Baking for the Black Belt

Sharing the flavors of her Egyptian heritage, baker Sarah Cole is winning over palates in Alabama’s Black Belt region

Photo: Cary Norton

Cole in her home kitchen with a four-layer lavender coriander cake with fig leaf whipped cream.

Age: 33.

Home base: Greensboro, Alabama.

Known for: Sarah Cole’s Egypt-meets-Alabama dishes propelled her food business, Abadir’s, from a pop-up bakery to a new spot in a cottage on the edge of downtown Greensboro, which will serve as a home for her pastries and grab-and-go meals, dinner events, and classes for the nonprofit she founded, Black Belt Food Project.

Heritage and home: “My mom and her family fled religious persecution in Egypt, ending up in Demopolis, Alabama, where she met my dad and where I was raised. When I was growing up, my gedo [granddad], who didn’t speak a lot of English, connected with me through his Egyptian cooking. My mom was proficient in what I call ‘rural Egyptian’ cooking, creating the foods of her home with ingredients she could get in our little town.”

Name dropping: “My mom’s family name is Abadir, but they changed it when they got to the United States. I’ve always thought it was beautiful, so I reclaimed it.”

Perfect union: “Abadir’s blends Arab ingredients into more familiar packages: dates in my chocolate chip cookies, tahini in my orange-honey rolls, and coriander with strawberries in my cornmeal pound cake. I grew up enjoying Southern and Egyptian dishes, so playing with the cuisines together feels natural.”

Go for the gold: “It’s been fun to see people fall in love with these flavors, and kind of surprising, too, that some of my really traditional items, like sfouf, an intensely yellow Lebanese turmeric cake, are the ones people now want the most.”

Good and good for you: “I put emphasis on nutritionally rich and seasonal ingredients. Not diet food. But natural, simple, and wholesome, like honey, fruit, and whole-grain flours. Taste matters, but I hope to get others thinking about nourishing their bodies, too.”

Sweet mission: “I wanted to do more than make food and sell it, so I founded Black Belt Food Project, a nonprofit focused on education and increased access to good food. We’re launching programming like hands-on cooking and nutrition classes. It’s not to tell people how or what to eat, but to improve the understanding of what we’re consuming and why.”

On the rise: “Our new space means an expansion of everything I’ve been doing. Abadir’s has been in my heart a long time. It feels really good to see what it’s becoming.”