RABBIT MOON ON THE RISE
Local bakers bring a taste of Paris to Michiana
BY MIKE PETRUCELLI
PHOTOGRAPHY BY DAVID JOHNSON
Rabbit Moon Bakery co-owner Jackie von der Mehden and children with their macarons at the Purple Porch Co-op, South Bend, IN
With their vibrant colors and small round shape, macarons—French almond-meringue cookies sandwiched around a layer of buttercream or ganache filling—taste good just looking at them. And when you actually do eat them, it’s as if you’re finally fulfilling the cruelly denied promise made by the colors of the eggs in your Easter basket when you were a kid.
It’s not hard to find macarons in the cafés, bakeries and restaurants around Paris. In River Park, a neighborhood in South Bend, IN, they’re trickier to find. But not as tricky as it used to be, thanks to Chris and Jackie von der Mehden.
Chris discovered macarons on a trip to Paris. He ate them everywhere. But when he came back to the United States, he couldn’t find them.
“That’s because they’re a pain to make,” Jackie says, with a laugh. “They’re a really difficult cookie.”
Difficult, maybe, but also delicious. So delicious that Chris taught himself to make them.
And make them some more. And some more.
The von der Mehdens are the people behind Rabbit Moon Bakery, which sells macarons, of course, as well as other desserts and specialty roasted coffees at the Granger Farmers Market (Granger, Indiana) and the Purple Porch Co-op (South Bend).
And while Chris, who has a fellowship at the University of Notre Dame to study chemical engineering, has been baking macarons for a while, the family has operated the bakery only since October of last year.
The von der Mehdens, who are both in their 30s, live in South Bend with their children, Alyssa and Naia. As they researched the idea of a bakery, they discovered the Indiana Cottage Food Law, which allows for baking at home and selling the goods at a farmers market or a roadside stand.
It’s “one step up from the PTO bake sale,” Jackie says.
To that end, they are looking at expanding. And that’s important, because there is more to Rabbit Moon than just macarons.
Chris says they had been thinking for some time about cooperative living situations and possible alternatives to the usual 40- or 50- or 60-hour work week and single houses with single families and two cars and all that. And when talk of the bakery came up, they asked themselves how they could use it to further the idea of community.
The idea they hit on became the impetus for a campaign to bring a number of people and business ideas under one roof, specifically in the Burke Building, south of downtown South Bend.
The thought was that with a collaborative model of business, as opposed to a competitive model, all involved can get what they need and still make a living.
Macarons are, in a way, a perfect symbol of this idea. They aren’t too common around this area, so the competitiveness isn’t quite as pronounced as if Chris were making cakes or bread or hot dogs.
It’s also very important to the von der Mehdens to use ingredients from local producers and vendors when they can, which further strengthens the community. They also like to make things as natural and organic as they can, which can be a challenge when you’re trying to produce the bright colors and flavors that make macarons so much fun to eat. But instead of using food coloring, Chris will experiment with, say, freeze-dried blueberry powder or some other ingredient to get the desired color or flavor result.
Chris says he’s looking forward to doing even more.
“We want to offer more French specialty items that you can find over there that you can’t find over here,” he says, including tarts, torts and flans.
To do that, the von der Mehdens are looking into expanding into a commercial kitchen at the Niles Culinary Incubator in Niles, Michigan. With a commercial kitchen, Jackie says, Rabbit Moon can sell to restaurants or through mail order.
It’s not as daunting as it sounds. Chris, whose brother is a chef in the Caribbean on Cooper Island, has been baking all his life, and he and Jackie are both well familiar with the food business (they met when both were working at a winery in Texas). But it was that trip to Paris and the magic of the macarons that took hold and wouldn’t let go.
“We had to go into business to support his habit,” Jackie says, once again, laughing.
Mike Petrucelli is a freelance writer who hasn’t left the kitchen since making mac and cheese in Mrs. Fletcher’s seventh-grade home ec class. He was a newspaper journalist for 17 years, most recently as a food, home and garden editor, where he counts a ride in the Oscar Meyer Wienermobile and eating a sandwich made from the World’s Largest Meatball among his accomplishments. His work has also appeared in the South Bend Tribune and National Public Radio’s Kitchen Window. Besides cooking, Mike likes brewing beer, reading and drinking beer while reading. He now works in educational advancement communications. A native of New England, Mike lives in Plymouth, IN, with his wife, Amanda, and two children.
Rabbit Moon Bakery can be found each week at the Purple Porch Co-op in South Bend and every 4–6 weeks at the Granger Farmers Market.