book, but I couldn’t find that thing anywhere. Finally I just gave up after I’d gone through everything I had. But right at the end, I was carrying a stack of cookbooks and this little spiral notebook of hers fell off. The cover was already off. You know, those church cookbooks—they were spiral-bound, and they’d never stay that way. It was scattered across the floor, and the first thing that came out was this recipe that was tucked in there, folded. And it said “Noyes birthday cake.” I couldn’t believe it. I picked it up. I sent a note to my editor. I said, “I found what I’ve been looking for, and we’ve got to find a way to get it in,” and we did.