I am beginning to think we are on a big bread kick here at OGC. First, Dave had a bread play date with Hans and his magic brick oven. Then, he took an three day intensive bread class where he learned all sorts of neat tricks from Cyril Hitz and then Nate and I got to sample the fruits of their labor.
Now, I want to tell you about my own bread experience. Unfortunately, it does not involve me sinking my hands into some warm, yeasty dough, but thankfully, it does involve me eating more bread. In case you haven’t noticed, this is a common thread amongst our bread stories. Anyway, this particular one technically began a year ago on a family vacation to Cape May, NJ. Dave, Nate and I along with my sisters, their husbands, and children rented a lovely beach house together. We had a blast doing all the things one does when close to surf and sand, but one of my favorite parts of the trip was the “staff (adult) meal”. Since the adults were technically staff for the kids, the moniker was fitting. We found a great farmer’s market and a few farm stands and spent our evenings reveling in the bounty of New Jersey soil. One day in particular, we were on a hunt for tomatoes and happened upon a simply constructed roadside hut in front of which was a chalkboard advertising fresh bread. There wasn’t a soul around, nor a loaf of bread, but I could just tell we had stumbled upon something special. The board informed us that the next bread day was Saturday, our day of departure. Although it was sure to be a chaotic morning with packing and what not, there was no way I was getting in the car without bread in hand.
Saturday rolled around and we made sure to arrive well before the 10am opening time because I could just smell the line. Sure enough about a dozen folks were patiently waiting and none seemed as though this was an unfamiliar experience. Clearly, this little stand had a following. By the time we made it to the front of the line, we learned the story behind the maker of the bread, Elizabeth Degener; the woman with a lovely countenance who bakes a mean loaf of bread. We were told that her technique was learned while living in Germany and involved a clay oven. She returned to the States, had one built and now rises around 4:30 (on bread days) to bake 20 loaves at a time and sell as many as she can make (as a one woman show) to the bread hungry masses of Cape May.
After waiting for just long enough, a pickup truck pulled up with the cache. Elizabeth politely greeted her admiring fans and very serenely set up shop. Once she was done carefully arranging her bread and muffins, she invited the first customer up to order. From her lovely demeanor and willingness to patiently explain her offerings (despite the growing line) you would never know this person had woken up before the sun. Once our turn came, we had already perused the menu and decided on an Oatmeal Yogurt Bread with Sunflower Seeds and a Chocolate Multigrain Baguette. Of course, I wanted one of everything but Dave was there to restrain me-a regret he has to this day, I might add. We hopped into the car cuddling our warm loaves of bread. Of course, after the stamina required to wait on line, I was in desperate need of sustenance. The bread kind. I ripped off a chunk of the baguette and admired the perfect crumb studded with both healthy goodness (namely flax and millet seeds) and small chunks of melty dark chocolate. It was a healthy nutritious loaf with a delicious, evil alter ego. Right up my alley. Needless to say, it was delicious and quickly ranked up there with those very special food experiences that you are able to replay in your mind and mouth long after you have finished eating.
Fast forward to this year when we decided to do a repeat performance in Cape May. This time around, our house was in a different area of the Cape, but my brother in law Dominick (my ever loving foodie sidekick) and I did our due diligence and figured out that Wednesday would be our bread day. Off we went with an hour to spare. We didn’t want to take any chances. This time we were the fourth bread eaters in line. This spot would surely guarantee us our pick of the bounty from Elizabeth’s oven. As we waited I perused the adjacent quaint farm stand. It was a coffee can register system and was curated with a small, but beautiful quality assortment of local produce. After some time, we could hear the crunch of the gravel and knew that the pickup truck would shortly be in view. Sure enough, Elizabeth pulled up and repeated the exact same process, with the exact same disposition as last year. The only difference being that the folks on line, graciously lent her a hand and helped her get set up. (I was convinced that the motive was a quicker setup meant a warmer loaf of bread for them!) The last order of business was the placement of the chalkboard menu, which provided us with some food for thought while we waited for our turn.
Dom and I considered the merits of each type of loaf. It was clear we needed one for breakfast and one to accompany our nightly tomato salad. And of course, we would get the chocolate loaf again. Not one, but three, because it was that good and because my five year old nephew, Jake, had been asking my sister for that bread for an entire year. We stepped up to place our order and after some recommendations from Elizabeth, decided on Toasted Millet, Flax and Poppyseed; Olive Oil Black Pepper; and because she sadly discontinued the chocolate baguette (heartbreaking, I know) a related variety made with Chocolate, Coffee & Candied Ginger. I am happy to report that the bread did not disappoint and has now officially become part of our beach house tradition.
The thing I find most intriguing about Elizabeth and her stand is that, in my opinion, she is a true culinary renegade, perhaps without even meaning to be. She does not allow traditional uses of ingredients such as fennel seeds, chocolate, black rice to dictate what types of bread she makes. She also creates these inspired flavor profiles for a population in a small pocket of southern Jersey. And it all works, so beautifully. That is really thinking outside of the bread box.