Got a sweet tooth? A diehard fan of homemade cooking? Well then, I’ve just made all your dreams come true. Er, not me I suppose. Meet Rhonda Cox of Four Seasons Catering & Bakery in Marion, Virginia. Family tradition and generations of experience are baked up into her loaves of sweet breads and pastries. In the recent years she’s also added jellies, jams, canned goods, nut butters, and full-on feasts for any event. Country ham? Check. Sausage & gravy? Oh yes.
I’ve seen Rhonda many times at the market, but I was finally able to sit down with her at her Marion restaurant and store location to talk shop. Together with her daughter, Meagan Robinson, Four Seasons was born out of a love for baking. Beginning in their home and expanding to multiple market locations spanning several counties, Rhonda and Meagan are incredibly hard-working individuals. It was clear to me the moment I met them that their number one priority in life is family; both to take care of them and carry out their legacy.
Besides selling delicious baked delicacies and crave-worthy canned goods at the market, they make wedding, shower, and birthday cakes! I guess you’d say that this family kind of does it all. Check them out at the next Holiday Farmer’s Market in Abingdon, Saturdays 10-12 pm, or head to Marion where you can eat, drink, shop, and browse stunning antique stores. Enjoy the photos and interview below!
Sarah: So how long ago did you start this business?
Rhonda: Well, the restaurant and all about 9 years ago. But, I’ve been catering for about 16 years. And I was kind of doing it intermittently with the baking and all, then I thought well, I’ll just open up a restaurant because it’s not every day you cater. We have regular customers, and it’s funny because locals don’t know you’re here but the out of town person can find you easy.
Sarah: Do you think it’s from the farmer’s market that people know?
Rhonda: I think that’s some of it, because I know we’ve had people come and eat who had been to the market and had bought stuff there. We have people that have come through the market and will call and order stuff and we’ll ship it to them. It’s kind of two-fold, and the markets really helped, I think.
Sarah: And do you go to markets other than the Abingdon one?
Rhonda: Well, I do Marion. I used to do Chilhowie all the time, but it just got to the point where I didn’t have the help. Then we do the Wytheville market and sometimes Rural Retreat.
Sarah: Wow, that’s a lot.
Rhonda: It is a lot. It is.
Sarah: And you’re open 6 days a week?
Rhonda: Well, we’re open Monday through Friday. Usually open up about 7:00. We used to have a group that would come in at 5:30, so we’d open up at 5:30 every day. And they kind of dwindled out, some retired, this and that.
Sarah: If I don’t have to get up early, then I won’t!
Rhonda: Exactly. And I don’t come any earlier than I have to, unless there’s a reason for me to have to come in earlier. Now, when we go to the 8:00 am market, I’m usually here by 4:00 o’clock to get biscuits and sausage and gravy and everything fried, in order to get there on time. If I didn’t, I’d never make it.
Sarah: Before the restaurant, when you were working out of your home, did you start with just baked goods?
Rhonda: We did. I just started with baked. And then, I can’t tell you why I started doing jellies and jams, ‘cause I really don’t why, but then they just grew. So, then we started doing pickles, and chow-chows, and relishes. This year we added the beans and tomatoes in because I had people asking for them.
Sarah: Where do you get the beans and tomatoes?
Rhonda: All of that’s from the market. Every bit of that. There’s nothing on the shelf over there that didn’t come from the market.
Sarah: I saw the moonshine jellies, too. Can you tell me a little bit about those?
Rhonda: The moonshine store is up on main street of Marion. They’re actually moving up on 16. They make local moonshine, and we just take their product and turn it into jelly. Now we also do that two-fold, because there’s also a distillery at Davis Valley Winery, and they started doing whiskey, rum, and vodka. So, we take theirs and we make it just for them.
Sarah: You don’t have to give away your secrets, but how do you turn alcohol into jelly?
Rhonda: You just cook it, and the pectin will help. I just kind of piddle with it until it works. Sometimes more pectin. Now I know what works and what doesn’t.
Sarah: I have to get some today because I’m so curious about the moonshine.
Rhonda: Depends on what kind you want. If you go with the plain moonshine, it’s excellent as a marinade on seafood and chicken. Excellent. The baked apple is really good on toast. And the cherry, I think, is the prettiest of them all.
Sarah: Once you got the restaurant, you started into food. I love your chicken salad, I’ve had that. And then you started making nut butters. Was it just kind of adding on stuff?
Rhonda: Well, actually this is the first year we added the nut butters. They went really well. There were a few weeks I didn’t take them, and I think it really hurt. And the reason I didn’t take them was because I didn’t have room on the table.
Sarah: You can only stack so high. Especially now, so many people are looking for options other than peanuts.
Rhonda: And pistachio butter is probably the best seller of them all. It’s awesome. I wouldn’t have to put it on anything, I could just eat it with a spoon and nothing else.
Sarah: Ah, I must try that! That’s my worry, that it would be gone within a day. What’s your favorite part of all of this?
Rhonda: Baking, I love to bake. It all goes back to how it started for me…my grandma and mom both are really good cooks, so I just kind of picked it up and went from there with it. There’s a sign out front that says, “Grandma’s home cookin’”. That’s why. That’s where it comes from. It really goes back to her. And we all love to can. My favorite thing to can is weird. My favorite thing to can is beets. I love to can beets.
Rhonda: Easy, simple. You just cook them, run ‘em in your hands and the peel falls off. And my mom is the same way. She loves canned beets.
Sarah: When I moved down here, it was the first time that I really started stepping out of the box with food. ‘Cause my Stepdad, he smoked his own meat and he cans, and my mom started more with him. And we always had pickled eggs in beet juice and canned beets in our house, but I never ate them because I thought, wow, that’s disgusting. But now, I know what you’re talking about! It took me 12 years to try these things.
Rhonda: I will eat a pickled beet, but I won’t eat a cooked beet. Well, I was getting down on my beets…I canned more beets this year than I’ve ever canned. I sold that many. When you’re down to 3 jars and you’ve canned 46, I’d say you really move ‘em out. Well, my mom wanted some to cook. We cooked them for her, and it was too many and I got one and wow, I loved it. And parsnips, I used to not like parsnips and now they’re the best things where I’m concerned.
Sarah: I’m meshing Marion and Abingdon’s markets here, but what does the local community mean to you?
Rhonda: Well, I used to, just thought it was nothing and then I learned that no, it does make a difference. Using local, putting those local labels on products because I think people like to know, especially millennials. The local thing means a lot to millennials. I always do local when I can. The breakfast, it’s all local eggs, local sausage.
Sarah: I think with the millennials, we just took so many steps away from that and now people want simple again, at least an element of that, because it’s just so overwhelming. We want some sort of simplicity and knowledge to stay grounded.
Rhonda: It’s different when you actually see someone face to face and know where it’s coming from. Whereas at the store, you don’t.