When Bodie Robins describes grain, the tone and timbre of his voice soften.
He’s no longer discussing his job, the day-to-day minutiae of operating Big Skye Bakers and dispersing pies at farmers’ markets throughout Tucson and Sierra Vista. Rather, he’s detailing what he believes to be the true magic of baking. Robins is the owner of a new grain mill, and he’s been grinding his own grains into heirloom Sonoran white wheat flour, coarse-grained white flour, and other heritage wheat grain flours to make cupcakes, cookies, and more.
“It’s a very loving process,” he says. “There are so many new possibilities, and such differences in taste. I’ve been working on my puff pastry, which is so delightful and an extraordinarily arduous project. You might spend five to six hours preparing this dough. When you roll it out and it puffs up to about four times its height, it’s just magic. Then I’ll find some fresh peaches and wonderful Ataulfo mangoes, lay the fruit out on top of the puff with almost nothing else, and it is just so beautiful.”
The “swarthy and wholesome” coarse grain white flours, among others, that Robins has been experimenting with are a departure from his firmly established Tucsonan reputation as a mesquite flour baker. After the housing market crash in 2008, then-architectural designer Robins simultaneously discovered his love for baking and the abundance of mesquite: “There was this eureka moment. There’s mesquite everywhere: it’s ubiquitous, it’s abundant. I couldn’t even describe the taste. It was like trying to describe a summer rain. It was just phenomenal.”
Robins began spending his time in the kitchen, baking for most of the day and taking mesquite treats over to the neighbors. In addition to the flavor of mesquite, which he describes as “somewhere in the realm of cinnamon and maple sugar,” he was attracted to mesquite’s high protein content, naturally clearing sugars that the body can process without insulin, and nutritious amounts of calcium, magnesium, iron, and zinc. “I walked from my house to trees that I knew. I always collected from certain trees. Eventually, I perfected a small lineup of products, and began to sell them at the Rincon Valley Farmers’ Market in 2009.”
Big Skye Bakers’ original lineup included what would become one of Robins’ specialties: pies made with mesquite flour.
“There’s no greater love than a pie. To give a pie to someone is a hugely heartfelt thing,” he says. In his hometown of Walla Walla, Washington, Robins learned to make pie crust and pies from his grandmother, using wild blackberries along the creek to craft special treats. Today, Big Skye pies are vibrant and fresh, a stark contrast to the cloying, crumbly supermarket fruit concoctions. “I’m very disappointed in the state of modern crust these days,” says Robins. “That’s why I use blends of mesquite and whole wheat flour and white flour for my pies; there’s a nutty and nutritious quality to the crust. The pie then becomes a low-sugar healthy treat, but without losing that old-fashioned emotional quality that just makes us happy.”
Today, Robins continues to experiment with grains. He produces mesquite flour cookies, pies, and breads, but takes delight in his delicate galettas and other handmade creations. “I bake in my own kitchen, and sell at the Heirloom Farmers’ Market in Rillito Park as well as out in Sierra Vista,” he says. He says that few people are immune to the charm and care of his products. “Customers will come up and look at my pies, and they just smile. Sometimes people even break out in a laugh. I don’t know if there’s anything particularly funny about my pies, but there is just something there that makes people happy.”
Marguerite Happe is a writer, English teacher, and editor. Follow her on Instagram @margueritehappe.