Grainews: First We Eat – Baking with Shon


When Mom learned that Dave and I were going to spend two weeks writing at Wallace Stegner House in Eastend, she said, “Make sure you say hi to Shon and Steve. They’re good folks.” So, soon after our arrival, I parsed the village’s streets, looking for evidence of potters. When I found a front yard decorated with pottery, I climbed the steps and knocked.

“My mom says we should be friends,” I said to the tall woman who answered. Only slightly nonplussed, she invited me in for coffee. A couple days later, she cooked dinner for us. We’ve been friends ever since.

Shon Profit and her husband, Stephen Girard, own Whitemud Clay & Pottery Studio in the village of Eastend, in the Cypress Hills of southwestern Saskatchewan. Until recently, they also owned and operated Café Terra. Both are talented potters, but quick-thinking Shon has the gift of magic in her hands – she bakes, cooks, pots, sews, gardens.

Currently, Shon bakes bread for sale at their studio and Harvest Eatery & Fresh Market in Shaunavon. She is a baker after my own heart – thoughtful, curious, attentive. Her breads reflect this care, with a crusty exterior and a tender crumb; flavours are derived from ancient grains, such as einkorn, kamut and spelt, and modern classics like Red Fife. She began baking her breads in a covered heavy pot when she realized it generated a ferociously great crust. Soon she commissioned some rectangular clay bakers from her husband and his apprentice.

Shon recently emailed me, saying, “Clay as a medium is so different from wood or paint. Make a piece of furniture from wood, change the shape and even colour, but it’s still wood. Paint on canvas is still, well, paint on canvas. But clay… it begins as one thing and ends up a totally different substance. As with wheat… Add heat and you end up with the most glorious metamorphosis.”

Every baker learns that every bread has its own personality. Red Fife mixed with spelt is gregarious and eager, and “the rye-Fife combo is calmer, steady and reliable,” Shon wrote. “Einkorn-rye is very serious… but with heat it cannot resist becoming attractive and personable. Pumpernickel is a character all of its own. Dowdy. Brooding. Dark thoughts. Lift the lid the next day and I swear it scowls at the invasion of privacy. But pumpernickel shows its true inner beauty against the starkness of white flour. Left for a day, it imparts a flavour so deep… the time is well spent waiting for it to reveal its full personality.”

Bread with personality. Shon Profit’s bread is kin to the delicious staff of life that sustained my forebears in central Europe when bread was all they had to eat. So get that loaf to rising; first we eat. Next time out, we’ll talk about a wee lesson in kitchen humility.

Shon’s Milk Stout Pot Bread

“The process involves a long soak of the dough – at least 14 hours,” Shon reported. “It calls for very little yeast, breaks gluten down into a more digestible form and breaks down phytic acid, which is found in the hulls of all grains and seeds. When phytic acid is eaten without soaking, it binds to minerals and removes them from the body. Another theory [is that] before modern harvesting methods, grain was stooked and left to cure before threshing. There is the possibility that night-time dew started the sprouting process while the grain was being dried, for a higher nutrient content and the beginning of the breakdown of gluten.” Makes 1 loaf

3 ½ c. all-purpose flour

1 ½ c. Einkorn

¼ tsp. yeast (scant)

1 tsp. salt

1 c. crushed seeds (pumpkin, sesame, chia, flax, sunflower, some oats is nice too)

1 c. milk stout beer

1 c. + 2 Tbsp. water

Mix dry ingredients thoroughly, reserving some of the seeds. Add liquid: dough will be very sticky. Line a large bowl with a towel and dust with flour, then sprinkle in most of the reserved seeds. Add the dough and cover tightly. Set aside for 16-20 hr. at room temperature.

Turn out onto floured board. Shape into a ball, folding ends under 8-10 times. Tuck into bowl FOLDED SIDE DOWN. Dust with flour and the last seeds. Cover with a towel. Set aside for 1 hour.

After 40 minutes, place an ungreased heavy lidded pot or cast iron pot in the oven. Set heat at 450 F. When oven reaches full temperature, pull out the pot, remove lid and very quickly flop bread dough into the pot, FOLDED SIDE UP. Immediately give the pot a good shake to ensure that the bread will not stick. Lid on, bake for 15 minutes. Reduce heat to 400 F and bake 15 more minutes. Reduce heat to 350 F and bake 20 minutes more for a total of 50 minutes.

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Filed under Creative Nonfiction [CNF], Culinary

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