“How did you get into baking?” I asked Caitie as I settled on a cart outside her booth, Bandana Bakery, last Friday.
“So many answers to that question,” she responded, smiling and snuggling their 14-month old son, Eamon. Andy had stepped in to interact with customers so we could talk. It was then about 11 a.m. and almost all their hand-made sourdough organic breads, croissants, traditional French pastries, and cookies were sold out.
“I grew up in Georgia, and when I was very little, I remember being in the kitchen while my mom and grandma cooked and baked all of our food from scratch. I wanted to help. And I did.
“Growing up, I always thought I would be an artist. When I was in high school, I developed my interest and skills in drawing and painting. I had been accepted to the Rhode Island School of Design and was planning to attend after graduation. However, I had accepted a job in Teton Valley cooking for NOLS for the summer between high school and college. And I was happy here — it ‘fit’. So, I ended up staying for a year. Some decisions in life make themselves.”
The fall of the following year, Caitie moved to Burlington, Vermont to study English and art at the University of Vermont. There, she joined the Outing Club, and soon became a volunteer leader for student hiking groups. Almost every weekend, she would pop a group into the school van and head out to a trailhead. Caitie was surprised and delighted to find a bakery in almost every small town. She was particularly intrigued by Red Hen Baking Company in Middlesex, Vermont where they made sourdough breads and traditional French pastries using all local grains.
Following her graduation from UVM, Caitie moved to New Hampshire where she worked at a Waldorf Camp in the Monadnock Range. One day in the farmhouse at the camp, she discovered big bags full of the most aromatic and beautiful bread she had ever seen. It turned out that the bread was baked in nearby Alstead, at a bakery called Orchard Hill Breadworks. The bakery was situated in an old barn on a working farm. “Their bread was so rustic, so honest,” Caitie continued. “I was so inspired by this place that in time, Noah Elbers, the owner, became my employer and my good friend. We still keep in touch.”
In 2012, Caitie returned to Teton Valley to cook again for NOLS, until 2014 when she returned to Vermont to begin her first gig as a baker at Red Hen. Red Hen was “the gold standard” — an award-winning organic, handmade bakery. It also provided good jobs in a rural community. “There I learned then mastered the skill of shaping bread — from 10 a.m. ‘til 10 p.m.! It was a physically demanding job, albeit a rewarding one,” she told me. “After a year with Red Hen, I stepped away from baking and the Northeast to attend a craft school in North Carolina, and from there to teacher training graduate school program in New Hampshire. I went to school part-time and worked part-time at Orchard Hill Breadworks. It was there that I quickly fell back in love with baking. Their oven was a Llopis, a wood-fired firebox located under a rotating stone hearth. Basically, it’s a large circulating stone platform connected to a wheel that rotates the hearth. As the hearth rotates, you keep adding new loaves, and in about 25 minutes, you start taking off fully-baked bread.”
“And now, Caitie, please tell me how Bandana Bakery began,” I asked.
“A few years ago, I moved back to Teton Valley to do a yoga teacher training. At the time, I got a job working with Ken and Erika on Full Circle Farm. Andy and I met, and... then along came Eamon last April. As a stay-at-home mom, I have found I have time to bake again. I’ve always had a dream to have my own bakery, to share what I have learned from all those other amazing craftspeople over the years. Andy has also dreamt of starting a bakery of his own, which is actually how we met. Now, with our family growing and feeling rooted here in Driggs, I feel like I finally have a reason to follow through with my dream. So, I started baking again, using a Combo Cooker (a cast iron Dutch oven specially made for baking breads) and our conventional stove. It’s not the most efficient or romantic way to bake bread, but it works, and it’s allowing us to create hearth-style loaves with what we have on hand for the time being. Someday, I would love to have a Llopis, though. We’re starting small at our Farmer’s Market this season, and that feels like a good first step towards our dream.”