My car poised on the bow of a ferry en route to Vinalhaven, I watch as a slow-moving offshore fog bank erases all signs of the island, the temperature dropping from a sunny 76 degrees in Rockland to a dank, chilly 48 at the landing in Carvers Harbor. My silent companion, a 50-pound bag of high-gluten flour, slumps in the passenger seat next to me. My daughter, the intrepid bread baker, asked me to bring the flour from the mainland, and in anticipation of my reward for delivering it, I splurged on some fancy imported butter. What will it be?A crusty focaccia? Dark, earthy rye? Sourdough baguette? I luck out. The bread she is making contains spelt flour, walnuts and dried apricots, and walnut oil, as well as the high-gluten flour.

Rather than wolfing my reward down, I make it last as long as possible, savoring the big, chewy chunks of apricot in each slice. Once I’m done, I decide I’ll interview my daughter and find out how she makes all these wonderful breads. Busy with a ceramics studio where she creates huge, colorful planters, with a full-time job overseeing a busy landscaping business, she nevertheless makes breads that take three days to complete, artisan breads that come from her constantly under-construction kitchen, with an oven fitted with a steam injection device made by her husband, a cozy woodstove that provides extra heat on chilly days and various tools of the baker’s trade — banneton baskets, a KitchenAid mixer, bread peel, bins of different grains and flours, and a proofing box that previously served as a fish tote.

We begin by reminiscing about the travails of getting a reliable sourdough starter going when we first moved to the island. Our poorly insulated house had no reliably warm corner where the flour-and-water mixture could sit and ferment for a few days, and after a few promising bubbly starts, the starters became non-starters, sad and vaguely grey. Finally, we resorted to kickstarting the mix with pineapple juice, and the resulting lively starter — so strong we referred to it as “Rambo” — is still in use to this day. Bits of Rambo have been spread to dry on waxed paper and mailed to friends in other parts of the country, who then resuscitated the dried starter and made their own sourdough. Rambo himself was recently resurrected from near-death with dried starter stored on wax paper in the freezer.





With the exception of a class taken at Stone Turtle Baking and Cooking School in Lyman, my daughter is a self-taught baker. She took the class because she wanted to “learn about wet dough.” Making good dough, she says, doesn’t seem that hard, but she wanted to learn a bit more about working with wet dough, forming it, shaping it and getting it into the oven unmangled. But she’s also found information in books, feeling that if she gets one good nugget of information from a cookbook, it’s worth having, although she calls the updated “Laurel’s Kitchen Bread Book” a real game changer for her, with its information on making breads from whole grains.

There’s only one good recipe my daughter says she’s developed herself that comes out right every time. She calls it “Super Seedy Sourdough.” She uses Maine Grains’ organically grown Red Fife wheat flour in her starter, along with filtered water because, when it comes to sourdough starter, “chlorine is not your friend.” After mixing up her starter she lets it sit overnight. The next day she makes a porridge from Maine Grains’ Ancient Grains Cereal, lets it cool down, then adds the starter, salt and high-gluten flour, enough so the dough is “not loose and floppy, but not hard and burley, either.” She mixes this dough with her KitchenAid, then puts it in a greased casserole dish and refrigerates it overnight (we’re now in day two of the bread, here). On the third day, she lets the dough come to room temperature until it’s “billowy,” then cuts it in half. For baguettes, she uses a couche, a piece of canvas cloth that’s floured and pleated into folds, the shaped baguettes then placed in the folds and put to rise under the proofing box. While the loaves rise, she fills her oven with steam and gets it “cranking hot,” ready for the time when she’ll use the baking peel to transfer the baguettes onto a hot baking stone.

For years, my daughter and her husband have planned to build an outdoor stone oven, and as the first step towards its construction, a few weeks ago we cleared an overgrown lily and iris bed from a corner of the backyard. I’m not sure what the oven’s ultimate design will be, but I know the ardent baker plans not to sell her loaves, but perhaps will trade them for island-harvested lobsters, scallops or other seafood. But the real reason for all the mixing and proofing, shaping and baking? “There’s nothing more satisfying than peeking in the oven window, seeing a crusty football, and knowing it’s going to be good.”