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Food Field Trip - Fry's Red Wheat Bread

This is the first post in my Food Field Trip blog series. In the spirit of Jamie Oliver's Food Revolution, my son and I are heading out into our community to meet people who are doing amazing things with real food and food education.

A community bread tradition reborn

Stepping inside Fry's Red Wheat Bread is like stepping back in time. Rustic loaves made with freshly-milled organic heritage grains and baked in a wood-fired oven rest on handcrafted wood shelves. Mismatched plates on the counter offer customers a sample of today's offerings. Real bread is being made here in the way it was made generations ago: by hand, with love, by a man with a ready smile and a big bushy beard.

My son and I walk past Fry's on our way to and from kindergarten and I always feel a mix of excitement and comfort in knowing that something deeply rooted in tradition is happening inside. So when the opportunity came up to write about the priorities of the Food Revolution - real food and food education - I knew pretty quickly I wanted to arrange an after school field trip to go behind the baker's counter to meet with Byron Fry and learn more about his bread.

Although Byron's bakery opened in Victoria's Vic West neighbourhood this fall, the Fry family baking history goes back generations in this corner of the city. Byron's great, great grandfather operated a family bakery right across the street from the current location on a site that is now home to a popular Chinese take-out restaurant. It's a remarkable story. And one my son can feel a connection to himself. His own great grandfather was a cabinet maker and worked in the shop right next door to the modern incarnation of Fry's, in what is now Spiral Cafe. So it was wonderful to watch these two descendants of community craftsmen come together for a little afternoon chat about bread and how it's made.

You can't tour a bakery without sampling the goods. At least not properly. Byron made sure we tried and compared some of his breads to notice the subtle differences that technique can make. We saw the before and after of the milling process in the back of the bakery, touching the small grains of red wheat then feeling the warm flour that they become. It's an incredible lesson in farm to table for a young boy to touch these things then enjoy some crusty bread.

As a fan of vintage kitchen gear myself, I was charmed by the dust-covered bakers scales and commitment to a vintage feel throughout the bakery. One of the few signs of modern life was a flour-covered laptop tucked behind the front counter. Byron assures me a laptop can be covered in a thin layer of flour and continue to operate for longer than you'd think.

Byron is passionate about helping people understand gluten and says modern factory production techniques are contributing to a rise in gluten digestion issues. He explains "everything else that calls itself bread" is radically different than the bread we consumed a hundred years ago, and he wants his customers to know that by sticking to traditional techniques and ingredients bread can remain a delicious and digestible part of our diet.

It sure was a delicious experience for my son and I. His favourite Fry's treat is a buttery croissant. We even stopped in one day to buy one for his lunchbox on our way to school. And now he knows the man who makes them.

Here's a little of my post-field trip discussion with my son:

What was your favourite thing about visiting the bakery?
The kneading machine. I liked it. And I also liked the flour-making machine.

What did you think about Byron?

He's just nice. He has a big beard. But why doesn't he wear a chef's hat?

What did you think about the bread we ate while we were there?

It tasted gooood. The edge of it feels hard and the inside feels soft.

What do you think makes his bread taste so good?

The rosemary, for one.

If you could put any ingredient into bread you were making, what would you put in it?

Rosemary. And chocolate-covered spider webs. And chocolate party hats.