A Stir The Pots Post


by | Aug 20, 2007 | Uncategorized

When I first arrived in Switzerland my sister asked if I would like to see bread being made by a local farmer, “sure why not,”I said, ” but we wake up early!”  We woke up  at 5:00 in the morning ,as I stumbled into my clothes half awake  we made our way passed  the fields.The cool air made redolent by the odor of wafting ” farmers perfume”, as my brother in law called it, that`s cow shit to you and me! “Slow down, or we will arrive too soon!!!” my sister said.  Walking like a  New Yorker I had forgotten that I was on vacation. I needed to take in the country air and surrounding sounds from the dark woods,fields of corn and fruit trees, as the early morning light was creeping on the horizon.
So as we made our way over the final hill my sister explained the history of the Schmutz family farm.Which by necessity in the 1850`s was turned into a vacation home by Frau Schmutz when Her husband died, his widow needed to find a way to provide for her 12 children.It`s first incarnation was a retreat  for wealthy city dwellers seeking some fresh air and country food, and was later converted to a spa for people seeking a cure in the mineral baths from as far away as Alsace and Basel.

Today we would get a demonstration of Margret Schmutz`s Bauern brot, or farmers bread. First she would make the vorteig (pre-ferment or sponge), this she did by taking an old dough from the previous bake and adding to it, flour, water, yeast then set this dough overnight to ferment. All done we went back home and  would see her the following morning! The next morning we were invited in through the kitchen to the ancient mixer with it`s mechanical arms ready to mix the flour and water Margret had added by sight and feel alone. This certainly was a traditional dough handed down by generations of women who didn`t use scales or thermometers like today`s modern bakers, it`s a touch and feel approach. Once the dough was made it was  sat in the bowl for an initial bulk ferment of three hours; my quizzical mind felt this approach would be somewhat reminiscent of another home baking neighbor Claudia, whom I had seen make bread in a  similar method, albeit different from one  I would myself use Being in enough trouble with our Presidents actions around the world, my intention was to not to rock the boat, certainly I couldn`t be the impertinent American guy telling these women how to bake my way! Margret having lit the oven with branches and paper,left the oven to heat until we returned and the dough was ready to bake. The dough was removed to a bench, cut in relatively large pieces and shaped, rooughly into rounds, slashed and straight into the oven without a rest or even a second proof! Margret explained that the heat of the oven would give the second rise, it still seemed odd to me as I knew that the bread wouldn`t have a real holey crumb or would the shape stay regular, rather it would burst and have a strange top knot look and apperance?(with hindsight I think it was a way of saving on time and using less fuel in the oven, waste not want not?) Hmmmm no arguing here, Madeline Schmutz the matriarch handling the peel while Margret fed her the loaves, kept pace even as her bent  figure kept a pace that belied her octogenarian frailty. We went to wait in the dining room for the bread to be baked as my sister chatted with her neighbor over coffee, bread and confiture all home made; through the window I could see in the trees the outline of the fields of corn and the distant village, probably like the guests who once sat at the same tables removing themselves from the city air for a quiet rest.  the baked loaves came out an hour later, each getting a tap on the bottom to hear for the hollow sound and a brush to remove some excess ash. We said our goodbye`s and vielen dank as we passed the kitchen where Madeline was cooling a deliciuos looking Reneclaude tarte the traditional way, with a wooden spoon under to keep it crisp, who is going to argue with tradition anyway….I am not the decider!!!






  1. joker

    Nice topic (at least for me as a farmer) 😉
    A little hint: it’s nor Bauern brot but always Bauernbrot (one word)

  2. Daniel Strachan

    It pays to get up early in the morning, also when on holidays. Jeremy, do you remember where the Schmutz family are located? i believe the dough mixer here is a swissmade machine, have recently seen a used one for sale, they give me the creeps though….my brain says danger mangled hands.
    I love the photo of the old baker women in front of what looks to be a good sized “holzöfen”, a beautiful capture for sure. It’s wonderful that your timing was perfect for the visit.
    cheers daniel

  3. Jonitin

    Hi Daniel, the Shmutz family have a sort of spa like place hidden behind some woods near Lampenberg close to my sisters!I’ll ask my sister…you never know…they may still be baking?


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