While many of Madison’s small businesses have closed to slow the spread of COVID-19, others are adapting, taking on different forms to serve the isolated, and hungry, people of Madison.
Ethel Ann’s Savories and Sweets is one such business. Founder and chef John Kibler is offering “Emotional Support” packages filled with Southern-style treats to help spread positive messages and good eating during a time of social distancing.
“There’s so much stress and dread in our world right now,” Kibler said. “I thought, if we could do something to brighten people’s days through homemade baked goods and add a little note to let them know others are thinking of them, that may be the best medicine for all this.”
The packages can be ordered through Ethel Ann’s website (ethelanns.com) and come in small, medium and large sizes. The smallest package has four of every product on Ethel Ann’s sweet and savory menu, starting with sweets like lemon citrus teacakes, spicy chocolate cookies (with cayenne pepper and espresso) and oatmeal toffee cookies.
On the savory side there are shortbread crackers, also known as “cheese straws,” that come in parmesan, cheddar, blue cheese, pimento and gouda flavors. The largest boxes, at $75 each, have 12 of each cake, cookie and cracker.
The packages were originally going to be called “Survival Kits” until Kibler and his husband Paul Cochran decided to give customers the option to add an emotional support note to the package, for those ordering for their loved ones.
“It’s more important than ever that we tell people how much we love them,” Kibler said. “We sent a survival kit that we threw together early in the virus (outbreak) to my mother and my sister. They both loved them and sent wonderful responses to having something homemade and some loving words in the midst of the virus. We were certain this is something other families could benefit from too.”
Kibler and Cochran started Ethel Ann’s nine years ago to honor Kibler’s rural Georgia roots. He got the recipes from his mother, Ethel Ann Kibler. The biscuits in Kibler’s packages are named “Sennie Mae Biscuits,” after the family’s caretaker during the 1960s and ’70s, Sennie Mae Allen.
“I remember I would be sitting on top of the dryer while Sennie Mae was baking and she’d give me a little dough and I’d practice with her,” Kibler said. “My mother still has her blue notebook of mimeographed recipes from her cooking classes with Nathalie Dupree (author of “Mastering the Art of Southern Cooking”).
“I just love being able to give some attention and honor to these inspirational Southern women in my life who I don’t think were ever recognized like they should have been.”
In non-quarantine times, Ethel Ann’s products can be purchased wholesale at Madison’s Pasture and Plenty, Fromagination and at any Nordstrom in Chicago.
Kibler is happy that Sennie Mae and Ethel Ann’s recipes can do more than introduce northerners to pecan pie tassies and nutter butters. They can also offer a taste of home, a little bit of normalcy.
“People really express themselves and their feelings through the food they make and the food they enjoy eating,” said Kibler. “I loved being able to hold onto that, even when the world changes so much.”
Within the Madison area, Ethel Ann’s offers free, in-person delivery of “Emotional Support” kits, and free shipping to orders outside of Madison. After the quarantine, Kibler plans to continue with wholesale and hopes to expand the business to Minneapolis and Indianapolis.
“Until then, we’re just trying to make the most of a tough situation by offering whatever sweetness we can give,” said Kibler.
Stay up-to-date on what's happening
Receive the latest in local entertainment news in your inbox weekly!