1: withdrawing especially from what is difficult, dangerous, or disagreeable
2: a place of privacy or safety
“The teacher is of course an artist, but being an artist does not mean that he or she can make the profile, can shape the students. What the educator does in teaching is to make it possible for the students to become themselves.”
― Paulo Freire
A Change in Course
Smoke Signals is a mobile baking school that seeks to empower individuals and communities through the craft of wood fired baking. Before hitching up my wagon and hitting the road, I based workshops from a homestead bakery in Marshall, North Carolina. My time at 590 Barnard Road was transformative. It’s where I learned to bake on my own two feet. It’s also where I fell in and out of love, and wrote my first book, A Baker’s Year. The book is part journal, part cookbook and it was my way of closing the door on what will remain a guiding light in my life-long pursuit to be a good person and a good baker.
When I met my husband, I knew I had grown as much as I could in the container I was in. Deep in my chest a timer went off, set years ago by an invisible hand. I thanked the universe for the life changing experiences my days at the bakery afforded me, and then cut the limb. As a tree is pruned to direct growth, so I sheer myself from comfortable knowns. I sifted through my belongings, memories clogging the mesh, filled several carefully labeled boxes, and left to be with my true love.
The project now comes to you from Central Appalachia, in the form of eight, week-long retreats at Pine Mountain Settlement School in Bledsoe, Kentucky. Our educational efforts over the past four years have evolved from short, two hour workshops to three day intensives, and are now maturing into my ideal structure. Staying together for the duration of the bread making process allows us to bake in real time, so all the steps are seen and experienced. Many little moments make up the perfect loaf of bread.
I am excited to be working in and with a community transitioning from an extraction-based economy centered around coal. My efforts to teach and bake seek to provide meaningful engagement with the natural beauty of the region and its resourceful chefs, farmers and crafts people. In a time when many feel misunderstood, and the gap between those who have and those who have not widens, it is also the intent of our tiny school to use our platform to highlight an area often misrepresented.
When Pine Mountain Settlement School was a boarding school, much of the curriculum was focused on skillfully executing the tasks of rural life, like raising cattle, farming and tending a home. It is important to me that you walk away with a sense of self sufficiency and something to share with your neighbors. You will be given the tools necessary to design your own bread, a bread that is unquietly intimate, not available on any store shelf. Even though each of us will be given the same flour, water, salt and yeast, your loaf will have the unique flavors of your own hands, labor, and intentions. The flavor of life at work.
A Collaborative Effort
This year brings two exciting developments in my dream to have a school. I am now able to host our workshops at a National Historical Landmark that has been an educational center in one form or another since 1913, and I get to collaborate with talented culinary friends to bring you several days of creative baking and cooking.
Each retreat in 2019 will include special guest collaborators, who will share and teach from their wells of experience and passion. In the Spring, Bad Seed Bagels owner Rich Orris will teach us the way of the bagel. The Summer heat will usher in Melissa Martin, owner of the Mosquito Supper Club, to show us proper cajun cooking. The Fall brings us two treasures: Kristin Smith from The Wrigley Tap Room, who will guide us in Appalachian and Sichuan dumplings, and Katie and Ilana from Free the Picnic, who will help us get saucy and veggie forward.
Who should come & What to expect
Our learning experiences are designed to provide an overall view coupled with hands on experience in the fundamentals of baking. Too, they will hold weight and have points of interest to those who have been practicing for years. No previous baking experience is necessary to attend. In fact, they are a great way to give yourself the time and focus to jump into baking if it is something you’ve longed to grasp, but wished for a guide. The retreats are not meant to replace the kind of training you’ll receive in a production environment, and if you truly wish to bake like “the pros”, I recommend you get your foot in the door in a fast paced setting. If you are currently working with the day to day triumphs and trials of production, these retreats offer a step back to recall the root of your passion.
Basic food science and bakers math is covered in a relaxed and casual manor. Participants are encouraged to take advantage of our equipment and ingredients to embark on a side project while on retreat. In the fall of 2018, retreat participant Kim mentioned memories of salt raised bread. Within a few hours we had a pot of potato water and cornmeal on a heating pad on top of the laundry room dryer, and we checked it all night looking for bubbles. The starter worked and we made a bread in the background between lessons and hikes. This is the kind of curiosity and willingness to experiment I hope you’ll pack, along with your toothbrush, for the 2019 retreats.
The retreats do involve long days on your feet, lots of walking, and plenty of social time. We will be outside for large portions of the baking lessons, as our oven is outside, so participants should have some comfort in the elements. One joy of holding our retreats at Pine Mountain Settlement School is the stillness and contemplation that wildness offers. Although each building is equipped with wifi, cell service is limited. You are welcome to engage in as much or as little of the planned programming we provide. While myself and our guest collaborators will do our most to make you feel welcome, entertained, well-fed and comfortable, we do ask that retreat participants share in keeping the communal spaces tidy. This includes pitching in with laundry, dishes and sweeping. Many hands makes light work!
Sourdough Bread & Bagels w/ Bad Seed Bagels
Glorious gluten: sourdough bread, pizza and bagels
Sourdough Grit Bread, Miche and Cajun Cooking w/ Mosquito Supper Club
Place as an ingredient: the flavors of the mountain and the bayou
July 22nd-July 26th
July 29th-August 2nd
Sourdough, Salt Rising Bread and Appalachian Cooking w/ Kristin Smith
Food folkways: fermenting and preserving in Appalachia and beyond
Rye Bread and Smears, Sauces and Vegetarian Cooking w/ Free the Picnic
Nourishment: the world of rye flour and innovative vegetarian cookery
October 28th-November 1st
Pine Mountain Settlement School will be the beautiful setting for our culinary adventures. The 800 acre campus is a National Historical Site and has been a school, in various forms, since 1913. I first came to Pine Mountain in 2016, and was moved by the remote location and wild beauty.
