Monday, July 26, 2010

The Gift of Bread

Francis H. (Frank) Cabot
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The taste of a madeleine crumbled in a spoonful of tea suddenly brought back to Proust whole sections of his past previously hidden from his consciousness and In Search of Lost Time was born. Stretching things a bit, it could be argued that Frank Cabot whom I met during a recent trip to La Malbaie, Charlevoix County (Central Quebec), had the opposite experience. He recalled vividly how life was in the area in the twenties and thirties ("Food-wise it was a paradise, just like France. But everything changed after World War II. Nothing tasted the same afterwards") and what he wanted back was that taste.
Moved by a deep affection for Charlevoix County where his family has been living/summering for nine generations, and very much aware of the fact that, in this corner of the North Shore of the Saint-Lawrence River , the past was being erased not only from the culture but also from the landscape, Frank and his wife Anne founded Heritage Charlevoix, a land trust whose sole raison d'être was to preserve the county's heritage by buying and restoring its old buildings. One of the buildings thus saved from neglect and ultimately destruction was the "moulin de la Rémy" (the mill on the Rémy River) in Baie-Saint-Paul, 50 km (31 miles) south of La Malbaie.
Moulin de la Rémy, today fully restored and in operation
The building hadn't been selected at random. Mills make flour and flour makes bread and bread is more than a basic necessity. It reflects a culture and its traditions. The cardboard bread to which the area was becoming addicted bore no relation to the fragrant loaves which Frank remembered. Along with some of its landmark buildings and vestiges of the past, what Frank and Anne Cabot wanted to restore to the region was good bread.
Boulangerie La Rémy
They found a beautiful old farm building in a nearby village, bought it, had it transported next to the mill and transformed into a bakery (with housing upstairs for the bakers). Equipped with two brick wood- fire ovens and using flour milled at the mill, Boulangerie de la Rémy now produces up to 420 loaves a week in season. Customers flock in throughout the day, some of them coming from as far as Quebec City to stock on bread, viennoiseries and flour.
The bread of yesteryear is back in Charlevoix County but the golden loaves which come flying out of the door are not necessarily the same as the ones Frank remembers from his childhood. Whether or not hazelnut-cranberry bread or crunchy baguettes were made in Baie-Saint-Paul before World War II doesn't matter though. More than the actual taste of bread, what Frank wanted to give modern days inhabitants of the county is a taste for the real thing, so that they would care enough to support local artisan bakers and they do. There are other bakeries in the area, some of which may have pre-existed Boulangerie de la Rémy, and more are opening up. Bread is multiplying and Frank and Anne can only wonder and rejoice. They certainly had a hand in this miracle.
For all practical info regarding the mill and/or the bakery, please refer to the Moulin de la Rémy's website.

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