By JEANETTE LENOIR
Once upon a time, not too long ago, there were bread makers hard at work in the wee hours of the morning mixing, pounding, then shaping and waiting for the right moment to send their perfectly raised dough to the oven for their turn to transform into an important food staple; fresh baked bread using four simple ingredients; flour, water, salt and yeast.
“It’s about 18-hours worth of work. From the time that I start to mix the sour dough starter, mix the dough, let the dough ferment to rise, shape the dough and then bake it. The baking part is the fastest and the easiest; it’s in and out of the oven in about 30-minutes… It’s the 16, 17 hours ahead of that time when it’s fermenting. That’s where the flavor comes from and that’s where most of the work is,” said The Kneady Baker, (Joe Silberlicht) one of the last remaining American bread makers still true to using simple wholesome ingredients with roots firmly planted in the food culture of farm to table eating. For many, that starts with fresh baked bread, which is increasingly becoming harder and harder to come by. It’s no secret that mass-produced foods, especially breads, in the age of profit over people is pushing us further and further away from healthier options.
Even so, if you’re lucky enough to live near the foothills of the Adirondack Mountains in upstate, New York you can get your hands on this backsliding food choice. In addition to his 30 delivery customers, Silberlicht sells his fresh baked breads every other Saturday in Utica. The pop-up shop where you can also get your hands on imported cheeses from Italy and humanely raised meats from Bach Farms in Mohawk is held at a unique gathering spot called, The Other Side; a small trendy place on Genesee Street where many events ranging from Jazz performances, speaking engagements, community group meetings to little pop-up shops take place.
Most people in America have become accustomed to commercial bread void of the simplicity of days long gone and packed with a long list of complex preservatives for a longer shelf life. Even the simple taste of bread has changed drastically along the way. Bread may have lost some appreciation and value in our modern-day society but luckily there’s still a man hard at work keeping the fairy tale of the community bread maker alive. “The dough is always talking to you, the trick is learning to understand what the dough is saying,” Silberlicht says explaining the importance of bread. “I think bread is very important and you can certainly find that in great literature, that bread being the staff of life and all of that, but I think that the bread you buy in the supermarkets today has enormous number of ingredients in it that don’t need to be in bread.”
Other than the four core ingredients, Silberlicht only uses simple flavorings like ground coffee for color and flavor for his European black bread or sesame seeds to create his signature sourdough master pieces. He says his bread is simply better for you. “The bread that I bake is going to be wonderful for four days to about a week. But it’s not going to be in a bag on the counter still soft for 3 or 4 weeks like a lot of commercial bread might be. And, it’s all those additives that they put in there that I just don’t think are necessary. It’s much better to have a good loaf of bread, eat it while it’s fresh and get another good loaf of bread.”
In the era of heightened food sensitivities especially to gluten, Silberlicht says choosing fresh baked bread with simple ingredients is the way to go. “As long as they’re not diagnosed with Celiac disease, I like to ask my customers to try the sourdough bread because a lot of people who feel bloated from having a lot of the supermarket bread, when they eat my sourdough bread they find that it’s much easier for them to digest and they can enjoy bread again.”
Silberlicht says although his freshly baked breads may not hold a long shelf life like store bought breads do, the benefits of eating healthier breads are positively impactful. “You can even make other recipes like bread pudding or Fattoush,” a Middle Eastern salad calling for toasted bread.
A trip to the bi-weekly fresh food pop-up shop invokes impressions of a very different time. Imagine turning the pages to sections of American history and immersing your senses in a simpler life when food wasn’t too complicated, or over processed and cheapened with additives like pink slime, lye, sodium nitrite and nitrate, or other hard to pronounce synthetically created additives like butylated hydroxyanisole and hydroxytoluene. With this in mind, it isn’t hard to imagine the nostalgia the fresh bread, cheeses and meats inspire. This pop-up shop is undoubtedly special.
Add to that experience the imported cheeses and other Italian delicacies from Mike Formaggio who operates “The Cheese Island” or Isle De Formaggio. His import business brings him back to his roots in Utica every two weeks from his Westchester home. Formaggio started the pop-up shop two years ago selling his cheeses and Italian delicacies like olives, sardines, olive oils and pastas. Soon after, he was joined by The Kneady Baker and later Judy Bach with Bach Farms, offering pasture raised pork, grass fed beef and lamb. Bach says she’s proud of her farming methods. “The way we raise our animals…we’re bringing something fresh to your table that was humanely raised.”
Making bread and other healthier food options a good staple of the diet again may be a far reaching goal for many but not an impossible one if good fortune provides you access to a dedicated bread baker like The Kneady Baker, and his fellow shop keepers Mike and Judy, still upholding this aspect of our healthy food culture.