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 Carrie Hillman keeps doing the math. 

How can one person prepare more than 300 loaves of bread using three small ovens in only two or three days? 

Since Hillman, a 52-year-old chef, started selling her homemade breads and baked goods at Davenport's Freight House Farmers Market nine years ago, she continues to grow her output each year. 

"I've been selling out by 11 a.m. which is way early," she said. "And I keep trying to do more and more and more, so I don't have to turn people away."

To keep making small-batch and fresh focaccia bread on her own, and keep up with demand, the numbers almost don't add up. Almost. 

"I had to sit down and double the recipes and quadruple the recipes," she said. "But it was still so draining — physically, I couldn't have two full-time jobs."

Last year, she hit her breaking point and quit her day job as a chef at Hy-Vee. Her baking routine is down to a science now — she goes through 124 pounds of flour, uses 48 pans to bake breads and sweet rolls, timing each just right so she makes her Friday-night deadline each week. 

On market day, she wakes up at 4 a.m. and makes the drive from her farm in rural Rock Island County to Davenport. 

"Pretty much, everything has to go right when I'm baking," she said. "If I don't bring one type of bread or run out, I'll hear about it from my regulars." 

Her foccacia, a flat oven-baked Italian bread, comes in many flavors and toppings, ranging from olives to herbs and cheeses and other vegetables from farmers market vendors or Hillman's own garden. 

"I'm very much a seasonal person," she said. "I want people to know it's fall because of pumpkin bread or summer because I'm using fresh fruits."

On baking days, she only takes a break to cook dinner, and she doesn't leave the house. She can't remember the last time she sat down to watch a TV show.

"The work is never, ever done and you can't really leave your kitchen when you're in the middle of it," she said. "With bread ... they're ready when they're ready, and you have to be there to check the oven." 

Since she lives about 15 miles from the closest city, Hillman also doesn't venture out much for meals. 

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"I'm not really a fast food person," she said. "I love cooking, and how connected you are to the food you're making."

That's what Hillman preaches at cooking classes she teaches twice per month at The Green Thumbers in Davenport, where she incorporates Twisted Trunk Olive Oil Company products. 

She walks people through original recipes, such as summery salads and muffins and flatbread pizzas, and shares her ideas for eating minimally-processed meals, tips for meal-prep and shortcuts for cooking quicker. 

"My goal is to wow them with something that's equally easy and healthy and delicious," she said. "And yes, those  things definitely exist." 

A lot of people find that combination impossible, until Hillman passes a recipe their way. 

Whether it's a customers' favorite bread flavor or a new salad combination, Hillman doesn't want to turn people away. That's why she often fits weeks of baking into a span of a few days, and why she'll keep crunching the numbers and search for ways to bake more.

"People tell me my bread tastes like no one else's," she said. "So that's the standard I want to keep every week." 


Amanda Hancock is a reporter covering food, arts and entertainment in the Quad-Cities (and beyond).