Olivia Pattison, 30, is a bread baker living on Martha’s Vineyard.
“I’m an artist at heart,” she told me. “So I like to mix it up. I sprout things, and I ferment stuff, and I soak other things.”
“There’s seeds,” she went on, “and there’s fruit. There’s a lot of stuff in the world. There’s potato chips—you could put in potato chips. You could put anything in bread, it’s sort of like a blank canvas.”
Olivia has been baking professionally for only four years. She’s self taught, has had mentors along the way, and also learned by good-old fashion trial and error.
“This will be my third year running Cinnamon Starship, my solo project,” she said.
This name "Cinnamon Starship?" Here’s the deal with that:
“My friend Milo, that was his nickname for me. He thought that it was just so nice that I say cinnamony, and he said that I fill the world with cinnamony goodness.”
In every loaf of bread she bakes, Olivia uses at least 15% of local stoneground whole grains grown by Island farmers—like rye, and red fife, which is an heirloom winter wheat. And now she’s venturing out on her own as a farmer.
“I’m going into a project now where I’ve rented land,” Olivia I’m going to attempt to grow some of my own grains and things to put in bread, because as a cook it’s always inspiring to go out to the garden and see what’s in season, and go from there. I want to have more of that experience as a baker.”
This spring Olivia is planting flint corn, barley, wheat and rice (yes, rice can grow here—that’ll be another story). And then for good measure, she’s got some rows of sugar beets, and benne, which is an ancestor to sesame. And there will be more sweet potatoes, lots of purple ones.
“The purple sweet potato bread was just this vibrant purple color,” Olivia said. “I grew, last year, probably 25 feet worth of sweet potatoes. So I’m going to grow now five or six times that much. So purple bread is coming.”
The Cinnamon Starship project was created in the context of the resurgence of small scale farmers growing and using a diversity of grains.
“People are getting an interest in learning how to bake with this stuff again, because we’ve sort of forgotten what it’s like,” Olivia said. “As Americans, we have just become accustomed to this sort of average white bread. We sort of need to re-train what our expectations are of bread, and then also how to work and how to sort of listen to the dough itself, and what it needs.”
I love that. Listening to the dough. Wheat has been getting bad rap with the increase and awareness of celiac disease. But not all wheat or bread is created equally. Here’s Olivia’s take on the matter: “Wheat is this really intense plant. It’s super nutritious—it’s like this superpower little seed. And what we have done over all of humanity is cultivate this super nutritionally dense seed, and grind it and ferment it, and make that nutrition available to us, how it wasn’t before. We have taken all the nutrition away from it by processing it, roller milling it. All the nutrition is in the bran and the endosperm, and if you take that away, then you’re left with nothing.”
When whole wheat grains are highly processed into bleached white flour, the vitamins, minerals and fiber are removed and then synthetic nutrients are adding back in to "fortify" or "enrich."
“It’s so interesting to me,” Olivia said. “And it’s a part of solving the whole equation of health and eating and America. It sort of goes back to: can we take back our world from “Big Ag”? As people we’ve in the past 100 years forgotten it seems like everything we knew about keeping our world healthy and keeping ourselves healthy.”
There are a lot of politics going on in Cinnamon Starship and food is intrinsically political. But, politics can also taste good. Like Olivia’s deli rye made with toasted caraway seeds and a whopping 60% of locally grown rye flour. And by the way this bread makes a delicious pastrami sandwich.
I asked Olivia if she felt like an activist or a revolutionary.
“I don’t know if I feel like a revolutionary,” she said. “But I do feel like there are a lot of problems in our world, and if we can even figure out a small way to combat them, like try and be mindful of where your food comes from, that’s like a step in the right direction. Everybody can do a little bit to help create a better world. And so I guess I’m trying to change things for the better out here, for sure. Bread it’s a good metaphor.”
One resource for growing grains in our region is the Northern Grain Growers Association: http://northerngraingrowers.org/
This piece first aired in April, 2017.