Sweets from the Forest: Tamar from Tamarind Bakery

For the Love of Baking

Tamar started this business on a hunch, just from doing something that she loved, baking for the people around her. “I often baked with my mom when I was a kid. She always had cookies or a cake in the oven, the smell of freshly baked goods is a very nostalgic memory for me. She is not a professional but she is a great cook and baker, she is really quite amazing. I was, obviously, imbued with the flavours and smells and energy of this beautiful creative activity. The first ‘official’ order for Tamarind Bakery, so to speak, was a batch of Snickerdoodles, the cookies I often made with my mother.” 

“So we started, that is Kala and I, around 6 years ago in my kitchen at home with my old gas oven. We would bake around the kids, dogs and cats. It was a little challenging with everyone around, so sometimes I would bring the kids to bed around 8 or 9 and start baking after. Then I would finish late at night, at 1 or 2 am when everyone was asleep.”

Tamar and Kala have developed many products over the years, with the all-time favourite being the Carrot Cake. “Yes, many people love our Carrot Cake. It is very rich and flavourful. We put in lots of spices; it tastes a little like Christmas. My favourite is the Oat Crunchy Granola Bar. It is filled with nuts, seeds and dried fruits, and to give it a twist we put in some cheeky chocolate.”

At some point, Tamar was asked to supply Marc’s Café with regular batches of baked goods, and the work started to develop. When it became a bigger job, Kala stepped in, and now, fortunately, they have more regular working hours. “Kala was trained on the job and as it turns out, she is very talented. So from helping me clean the house, she became a full-time baker. She has two kids, and somehow they have all become part of the family here. I am very grateful for her.”

Baking English

Tamar also is one of the coordinators at The Learning Community (TLC), a school in Auroville, where she works with the kids daily to support them in their learning journeys. As TLC applies a free progress methodology, the children shape their own curriculum so that they can learn according to their own interest and develop all parts of their being. One class that Tamar offers in TLC is called ‘Baking English’: “The kids discover the English language through recipes. They explore grammar, spelling and creative writing. They also examine the nutritional benefits of the recipes, like for the carrot cake, they looked into the vitamins and minerals of a carrot. Whatever they bake they sell in their little tea shop. Right now, they are exploring the concept of gift economy. It is all quite inspiring, follows no predetermined syllabus, and whatever they are curious to explore they will dive into.”

The kids have also helped Tamar expand her bakery out of her own kitchen. “We built a little place next to our community kitchen, so that I am still close to home but not right in the middle of everything. Johnny from Fertile came and built the two wood-fire ovens, together with the kids from TLC.” 

A Personal Touch

There is something special, to Tamar, about creating a product for a person you know. “I like to have a person in mind when I am baking. Of course the cookies are magical and beautiful and we make them with a lot of consciousness and awareness, and gorgeous ingredients. But there is something different when you bake with a person in mind. And especially in Auroville, we know many of the people who are ordering. It is really touching to see how our cakes and cookies are appreciated by the local community. We get orders for birthday cakes from people who used to buy these sugary icing cakes in Pondicherry. I try to make it clear that we do home baked cakes without fancy icing, but with quality ingredients and full of taste.”

Tamarind Bakery is rooted in Auroville and Tamar wants to keep it that way: “I want my products to be available to Aurovilians and to our guests. For me this is about home, community, connection. People have asked me, ‘Where do you see your future, how much do you want to expand…’ I am actually not too interested in that. Of course, it will be great if more and more people can enjoy my cookies and cakes, but my priority is to supply here in Auroville, to make homely cakes and cookies full of soul. I want to offer something of quality rather than producing in big quantities. This is why we made a major shift to use organic ingredients wherever possible. It is great to see how more and more food producers in Auroville are shifting to organic ingredients. There is a lot of interaction in between us and we are coordinating our suppliers.” 

New Life after Lockdown?

The corona virus lockdown had an impact on the bakery, and on Tamar. “The ladies were not here, they could not come in from the village. I was low on income because the outlets were closed. I put it out there that I was taking individual orders, and once again I found myself alone, in the bakery, like many years ago. I reconnected to how much I like to bake by myself, in the quiet of the forest. This lockdown has given me a moment of reflection, and now I hope I can continue to do this, to organise my days at TLC so that I can spend one morning a week alone in the bakery. 

I get a lot of feedback from people that they can feel that there is care in the cakes and the cookies, and that is very true. It’s very much there; we are not churning anything out automatically. We bake with a lot of presence, and when I am in the bakery, I am engaging with all my senses, feeling the heat of the fire, hearing the sounds of the surrounding forest. It’s been a discovery. Hopefully, it will take a while before life gets busy again. I am quite enjoying this.”

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