It’s an unusually cool summer afternoon in Big Valley. Outside the Finley Country Market, rose bushes and lavender pop out of planters, framing the red, farmhouse-looking store. Several picnic tables, shaded by umbrellas, stretch across the courtyard. Finley Country Market’s been around twenty-five years and serves as a hub for the small community. They’ve got a good barbecue, offering grilled chicken, burgers, or tri-tip sandwiches depending on the day of the week. And they’re popular; it’s not uncommon for the market to receive twenty-five or thirty pre-orders on Fridays for their tri-tip sandwiches.
And each Friday, another wonderful thing happens at the market. There, on the counter next to the register, sit Karen Shippley’s gluten-free muffins. Depending on Karen’s mood, you may find blueberry muffins, carrot cake or German chocolate cupcakes, all luscious and completely gluten-free.
Karen was diagnosed in 2007 with celiac disease, but she couldn’t give up on her passion for baking. “I’ve always baked,” she said, sitting at one of those courtyard tables, her long, dark hair trailing down her back. “And when I found out I had to go gluten-free, it was a little bit of a bummer.” She shrugs her shoulders. “The flour tasted bad. I would try a gluten-free recipe, and it wouldn’t taste good. So, I decided to use my own recipes and make them gluten-free.” It wasn’t long before she perfected her own gluten-free flours and discovered the secrets for making delicious baked goods.
Not only does Karen have a great reputation to her local Finley community for her amazing homemade goodness; she has multiple awards backing her reputation. “That carrot cake is award-winning,” she smiles. “It’s a recipe that my mom had for years, and I just made it gluten-free. One year I decided to enter it in the fair. I thought it would be fun,” she laughs, a bright, happy laugh. “Then I went to the fair and looked at the cakes to see how I did, and couldn’t find it.” She pushes her black sunglasses a bit further back on her head. “So I asked a lady working there, and she directed me to the big display in the middle of the room. The cake had won first place and best of show.” If you’ve tasted the carrot cake, you’ll know why. It’s moist, rich, and filled with flavor—one of the best carrot cakes I’ve had.
“We’re kind of simple folk,” Karen continues, downplaying her skills. “We like to do things simple. I retired four years ago, so I bake at my convenience.” She spreads her arms wide and smiles broadly. “I’m the retired baker!”
Even though she bakes at her convenience, she doesn’t cut corners. Each muffin is a work of art, made with skill and love. Most gluten-free desserts that you can find at a grocery store end up having a dried, industrial flavor. Not Karen’s. Each bite is like a taste of home.
If you want to try out Karen Shippley’s gluten-free goodness, head to Finley Market on Fridays. And while you’re there, try out a tri-tip sandwich. But beware! They do regularly sell out.
Finley Country Market
1970 Big Valley Rd, Lakeport, CA 95453