Food & Drink

Why the South Loves Sister Schubert’s

All rise for the yeast roll queen

Photo: Courtesy of Sister Schubert's

Some people get starstruck by actors or musicians or artists. Not me. I had a full-on twenty-minute cocktail party conversation with Mad Men’s Jon Hamm once. Didn’t faze me. I’ve only been stunned to nervousness by two people, both luminaries of the Southern food world: the chef Vivian Howard (I eventually worked up the nerve to speak to her) and the yeast roll icon Sister Schubert.

If you don’t know Sister (aka Alabama native Patricia Schubert), you must not be from around here. The frozen food section of groceries all over the country stock her family recipe for Parker House rolls, and I’ve always loved them because they remind me of my late grandmother’s made-from-scratch carb bombs. In college, I used to put Sister Schubert’s rolls in the oven just because they filled my tiny apartment in Charlottesville with the scent of something familiar in an unfamiliar place. And today, you’ll still always find them in my freezer. They’re great for breakfast with Edwards country ham or Neese’s sausage tucked in the middle, and can be easily dressed up for a cocktail party with roast beef and horseradish cream and arugula. Also, everyone on the editorial staff at Garden & Gun knows that the delightful rolls are the only thing I’ll ever bring to our Thanksgiving potluck. 

So yes, I’m a devotee. And I’m not the only one. Last month, the company went viral with the news that they were retiring their sausage yeast rolls.

Many years before breaking the internet was even a thing, I met Patricia Schubert in person when she pulled up in the driveway of my parents’ house in my Virginia hometown to hand-deliver rolls. She was traveling for her cookbook tour, and she’d heard the local grocery stores in Martinsville were all sold out and that my Dad was her number one fan. All I remember is him yelling: “It’s Sister Schubert!!!” like the house was on fire or Mick Jagger had strolled into our kitchen. We were both ridiculously awkward while she was gracious and funny and even agreed to take a photo with us.

What I took away from that brief interaction was how much she cared about her family’s legacy, Southern foodways, and staying hands-on even after she had sold the tiny company. And I think of her, the real Sister Schubert, every time I butter one up.