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Breads of old cooked up at Rural Heritage Museum

May 16, 2010|By DAVE McMILLION

SHARPSBURG -- Bread making in outdoor ovens was popular in this country during the 1700s and 1800s, and in other parts of the world, the practice can be traced back 1,000 years, Bill Theriault said.

On Sunday, an outdoor brick oven was fired up at the Washington County Rural Heritage Museum, a tool that museum officials hope will help people learn about how life used to be in the area.

Those who have sampled the flavorful bread with its chewy texture say it's an experience that won't be forgotten.

"After you taste the bread, it becomes a love of the bread," said Leslie Hendrickson-Hart, an agriculture marketing specialist for Washington County.

Theriault was involved in bread making at the Peter Burr Farm, a Jefferson County, W.Va., property that is home to West Virginia's oldest standing wood-frame structure.

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To entice visitors and raise funds for maintenance at the Peter Burr Farm, the group built a replica of a Colonial-period, wood-fired, brick bread oven and began a living-history program at the Bardane, W.Va., property in which volunteers baked artisan bread to sell to the public.

Theriault now lives in Washington County and expressed an interest in having an outdoor oven at the Washington County Rural Heritage Museum, where officials have been re-creating a village to illustrate the county's early days.

Museum officials were receptive to the idea and a foundation was poured for the oven outside a log home in the village area along Sharpsburg Pike, Hendrickson-Hart said.

Materials like brick and cement were donated and about a dozen people have volunteered their time to build the oven in the last two years, according to Theriault and Hendrickson-Hart.

About 25 people watched Sunday as the brick oven was fired up for a round of bread making during an afternoon dedication ceremony.

The oven is prepared by starting a fire inside; the oven's masonry absorbs the heat. The fire is allowed to burn for about eight hours, then it is swept out, Theriault said. The bread bakes inside for about an hour.

While the bread might be a new concept for some people in this country, Theriault said people in European areas are familiar with it, and outdoor ovens can still be seen in England and Germany.

"It's the Americans who grew up on Wonder bread," Theriault said.

Theriault said he hopes a bread-making guild for people interested in baking bread in the oven can be formed. At the end of the year, a determination will be made about whether the group will sell the bread, Theriault said.

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