Our Daily

Taking Baking Bread Back in Time

By Wayne MacPhail

It is hard to imagine a more unlikely location to learn about 19th century bread baking than right beside Dundas St. West on busy Toronto morning. But that's where Montgomery's Inn has found itself, after almost 200 years of standing upon stone foundations on what was a thoroughfare for dusty travels on gigs, horsebacks and shanks ponies.

Volunteer baking coordinator, Dale Howey. Kneading his team towards a perfect loaf.

Volunteer baking coordinator, Dale Howey. Kneading his team towards a perfect loaf.

The inn was built about 1830 and was owned Thomas and Margaret Montgomery, both from Ireland. The inn and tavern was part of the Montgomery's 400 acre farm and would have been torn down four decades ago if it hadn't been spared that ignominy the Montgomery Ratepayers and the Etobicoke Historical Society. Now it's one of ten historic museums operated by the City of Toronto. Which, is fortunate because with no inn there would have been no outdoor bake oven attached to it. That oven was built by Alex Chernov of StoveMaster, Caledon, Ontario. It complements another oven, inside the restored inn.

But, it is the outside oven that bares the brunt of the inn's baking. And that baking is done in the 19th century way by a team of volunteer bakers lead by Dale Howey, the inn's volunteer baking co-ordinator. Every Wednesday, all year long, the team fires up the oven by placing kindling an logs inside. The wood roars to life heating the well-insulated oven so hot it would burn any dough placed inside it. So, when the flames have exhausted themselves to coals the oven is swept and then mopped out. Then it's sealed and allowed to cool to about 500 Fahrenheit degrees. Next volunteer bakers like Anton DeGiusti carefully paddle in an array of loaves prepared in the inn's kitchen on Tuesdays and Wednesdays. DeGuisti is proud of the baking technique he and his fellow bakers employ. Those old methods draw a gluten-like strand through the decades and back to the inn's original craftsmen. "A 19th century baker could walk in here on a Wednesday and help us out," says DeGiusti.

The boules, batards and other hearty loaves are sold, still warm, at the farmer's market held at the inn at 2 p.m. on baking day. "It's pretty exciting to see the bread on sale," says Rachael Manson, another volunteer baker. "there's people waiting for it to come out. There are people who are really exciting the certain types of bread they're waiting on."

And, in many ways, that wait has been for 180 years.

Flour, Fire, Water and Yeast - a mini-doc on a day's baking

A Few Slices Of Bread

Photos by Barbara Ledger

Heading Yeast

 

Great Balls of Fibre

Great Balls of Fibre

A Yarn About the Community of Knitting

Andrea Shewchuk, a Toronto-based textile artist tosses patterns to the wind as she creates scarves that come to life in 3D once they are wrapped around a body.

Andrea Shewchuk, a Toronto-based textile artist tosses patterns to the wind as she creates scarves that come to life in 3D once they are wrapped around a body.

By Wayne MacPhail

Knitting is a technology, craft and art that has been handed down generation upon generation. It has both been timeless and has changed dramatically. Our grandparents would recognize the techniques and tools of today, but the rich, soft and exotic yarns would amaze them. So would the art created by what they viewed as the most utilitarian of skills.

Andrea Shewchuk is a textile artist who creates three dimensional scarves and chokers that flow from her imagination, not the paper algorithm that informs many designs. Her grandmother, who also eschewed patterns,  lived in a small Macedonian village where people knit for warmth, not art. The wool she used back then was coarse, drab, functional and roughly spun from the coats of nearby sheep.

These days knitting stores like Tracy Young's Handknit Yarn Studio still try to connect with local yarn suppliers, but the skeins they get from them are soft, vibrant. Some cost enough to bring Andrea's grandmother to her knees on the dirt floor of her humble home. But Young's store is also a nexus for the knitting community around her in Hamilton, Ontario. Customers share ideas, discover each other and form their own knitting circles.

One of those is the jokingly named Secret Knitting Club organized by Bailey Duff, a private music teacher who's been knitting for 20 years. Her club meets on Sundays afternoons at a downtown coffeeshop in Hamilton. Most of the knitters are, like Duff, young women although the circle attracts retirees as well. Ali DiStephano, who started knitting when she was ten, comes to the knitting circle as a respite from a stressful job with a mortgage broker. "When you're in a group like this, you're able to talk face-to-face," she says. "If you're learning it on line you can only go with what's based on the video. You can ask specific questions."

Dirika McCalman had lots of questions. She joined the circle when she had only been knitting a few days. "Everyone's been super helpful," she says. "It's a really good community."

A Video Of a Close Knit Community

A Spool of Shots

Making It Anywhere

Hack Labs and Makerspaces aren't new, just needed

Krista Cassidy of Site 3 CoLaboratory came to learn work working and stayed for micro controller programming.

Krista Cassidy of Site 3 CoLaboratory came to learn work working and stayed for micro controller programming.

By Wayne MacPhail

We all need spaces to be creative, and the planet needs more of use to reuse and repurpose our gadgets, appliances and machinery. That's why makerspaces matter. There are thousands of makerspaces worldwide. Inside their walls members will find bandsaws, routers, welding equipment, 3D printers and even DNA sequencing equipment. Because who wouldn't want to be an amateur microbioengineer? 

We recently visited two makerspaces in Toronto - hacklab.to and the  Site 3 CoLaboratory. We discovered that makerspaces, now well established in science centres and libraries, haven't abandoned their DIY grassroots. And, those roots go back to 1968 and the first editions of The Whole Earth Catalogue. That publication provided "good tools, for good people" and encouraged self-sufficiency and the cultivation of the skills to make your own, fix your broken and never toss what that which you can open and tinker with.

Makerspaces have reimagined that ethos and now include courses and tools that can teach members everything from woodworking, welding, sewing and robotics. Make of that, what you will.

Making Movies

 

Making Pictures

Site 3 CoLaboratory

 

HackLab.to