Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Good Spirit Bakery, Saskatoon Farmers’ Market

“We were living in the midst of all this wheat – why not make bread?”

I have tremendous admiration for culinary entrepreneurs. They work hard; they set high standards for themselves; and they are artists who are always trying to improve their product. This is the story of Good Spirit Farm and Bakery.

Adapting to Changing Circumstances
Nine years ago, Peyton Leavitt and Jonathan Lee, along with their herd of sheep and dairy goats, moved to a farm near Naicam, Saskatchewan. They planned to raise and sell stock, but the bottom dropped out of the market with the BSE crisis. Jonathan says that cattle farmers received significant government support, but that wasn’t the case for goat and sheep farmers. Jonathan and Peyton needed to find a new source of income – quickly.

It was a huge surprise to Peyton and Jonathan that, despite the wheat fields stretching to the horizon, no one in Saskatchewan was making artisan bread. Peyton is an organic cook who has worked in vegetarian restaurants, but breadmaking was something new. They studied a book, made some bread and went to try their luck at the Saskatoon Farmers’ Market. Fortunately, it was a huge success.

Jonathan defines artisan bread as a hands-on quality product that has been thought about from start to finish.

“The ingredients are so important,” Jonathan says. “We started growing and milling the wheat ourselves because we wanted it as fresh as possible. We want to control the ingredients and the nutrition. If we buy from a farm, we make sure they follow our organic practices.”

Good Spirit Bakery has a repertoire of about 30 different kinds of bread, with about 10 varieties available at a time. “We’re up to our eyeballs in cookbooks,” says Jonathan. “We try and keep it seasonal. We recently had a pumpkin and black pepper. The recipe was from southern France. We take a little bit from here and there, add in our own ideas and come up with something quite nice.”

As much as possible, they take advantage of seasonal ingredients – crabapples for an oatmeal-apple bread, fresh basil from the garden.

Peyton’s son, Asher, has recently joined the team and is specializing in pastry – croissants, muffins, veggie pot pies. “He’s really talented in the kitchen, just like his mother,” says Jonathan. “I’m just the labourer. I run the farm and the oven.”

Wood Oven
Three years ago, Jonathan and Peyton built what they believe was the first wood oven in Saskatchewan. “You can’t beat wood-fired bread,” says Jonathan. “Wood heat is lovely. It cooks so evenly – right through the bread. You can get a lovely crust and a lovely flavour.”

However, baking in a wood oven is a huge undertaking. First you chop the wood and start the fire. The bread is baked using the residual heat that is stored in the oven. “You have to understand the wood, what kind of heat it will produce – will it heat the top or bottom bricks,” says Jonathan. “There’s no dial, so it’s all by judgment. If you don’t get it right, the heat will die out – or you cook the bread too fast. To this day, we struggle every week.”

To produce a crusty loaf of bread, Jonathan and Peyton throw in a gallon of water after placing the loaves in the oven. The steam rises and coats the bread, creating a golden crust.

The focaccia is different. It is baked while there is still an open flame behind the bread to cook the top.

Looking to the Future
“The Farmers’ Market saved our farm and gave us a wonderful business,” Jonathan says. But it has come at a high price.

Naicam is 190 kilometres northeast of Saskatoon, and the drive takes over two hours. “It’s a bit of an epic journey,” says Jonathan, especially as they have been baking bread for most of Friday night. “We used to not sleep until we got home from the Market,” Jonathan says. “We don’t really recover until Tuesday.”

The couple are currently reviewing their options, but the bottom line is a very simple one.” We don’t mind working, but we need sleep,” Jonathan says. That seems little enough to ask for a family that has given so much of itself to produce a quality product.

Note: This is an expanded version of an article in the December issue of the Saskatoon Farmers’ Market newsletter.

Other Wood Oven Bakeries:
Il Secondo, Saskatoon
Wild Fire Bakery, Victoria
Fol Epi Bakery, Victoria

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