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FACES AND PLACES: Jodee Brown and family take pride in making bread the old-fashioned way

CLIMAX, Minn. -- The art of bread making is a science to Jodee Brown. Brown, aka in northwest Minnesota as "The Bread Lady," makes hundreds of loaves each summer and sells them twice weekly at the Crookston Farmer's Market. Trying and developing ...

CLIMAX, Minn. -- The art of bread making is a science to Jodee Brown.

Brown, aka in northwest Minnesota as "The Bread Lady," makes hundreds of loaves each summer and sells them twice weekly at the Crookston Farmer's Market. Trying and developing new recipes and techniques and making a variety of flavors keeps baking interesting and challenging for Brown who sells the bread under the name of "Farmer Brown's Bread."

"I make a lot of different kinds," Brown said. The hundred or so varieties she bakes include seven grain with freshly ground flax, cinnamon raisin and brown rice and quinoa, a whole grain commonly used in South American cuisine. Brown also bakes breads with flavor combinations such as walnut-leek, potato and roasted garlic and kalamata olive and red pepper.

Brown finds some of the recipes in books and tweaks them to make them her own.

"If it sounds good, I'll work it out on paper to see if it's a good recipe," she said. She calculates the recipe's ingredients, converting the measures to percentages, which give her a feel of the ratio of solids to liquid. For example, she knows she wants her breads to be moist, so when she converts the recipe she's seeking a liquid content of about 60 percent.

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Besides altering existing recipes, Brown also develops recipes, using the ingredients she has on hand. Last year, for example, when Brown had an abundance of herbs from her garden, she used them in her breads.

Brown's five children, ages 2 to 16, help their mother with the bread baking.

"We have a schedule written out and there are things each day we do," she said. "We have a business meeting on Saturday and decide what specialty breads we're going to make."

Once they have the list of specialty breads, the Browns order ingredients, make sure they have the right baking equipment and note on the schedule which bread-making steps need to be done on each day of the week

"Sunday is when everything begins," Brown said.

Baking days

Brown began baking bread several years ago because she believed it would be more nutritious than store-bought bread.

"I made bread for my family and then they started a farmers market. It was an opportunity to make bread for everyone," Brown said. The Crookston Farmer's Market is held from 4 to 7 p.m. on Tuesdays and Fridays near the Polk County (Minn.) Museum and Happy Joe's along U.S. Highway 2 on the east edge of Crookston.

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Mondays, Tuesdays, Thursdays and Fridays are bread-making days at the Browns. On a "light" bread-making day, Brown and her family produce from three to five dozen loaves.

"When things pick up in the summer, we do more; about 100 loaves a day," Brown said.

Brown and her children make the bread in her basement, which is equipped with a sink, refrigerator, commercial bread mixer, aluminum work surfaces and cooling stands. They bake the bread, six loaves at a time, in residential ovens in the basement and in their upstairs kitchen.

On bread-baking days Brown loses count of the times she runs up and down the stairs, carrying pans of loaves from oven to cooling racks and back again.

Technique

The seven-grain bread is the most popular seller at the farmers market and the first choice of her own family, Brown said.

"It's a nice sandwich bread and it's nutritious bread. That's the one we also have for our everyday bread."

Brown buys organic hard white, whole wheat and golden white, pumpernickel and cracked wheat flour from Natural Way Mills in Middle River, Minn., in 50-pound bags, 500 to 1,000 pounds at a time. She also uses Natural Way Mills' seven-grain cereal and sea salt in her recipes.

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Stacks of bread recipe and bread-making technique books sit on the bottom shelf of Brown's aluminum baking table in the basement of her farm near Climax.

"It's an endless study," Brown said.

Though bread can be made with four simple ingredients; flour, salt, water and yeast, innumerable variations can result, depending on the technique the baker uses, she noted. For example, the flavor of sourdough breads can be made more or less intense by adjusting the fermentation time.

"I like sourdoughs, trying to control them," Brown said. For example, the amount of time the starter "sits," the stiffness of the starter and its temperature will affect the taste and texture of the sour dough breads, she noted.

Fresh bread

The Brown family bakes the loaf breads, such as cinnamon-raisin and seven-grain on the day before the farmers market so they will have plenty of time to cool before she packages them. The round hearth breads such as roasted garlic and potato, walnut leek are made on market day.

Brown and her family also make about 200 bagels in a variety of flavors, including cinnamon-raisin, Italian and sourdough-rye for the farmers market

"Everybody helps. We put a book on tape in and listen to stories and form bagels," Brown said.

Her five children also help sell the bread at the farmers market. They enjoy meeting customers and are proud to tell them they had a hand in baking the breads and bagels, Brown said.

"They like to be able to say they know how to do it."

Bailey writes for special features sections. Reach her at (701) 787-6753; (800) 477-6572, ext. 753; or send e-mail to abailey@gfherald.com .

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