Outsider Art

Texas “Pastry Queen” Rebecca Rather branches out with a holiday tree for the birds.

By Denise Gee

Photography by Robert M. Peacock


the birds and squirrels will love your outside holiday decorations.Outdoor greenery usually comes indoors for holiday decorating, but Rebecca Rather isn’t a “usually” kind of person. “Why not keep the greenery outside and decorate it there?” she says. “That way we can enjoy it and nature can enjoy it.”

Each December, the acclaimed “Pastry Queen” throws a tree-trimming party outside her Sugar and Smoke Bakery (formerly Rather Sweet Bakery) in historic Fredericksburg, Texas. Now in its seventh year, the afternoon gathering celebrates the fruits of the year’s labor with, well, fruits. Dehydrated ones. “Since we're in the food business, we naturally enjoy edible ornaments,” she says.

First up is the tree, one from a local tree farm. It stands in simple beauty at one corner of the courtyard while friends, family, and coworkers make their way to a central picnic table. The table’s weathered yet still-vibrant turquoise hue makes for a blue sky of sorts on an overcast fall day. At its center is a long wooden dough bowl full of cranberries, a beautiful sight in itself atop such a blue canvas. Ribbons, fishing line, and large needles sit nearby.

The littlest guests are dressed in flouncy, sparkling, girly-girl dresses in honor of the occasion. Their eyes light up when the rest of the tree-trimming goodies—thin slices of organic grapefruit, orange, lemon, starfruit, apple, pineapple, and pear slices, plus a Southwestern touch, slim green New Mexican chiles—begin streaming out of the bakery.

“This is a vegetable ’cause it’s green,” Nadine pronounces to her sister Paloma. “Honey, believe it or not, it’s actually fruit,” Rather says sweetly, a statement that sends both girls into deep thought.

Hot chocolate with marshmallows warms up the bunch as they focus on the task at hand. Storytelling and ornament making is punctuated with laughter, especially when Rather turns one of her cranberry strings into a necklace, and her friend Deann Ketchum gives Rather's dog Beau his very own ruby red ornament, not to eat but to wear. “He likes it!” says young tree-trimmer Alexa Calderon. “Look, he’s smiling!”