Our Daily Bread, Please

Rabin bread on a rock at the farmers market in Plainfield prior to setting up the table. Jon Kalish for NPR

Rabin bread on a rock at the farmers market in Plainfield prior to setting up the table. Jon Kalish for NPR

Where can we find the stones, here in Kerala, to build the oven to bake the bread to allow the reincarnation of this labor of love when the oven man and his wife of great heart from Vermont stop baking? We will find out. We will surely let you know. Meanwhile listen to and/or read this story, thanks to National Public Radio (USA):

When Jules Rabin lost his job teaching anthropology in 1977, he and his wife, Helen, turned to baking to keep their family afloat. For 37 years they’ve baked sourdough bread that people in central Vermont can’t seem to live without.

The year before Jules left Goddard College, he and Helen built a replica of a 19th century peasant oven, hauling 70 tons of fieldstone from nearby fields. The stones covered an igloo-shaped brick baking chamber 5 1/2 feet in diameter.

The Rabins started selling bread made with sourdough starter; it soon developed a cult following. The business supported the family for 25 years.

“I’m simply the oven man,” 90-year-old Jules tells me while tending the last embers of a fire that has burned for 24 hours. “My work is crude. It involves some skills, but Helen is the heart of this work.”

At first the Rabins’ bake house was outdoors. But they put up a building around it so they could work during Vermont’s harsh winters. As Helen, 73, mixes flour, water, salt and sourdough starter in an industrial-size mixer from the 1920s, she belittles her contribution to the enterprise.

“The formula for the bread itself and the flour and the sourdough is really available to anybody,” she says, “but if our bread is different — and I think it’s somewhat different from what most other people make — it has to be the oven.”

The 38-year-old wood-fired oven at their home in Marshfield, Vt., is based on one they saw at a commune in France while Jules was on sabbatical. Knocking on a wood food counter used for forming loaves from the dough, Helen says, “I’m especially proud because after 35, 40 years, it hasn’t fallen down.”

Helen is still able to lug 50-pound sacks of flour and grain around the bake house. The Rabins use King Arthur white flour but grind their own wheat and rye flour in a small electric mill…

Read and/or listen to the whole story here.

One thought on “Our Daily Bread, Please

  1. Pingback: The New Bread Basket | Raxa Collective

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