LeFevre Bakery

HEALTH / LAND / COMMUNITY

LeFevre Bakery is committed
to promoting health & caring
for the land while contributing
to its local community. 

A Farewell with Love and Gratitude

In the summer of 2013, my dear friend, Bethany, nonchalantly asked me,

“Lisa, would you be interested in baking bread for a living?”

Despite knowing me and my interests quite well, I think she was still surprised when I paused and hesitantly answered, “I just might be.”

What Bethany did not yet know was how seriously I was exploring my life’s next move. In this exploration I had began to fully embrace the long-hovering truth about how I am wired—that in order to be fully myself and fully present in the world, I needed to be spending more time creating with my hands than my current lifestyle allowed. And so my journey as a baker began.

I quickly arranged to shadow the former baker at McBurney Manor (location of LeFevre Bakery from 2014 – 2015) and realized that baking was even more fulfilling than I had hoped. These short lessons were followed by the best education possible—experimenting on my own and starting/operating a bakery. My comfort with dough and my interest in the world of bread grew. I began to realize that the product I was making in 2014 did not match the standards and qualifications of the great breads I was reading about in my books and online. This led me to apprentice Gerard Rubaud in Westford, VT over the winter of 2015. Through Gerard and by working with 500-750 loaves a week, I started to learn old French baking techniques. My interest in baking authentic sourdough grew and I became fully invested in knowing and baking the best bread I could for the Huntingdon and State College communities.

I’m reflecting on the beginning of my role as a professional baker because LeFevre Bakery is in for its first big move! In January 2016, I am moving to Thetford, Vermont to be close to my fiancée, Mark (wedding in May 2016!), and taking LeFevre Bakery with me. 

 Mark did not propose at the bakery, but he did carve this ring out of a piece of black walnut that would have been used as kindling for firing the oven. A mid-bake shot was a must! 

Mark did not propose at the bakery, but he did carve this ring out of a piece of black walnut that would have been used as kindling for firing the oven. A mid-bake shot was a must! 

I will be forever grateful to the Huntingdon community who supported my venture with gusto from the start, bought into the heart of my bakery, and graciously accepted my failed experiments and recipe changes as I carved out a small spot for myself and good bread in central PA. Any business, no matter how small, is a huge undertaking, and I am deeply indebted to my friends, customers who became friends, and supporters over the last two years!

Until Mark and I are able to build a wood-fired oven, LeFevre Bakery will be operating on a small scale for friends. Our hope is to bring LeFevre Bakery bread to the Upper Connecticut Valley of Vermont and New Hampshire as soon as possible.

All the best to you and if you’re in Vermont, be sure to drop me a line at lefevrebakery@gmail.com!

With love,

Lisa

Love: A Secret Ingredient?

This post originally published at buylocalpa.org.

It’s 11:59am Thursday morning and my table of fresh-baked loaves is set, its contents ready to be distributed to the Huntingdon Farmers Market goers in exchange for bills and quarters. My friend Ellen is waiting for me, grinning, glad to see me here on time today. She makes a passing comment, as a number of regulars have, about the secret ingredient mixed, worked and baked into each loaf—love.

It may seem to be a cheesy sentiment or a kind way to make small talk as I bag Ellen’s loaf, but I’ve come to find that love—or care, attentiveness, stewardship, if you prefer—is as essential as flour and water when it comes to small-scale artisan bread baking. And the same can be said for local producers of all kinds.

It’s this love factor that truly differentiates local products from their industrialized competition each step of the way. Since bread is what I know, and they always say to write what you know, I’ll start with bread.

When I select the ingredients and sources for those ingredients, I am weighing multiple factors—quality, price, environmental impact and nutrition. Some decisions stem from my own personal commitment to a certain ethos, but others are informed by the relationships I have with my customers. When I choose a local, organic grain I remember the article my customer shared about Round Up’s role in the modern wheat industry. But also in my mind is my customer with six children and one income who wants to provide her family with healthy and nourishing bread. Finding ingredients that are both healthy and affordable is not just a marketing ploy—it’s a labor of love.

It’s not just what goes into the bread that is shaped by love, but the baking process itself. When I bake, each loaf passes through my hands at least four times as it’s pre-shaped into rounds, shaped into batards (oval loaves), scored and placed on the oven’s hearth, and finally removed from the oven, inspected and bagged. A baker’s hands are the primary tool of artisan baking.

Using one’s hands instead of machines isn’t just a nostalgic sentiment—a hipster-esque preference for the old and outdated. Dough in its purest form—nothing but flour, water and salt—is meant to be worked with the hands. It is dynamic and fickle, altered by the slightest of changes in temperature, humidity and even the direction the wind blows. Working with wild yeast rather than commercial yeast means I depend on the bacteria on the grain and in the air to facilitate fermentation which literally can change with the wind! Hands can sense these subtleties and adapt accordingly by adding more water or flour, creating slightly more or less tension in the loaf, letting the dough rise 30 minutes more or less, etc.

By comparison, most modern bread is made with machines, not hands. Machines lack the signature flexibility and intuition of a baker’s hands. So with the standardization of the machine comes the standardization of the dough and the addition of ingredients that ought to be foreign both to a loaf of bread and to our bodies.

Work of our hands.jpg

The bread industry is not alone in this. My organic farmer friends sometimes wonder at the absurdity of their practices when compared with their large-scale neighbors. Hours of hand weeding can look foolish when a simple and quick spray would do the trick. This is just one of many examples, for they too hold relationships with their customers and an intimacy with their work that require love to be a factor in their decisions.

As we invest in these connections—the trust between producer and consumer and the intimate knowledge of our crafts—we grow in our understanding of our work and its purpose. And with that understanding comes love. And with love comes stewardship. Stewardship of the knowledge, places and communities that make our work possible and ultimately, something worth doing.

So, yes, my friends. The secret ingredient is love.

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