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Bread rises in the yeast at historic Burr farm event

October 23, 2005|By DANIEL J. SERNOVITZ


Seconds past 3 p.m. Saturday, Wayne Braunstein called out seven simple words.

The small crowd that had assembled at the historic Peter Burr Living History Farm near Kearneysville, many of them waiting with bated breath for just those words, filed into the farmhouse.

The words: "Ladies and gentlemen, this way for bread."

The bread is just that good.

"Definitely," said Laura Kingsbury, a Harpers Ferry, W.Va., resident who had put in a reserve order for three loaves. "I'm from Europe, so for me, this is what bread should taste like."

One weekend a month, the volunteer members of the bread baker's guild embark on a three-day process to make bread the way it once was made in a wood-fired, brick oven. They cut no corners, cherishing the process as much as the end result.


"It's all being mixed by hand, it rises naturally and once the bread is baked in the oven, it becomes artisan bread," said Bill Theriault, member of the baker's guild, which is a subgroup of the Friends of Peter Burr. "What we're trying to do is re-create the original process. It's a process that takes a lot of experience. It's something that builds on experience. Every time you do it, it's a little different."

The bread-making process begins on Thursday night, when a guild member fires up the oven so that it can burn the requisite eight hours before it is hot enough to bake batches of two dozen each. Then, the bakers combine live yeast cultures with flour and set the mixture aside for three hours to rise. After that, they are ready to mold the mixture into two-pound loaves and set them aside for another three hours to rise some more.

The loaves are then set in the oven to bake for about an hour. Shortly after 2 p.m. Saturday, the guild members made the last of their seven batches, the last batch to be made until next spring.

About 75 percent of the loaves are reserved by frequent customers as early as two weeks in advance, and those that are unclaimed by 3 p.m. Saturday are sold to walk-ins. The loaves, about 180 over the course of a weekend, weigh two pounds and sell for $5 each. Revenues from the bread sales go toward the restoration of the Barr house.

Deborah Rocheford, a resident of Shenandoah Junction, W.Va., said the bread is better than either anything she is able to make at home or buy at a store, but for reasons that are easier to taste than to describe.

"It's wonderful bread. It's really, really good," said Rocheford, who volunteers with the Friends of Peter Burr. "It has a very hard crust, and it's soft in the middle. It's really special. It's hard to describe how it tastes."

Maggie Keeler, vice president of the Friends of Peter Burr, said she believes much of the bread's appeal is in how it is baked, both in the process - the wood-fired oven - and that it is made by hand as part of a process that has endured for more than two centuries.

"Being cooked over the fire does give it a smoky taste, and people like that," Keeler said. "The good thing about the bread is somebody touched it. It's not being made by a machine."

The friends had planned to hold the Peter Burr 18th Century Harvest Faire to coincide with their final bread baking session of the year, but postponed the event until next weekend because of rain.

The farm is off W.Va. 9 in Jefferson County, just beyond the Burr Industrial Park.

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