Bakers keep pretty rigorous schedules and it isn't always easy to get us out of our own kitchens, let alone together for a whole weekend of baking. So when I was asked to keynote the 12th annual Kneading Conference in Skowhegan, Maine in July, I enthusiastically (albeit nervously) responded yes!
The conference was initiated as an approach to restoring local grain economies in the state of Maine but has grown significantly to include participants from other states and Canada as well. Even one of my favorite Florida bakers who also happens to be an heirloom dent corn farmer and organic cane syrup maker flew up to volunteer and participate!
Interests have expanded beyond baking and a diverse audience was in attendance including brewers, maltsters, wheat researchers, farmers, wood-fired bakers and oven builders, and even heirloom corn preservationists.
Excited for an audience that might geek out on the complexities of baking and leavening with natural ingredients, I asked my good friend Susannah Gebhart (owner of OWL Bakery in Asheville, NC) to co-teach a class together. Susannah and I met over a pile of chanterelle mushrooms a number of years ago and have reconnected every summer since to celebrate the beauty and culinary inspiration of the natural world.
Her pastry prowess is infinitely inspiring and I was so grateful for another opportunity to collaborate in the serenely wild state of Maine!
Of course we heard the siren call of the mushroom again and our collective luck fed us heartily for several meals and sent us home packing with a bounty of delicious fungus!
Our class included creating and using a yeast water made from foraged botanicals such as wild carrot, a technique not unlike the one I describe in Sourdough to create a sourdough starter.
Susannah taught us the infinite possibilities of foraged nuts including hickory nut pastry cream and acorn flour profiteroles!
There were a number of other classes I poked my head into every spare minute, including a track led by Sharon Burns Leader of Bread Alone Bakery, a no-waste bread recipe course by Stephanie Swane (publisher of Modernist Cuisine), wood-fired baking with Blair Marvin of Elmore Mountain Bread and Stefan Senders of Wide Awake Bakery, and all things rye with the Rye Baker himself (and last year's keynote) Stanley Ginsberg.
Although my nerves might have gotten the best of me on the keynote stage, it was incredibly inspiring to have met so many people who are motivated by the need to address growing grains as an important cornerstone in the local food movement. The conference ended with a tour of Main Grains where I have been sourcing flour this year, a decision I made to support a regional community of northeast farmers and millers.
To celebrate the conference and invite locals into the activities, a Bread Fair finished off the weekend with delightful offerings from Maine bakers, culinary artisans, and demonstration booths.
A sincere thank you to the Maine Grain Alliance, conference organizers, volunteers, and our hosts for memorable summer weekend of baking!