Of all the flags I see flying in the Valle de Guadalupe–the tricolor bandera nacional, the red, white and black emblem of the fútbol champion Xolos, and more political flags than I care to think about–the last one I expected ever to see was a gold Scandinavian cross on blue background, the Swedish flag.
Said Swedish flag was accompanied by a sign that said “SWEDISH BAKERY” in large, friendly, English letters, which caused me to make an unbelievably dangerous left turn off the El Tigre-El Porvenir highway and park under a Persian mulberry tree. A Swedish bakery–an English-speaking Swedish bakery–in the middle of the Valle de Guadalupe?
Yes! Kärlekens Trädgård, Swedish for the Garden of Love, is run by Caroline García, a native of Halland province on the west coast between Helsingborg and Göteborg, and her Mexican husband, Jaime. Caroline is as rubia y zarca (blonde-haired and blue-eyed) as St. Lucia, and from her recipes and the outdoor brick oven Jaime built for her comes Swedish baking in the most un-Swedish of locations.
Their flagship product is three kinds of bread: white “Bulgarian” bread; pan molocano, a dark bread named for the Molokans, the Russian equivalent to our Puritans, an anti-Orthodox religious group who were the original winemakers (including the Bibayoffs) in Baja California; and an anise- and fennel-tinged sweet bread with dried fruit tucked inside that goes perfectly with the queso añejo from Rancho Cortés. They're all made by hand.
“Made by hand” is more literal than you know: one day at a party after they moved, Caroline mused aloud at how she'd like to make Swedish bread, but she couldn't find any rye. The party was at Rancho Cortés–you know, the place we wrote about with the great olive oil and cheese–and one of the Cortés family mentioned that they had planted some rye. A deal was struck, and hyper-local bread was born.
Serendipity? Or the hand of some long-obsolete Viking god? The Garcías may buy the rye from the Cortés family, but they mill it into flour themselves–literally, themselves, with a manual mill, while Jaime searches out stones to make a larger stone mill to allow for larger batches and more production.
Meanwhile, though, there are candied peanuts and cinnamon rolls in the morning and energy “balls” rolled in sweetened coconut. They make wine, too, a creditable but sweet Zinfandel and an excellent vino de granada–pomegranate wine.
We spent hours there, talking and exchanging recipes (here's hoping Persian mulberry jam ends up on the shelves) and talking in an unholy mixture of Swedish, English and Spanish. They're just beginning production–they opened two months ago–and have hired a man to help them with their sweets, including pastries. Look for the menu to expand.
The bread is delicious, and the nice surprise is the price: in a place where chemical-laden pan Bimbo that sticks behind your teeth costs 30 pesos a loaf, the Garcías' big, rustic loaves cost 40 pesos–a little over $3.
Kärlekens Trädgård–say “chair-le-kens trade-gord”–is located at Blvd. Emiliano Zapata s/n, Ejido El Porvenir, Baja California. It is in the town of El Porvenir, on the main highway that leads from Francisco Zarco to the free road at La Misión, between 3rd and 4th Streets, near Tienda Martina. The telephone number is (646) 191-29-88. The bakery is open Friday through Sunday from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. (or until they run out of bread), with plans to expand hours to Wednesday and Thursday.