Beth Richardson of Portland grinds her own wheat flour at home using wheat berries from an organic farm in South Dakota. Photo courtesy of Beth Richardson

Barbara Fiore of Portland is a little afraid to go back to the grocery store. The last time she went in search of flour for her sourdough bread, the shelves were empty of baking supplies.

“It was shocking,” she said.

The shelves at the Forest Avenue Hannaford store were empty of flour on March 14. Supplies are coming in steadily, the company says, but customers are buying them up quickly. Photo by Peggy Grodinsky

She eventually found what she needed at the Portland Food Co-op. But bakers all over the country are experiencing the same thing. Grocery shelves are depleted of flour, sugar, yeast and other ingredients used in baking.

Michael Jubinsky, owner of Stone Turtle Baking School in Lyman, recently shipped yeast to his daughter in Las Vegas because she couldn’t find any in her local stores. “I had to mail her a 1-pound block of yeast,” he said. “I paid $2.13 for the yeast, and I spent $8.60 to mail it to her.”

Product is arriving steadily at Hannaford stores, according to spokesman Eric Blom, but customers are grabbing it as soon as it hits the shelves. For now, no purchase limits have been placed on flour, yeast or other baking products, he said. But the store is asking customers to buy only what they need.

While Rosemont Markets ran out of a few things early on in the grocery-store scramble, including flour, on Wednesday they were well-stocked with flour, sugar, eggs, milk, butter and dry yeast, according to Erin Lynch, director of operations. “Our shoppers don’t really have the hoarding mentality.”

Maine Grains, a Skowhegan-based grist mill, normally sends 10 to 12 cases of oats to Whole Foods Market each week, said Amber Lambke, president of the company. This week, the order was up to 40 cases. The mill’s online sales and direct sales to customers have gone through the roof, she added.

“Some people are provisioning at home and hunkering down to bake as a family activity, and you’ve got to have supplies to do that,” she said.

Online orders used to be shipped to customers within 24 hours. Now it’s taking a few days, Lambke said. To try to satisfy demand, the mill has started offering its best-selling products in 25-pound bags and has expanded operating hours.

Shelves in the flour section are largely empty, save for a few organic options, at the Hannaford supermarket in Scarborough on Friday. Gregory Rec/Staff Photographer

“We’re just trying to reassure customers that there’s plenty of supply. There’s plenty of grain,” Lambke said. “Through this period, it’s just a matter of keeping the millstone churning.”

Online, baking hashtags are running rampant: #keepsafeandbake, #distractedbaking, #twitterbakealong.

What are Mainers doing with all this flour, sugar and yeast? If you go by Facebook, they’re baking pound cake, chocolate chip cookies, buttermilk biscuits, brownies, blondies, rhubarb coffee cake, apple-oatmeal muffins, peanut butter kiss cookies, sourdough baguettes, vegan Hawaiian rolls, and much more.

Fiore has been keeping her three sourdough starters alive so she can feed her “high-metabolism skinny” teacher husband who is spending his days at home now and is eating more. Pre-isolation, Fiore baked bread about once a week, but she’s upped that schedule to two or three times. In addition to her usual whole wheat sourdough bread, she’s cranking out crackers, sourdough pretzels, pita bread and cookies.

“I think I’ve gained a couple of pounds,” she said. “I won’t step on the scale, but I’m positive. And I’m OK with it.”

Look around Instagram, and you’ll find home bakers who are making extra of everything so they can give it away. Jubinsky and his wife, Sandy, now dedicate a day a week to baking for others. Last week, they made two types of bread. This week, it’s bagels. They’re delivering the food to people in their community who have lost their jobs, and to younger families now at home with kids.

“It’s probably one of the most satisfying things I’ve done,” Jubinsky said. “It’s a small thing, but these people are having a tough time. And it’s just human contact. It’s not Facebook.”

Other Mainers are using baking as a lesson for children who are being schooled at home. Baking can teach older children math and chemistry. And there’s no need to get fancy. Jubinsky recommends making a simple white loaf with small children. The dough is “like Play-Doh,” he said. “They can make rope figures out of it.”

Chef Andrew Chadwick of Sea Glass restaurant in Cape Elizabeth is teaching a home economics class to his kids one day a week. This week, the children learned how to make Parker House rolls.

But most people appear to be baking as a way to deal with stress and give themselves comfort.

“There’s something incredibly satisfying about watching the dough rise and punching it down,” said Beth Richardson of Portland.

Beth Richardson of Portland made these sticky sweet date buns Friday. Photo courtesy of Beth Richardson

Richardson isn’t worried about running out of baking supplies. She has an unopened 10-pound bag of flour in her pantry, along with a new 20-pound shipment of wheat berries from an organic farm in South Dakota – she grinds her own whole wheat flour for bread. She has yeast in her refrigerator, and when that runs out, there’s a 16-ounce brick of yeast in her freezer.

“My grandmother, who taught me to bake, went through the Depression and was an immigrant from eastern Europe,” Richardson said. “She made all of her own bread and always made sure she had (ingredients). I’ve got some of that 1930s Albanian blood in me.”

She recently made a batch of English muffins that filled her home with an “amazing” aroma. Late last week, she was working on two recipes from the latest Bon Appetit magazine – sticky sweet date buns, and scallion pancakes with chili-ginger dipping sauce.

Richardson scaled way back on baking a couple of years ago, after she and her husband adopted a very low-carb lifestyle, featuring lots of chicken and mashed cauliflower.

The coronavirus has made her rethink things: “Screw that, I want bread.”

Related Headlines


Only subscribers are eligible to post comments. Please subscribe or to participate in the conversation. Here’s why.

Use the form below to reset your password. When you've submitted your account email, we will send an email with a reset code.