Nora Ranson stands behind the counter of P&R Baked Goods, Broad Street Market. Behind her rests her massive two-tiered commercial oven, black and worn with use. Black-and-white photographs of times past climb the wall to a towering height, representing Nora’s respect for where she’s come from, but before her sits her masterpieces: at least six pound cakes are currently for sale, each with glazed drips of frosting around the cake’s scrolled edge.
“I want to be the pound cake diva!” Nora jokes dramatically.
For some, she might as well be. For the past four and a half years at the Broad Street Market, P&R Baked Goods has offered pound cakes in traditional flavors such as cream cheese or 7Up in proportions not easily matched in Harrisburg. On a good day, she is baking over 10 traditional pound cakes a day, in addition to homemade cookies and pies.
The slogan of P&R Baked Goods reads, “Stuff as good as your mama’s,” and Nora’s serious. “My recipes are old, traditional recipes from friends, from neighbors down the road,” she explains. This means that her baked goods are made with the same labor of love that our mothers and grandmothers used to do.
Nora’s carrot cake, for example, is a two-day process. After the cake rises, it is soaked in a buttermilk mixture overnight, then baked the next day. Rather than spreading the cake with a traditional cream cheese icing, which Nora finds to be “too sweet,” she cuts her frosting with a dash of lemon juice and grated lemon peel. The result is a cake of nearly divine proportions: dense and heavy, crammed with raisons, nuts, and brown sugar, and frosted with the icing which soaks into the batter. “I would say that the carrot cake is one of the most unique cakes I make,” she says.
In addition to the mouth-watering carrot cake, Nora offers also everything from homemade apple cinnamon cookies, which use Granny Smith apples, oatmeal, and no white sugar, to a chocolate peanut butter cake which uses a whole half pound of chocolate. Her sweet potato pie on a homemade crust follows in the southern tradition. With decadent, soulful desserts like these, it’s no wonder she’s caught the attention of the Midtown Scholar bookstore just across the street; encouraging all-natural and sustainable living through their coffees, teas, books, and lifestyle, the Scholar also has Nora’s baked goods for sale.
With the holidays--P&R’s peak season--just around the corner, Nora finds it easy to describe her passion for baking. “For me, it’s about therapy and creating something new,” she explains. “I’m creative with flour. I always have to tweek a recipe and make sure that it’s just right.”
Orders for Thanksgiving open approximately three weeks before the holiday; orders are taken by phone or by the stand. “I’m looking forward to the excitement,” Nora says.
Soon to celebrate P&R’s five year anniversary--and considering an expansion beyond the Broad Street Market in the near future--Nora attributes much of her inspiration to her husband, Ed, her business partner and part-time help.
“Before I began, my husband had kept telling me that I could sell my cakes,” Nora explains, “and I kept saying, ‘Nobody wants to buy baked goods!’ ”
She laughs heartily as a timer buzzes, and she stoops to remove three cakes from her oven. “Obviously, I was wrong!”
P&R Baked Goods
Broad Street Market, Stone Building
1233 North Third Street
Harrisburg, PA 17102
Thursdays & Fridays, 7am-5pm
For holiday or personal orders, place request in person or call:
350-5327 (cell, Nora)
350-5326 (cell, Ed)