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.
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