The American culinary giant James Beard called bread the “most fundamentally satisfying of all foods.” This weekend in Skowhegan, there will be a lot of very satisfied eaters — and bakers, farmers and millers — at the third annual Kneading Conference, July 30-Aug. 1 at Tewksbury Hall.
The conference brings together everyone from professionals to casual bread fans to learn about the science and traditions of growing grain and baking. More than 15 speakers will lead discussions and workshops, ranging from grain growers Rick Kersbergen and Maine’s own Matt Williams, to Stu Silverstein and Kendra Michaud, who build wood-fired ovens.
Conference organizer Amber Lambke said 2009 has been a banner year for locally grown grains and locally baked breads — spearheaded by the current trend toward local, organic foods.
“We’ve really got people that are now paying attention to where their food is coming from, and trying to be ‘locavores,’” said Lambke. “When you try to do a local food challenge, you often have to say, ‘OK, my olive oil can’t come from Maine.’ People say that about flour as well, but really, why can’t it? People have grown grain in Maine for centuries. People are realizing that it’s feasible.”
The Saturday of the conference will be a bread lover’s paradise, as it’s the first year that it will offer a bread fair and trade show. The show, free and open to the public from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m., features bakers and millers from all over Maine showcasing their wares. It also will offer baking tools and small farm equipment, seeds, books and Maine-made art, as well as music from the band Dog Wants Out, a Unity-based group that has spent the summer playing at farmers markets.
“We’ve always tried to have a public event, for those who didn’t want to commit to two days of intensive workshopping. There’s a really terrific community that’s interested in Maine bread,” said Lambke. “One thing we noticed is that people would show up and say ‘Can I buy bread?’ So we’re responding to that. We want to create a fair atmosphere.”
Lambke herself is involved in the process of transforming the old Somerset County Jail into a gristmill and artisanal bakery. The building was purchased earlier this year; it now is undergoing a renovation process.
“We’ll be leasing the kitchen and bakery to an artisan baker in Maine that wants to use local grains, and we’ll be selling the flour that comes out of the gristmill to bakers and restaurants all over the state,” said Lambke.
If the mainstream interest in local and organic holds, Lambke sees a rich future for Maine-grown grain and Maine-made bread.
“We see these documentaries and read these books about the industrialization of food, and it leaves you scared of your food. It makes you want to make a major change in the way you eat,” she said. “This is one of those grass-roots events that leaves you feeling hopeful. It brings the bread you eat back down to a human scale.”
Registration is still open for the Kneading Conference, set for July 30 and 31, which starts at 8 a.m. both days, in Tewksbury Hall in Skowhegan. Registration for both days of the conference is $300, which includes all meals. The Maine Artisan Bread Fair and Trade Show is set for 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. Saturday, Aug. 1, and is free and open to the public. For more information, visit www.kneadingconference.com.