In their own words: “Travel back in time with us, to a beautiful mountain valley at the convergence of three streams. Here, in 1913, visionary local leaders and pioneering educators conceived of a school "for the children of the Kentucky mountains." The desire was to transform the mountain community through education by infusing folk tradition with innovative teaching pedagogy. Over the years, the school has changed form. Today, we function as a community non-profit that still uses mountain tradition to address our current problems, although now we provide programming for visitors and school groups as well as community members."
The school is located in a rural area and the roads leading to and from the campus are filled with stunning views, hairpin turns and steep climbs. You don’t need a special vehicle to find your way, but you may loose cell service and are advised to arrive before dark.
As a retreat participant you will be staying with fellow bakers in Laurel House or Far House. These are two out of the twenty-six historic buildings on the Pine Mountain Settlement School campus.
Far House has a shared kitchen, living room, laundry and wifi. If you stay in Far House, we will be using your kitchen for some lessons and meals. If you need more quiet time, Laurel House may better suit you.
Laurel House has lodging on the main floor, below the dining hall and meeting lodge. Laurel House rooms are private and come with wifi and shared bathrooms. Laurel House is in a central location on campus.
Note the campus and its building are historic and have been diligently kept up, but you might cross your occasional, spider, critter or other wildlife. It’s all part of the adventure!
All baking sessions will be held at the Plant Center, and all culinary lessons and meal prep will be held in the kitchen of Far House. We will be walking daily between Far House, Laurel House and the Plant Center. Although roads and trails are maintained by the school, we do advise you to bring good walking shoes and a pair of rain boots. There will be a good deal of walking over our week together.
We will be baking with both indoor ovens and our mobile, wood-fired oven custom built by Elemental Ovens. Please dress so that you can be comfortable when our lessons move outside. I will send a packing list and a weather update close to the retreat dates.
We encourage you, in your time between sessions, to wander the campus, hike one of its many trails, visit the garden, and find a stream to follow.
You are welcome to travel to Pine Mountain Settlement School in your own vehicle. Parking will be provided.
The airport closest to Pine Mountain is the Tri-Cities airport in Blountville, Tennessee. It has several flights per day arriving from Charlotte and Atlanta.
We are happy to provide, and recommend taking, a shuttle from the airport to the campus upon request for an additional charge. It is a 2.5 hour ride. The cost of the shuttle can be split among those using it. You can pay this cost upon arrival at the retreats.
All meals will be served in the kitchen of Far House
Breakfast 7:30 A.M. to 8:30 A.M.
Lunch 12:30 A.M. to 1:30 P.M.
Dinner 6 P.M. to 7 P.M.
Each retreat will host a special guest chef!
Please notify us of any food allergies or concerns.
Please let us know if you are vegetarian or vegan. Note, there will potentially be be meat/fish being cooked in Far House.
If you have favorite wines, treats or other foods, please shop ahead and bring them with you!
All our baking will be done in our custom built, mobile wood-fired oven from Elemental Ovens. Coming in at 5,020 pounds, our oven has plenty of mass for bread and pastry baking. The oven is a direct fired oven, meaning we build a fire in the same chamber that we bake in. We will get the fire up to 800+ degrees, and bake our pizzas in under three minutes! In general though, a wood-fired baker harnesses residual heat for baking. Our bread, pies and other goods will be loaded between 400 and 500 degrees.
I will cover the dynamics of a wood fired oven in conversation during the retreat. You are encouraged to engage with as much of the process as you like. There will be kindling to collect and chop, fires to be built, and the occasional tending. Nothing beats a beverage in hand and a glowing fire to watch in the dark!
Microorganisms are everywhere, respirating, reproducing, metabolizing and transforming matter. A sourdough starter is a medium for these bugs and beasts. In a basic, roller-milled, white-flour starter with equal parts flour and water, we can predict that the yeast and bacteria present are consuming simple sugars and creating gas, alcohol and acids. To some degree the yeast are responsible for leavening the dough, and to some degree the bacteria, lactobacilli, is responsible for flavoring the dough. Change the flour, change the water amount and the temperature you ferment at, and you get a whole new set of flavors, textures and developments.
In my bread and pizza baking I only use natural leavening. I find the flavor, color and texture I am able to achieve with sourdough to be so exciting, flavorful and nutritious, I’ve never looked back. My original starter came to me 7 years ago, along with a fifty pound bag of turkey wheat from my friends at Farm & Sparrow. This starter is still the bedrock of my baking, but I now also tend to a 100% rye starter and a whole grain, fresh milled, 100% spelt desem starter. I began the desem (flemish for leaven) this past fall upon leaving the bakery in Marshall, as a way to honor Alan Scott. Although I never met him, his methods continue to inspire the way I bake and view connections between the farmer, baker and miller.
We will cover how to create your own sourdough starter, how to keep it alive, how to get it ready for baking and how to create other starters off your primary one, should you seek to diversify your bread. We will also cover how to transition a stiff starter to a liquid starter and the differences between the two.