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My adventure in the commissary has come to an end, and I have made it through unscathed, for the most part. I awoke at the usual hour this morning but did not light the fires or mix the dough. Instead, I reflected on the past two weeks. I thought of the people I had met and the things I had accomplished. Although I fell somewhat short of my grandious dream of 1, 400 loaves, I did bake over 500. I had never baked a loaf in my life, and now I can do it proficiently in a wood fired brick oven that I built…not too bad.
I look foward to many more loaves of bread and many other delicious creations in those ovens that have had their baptism of fire by my hand and stood the test. After my discharge, I traveled to Gettysburg to have my likeness taken in the form of a tintype at Gibson’s studio. I hope you will see it on the Museum’s website.
Thank you to all the sponsors of In Their Footsteps and especially to those that have donated to the cause, which will go toward building a better Education Department here at the Museum and providing a wonderful experience for students that visit in person or via Skype. I hope to hear from all of you throughout the year and during our next adventure In Their Footsteps!
Knowing that today was going to be a busy day, I awoke and got started at five thirty, undoubtedly still considered sleeping in to most true bakers. After taking the first batch of pre-ferment out of the refridgerator to warm up, I lit the fire in the ovens and then chopped enough thin wood to keep the fires burning hot, but thin enough that they would burn down to ash quickly so I could rake them out fast when the dough was ready.
The day was a blur of mixing, kneading, proofing, forming and baking, but at the end of the day, I had reached my goal of one hundred and eight loaves of bread. I finished at seven in the evening, just before another heavy rain and lightening storm. The two weeks of baking was over, and I have just one more night to spend in my cabin quarters.
Rained last night, the cabin remained relatively dry, and I had moved plenty of wood under the protective cover of the tent. At the end of the day today, I prepared 6 batches of pre-ferment, which if everything goes well, will translate into one hundred and eight loaves of bread. Tonight the rain came early and very heavy; I barely made it to the cabin after the days work was complete to avoid a good soaking.
This morning at 3:00 while it was raining loudly on the cabin roof, I remembered that I had not brought any firewood into the tent to keep dry, so I got dressed and ventured out in the rain. I gathered armloads of wood, leaving them in the tent to dry for use in the oven chambers. At six, I was able to fire the ovens with little trouble. The tricky part is to mix the flour, raise the dough, form the loaves, proof the loaves and then bake the loaves, while at the same time ensuring that the oven chambers are at the correct tempature, the ashes raked out and the hearth swabed at the same time the dough is ready, but doing it four times with the batches overlapping each other.
Today I was pretty much on my own, except for Mike who would come in for a few hours in the afternoon. …I’m glad he did because I was running all over the place and needed someone to watch the fires. It all worked out and by late afternoon, 72 loaves of bread had been produced.
Up at six and fired ovens, then went into the museum kitchen to take the pre-ferment out of the refridgerator. Tom arrived shortly after seven and gave me a class on kneading dough. This turned out to be very helpful and has added to my growing confidence in the kitchen. I got the technique down, but am going to have to start working out more if I am going to wrestle dough like this for the rest of the week. I guess I should have thought about that a few weeks ago. After checking on the oven temps, Tom gave me a class on forming a round loaf of bread. For him, it was easy since he has years of experience. I, on the other hand, have very little experience, except for when I worked in a pizza shop in Vermont when I was a teenager. Lucky for me that forming a round loaf of bread is just like preparing pizza dough for making pizza shells. By the end of the day, I had baked fifty-two loaves of bread, all consistently brown and crusty. Mike Cherry came in this afternoon to help keep an eye on the ovens while I was in the kitchen. Later we prepared the pre-ferment for four batches of bread tomorrow, which will be turned into 72 loaves. This evening it rained heavily.
Rather chily this morning, but still managed to get up at six and fire the oven. Tom is coming today; he has volunteered to mix dough while I tend to the oven; he has a reputation as one of the best bakers in the region, and that is back up by two prior generations of bakers in his family; his grandfather running a bakery with a wood fired oven. I am getting a condensed education in bread baking right from the horses mouth. The bread produced by the oven has steadily increased in quality and quantity over the past week and the number of loaves continues to increase. Tom and I tried to bake the first batch of the day on a high heat, but it did not work out so well and was a bit crispy. The children from the Camp Curtin Day Care and their teachers came by today and watched the bread go into the oven, and sampled some when the bread came out. It is always nice to have them come up to the museum, bigger smiles are hard to find! At the end of the day, 52 loaves of bread have been baked today. Tom helped me mix the pre-ferment for tomorrow’s bread. It’s a little overcast today, I think it is supposed to rain tonight.