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A passion for baking

While working as a marriage and family therapist, Linnea Dietrich said that her personal mission statement was, “Provide hope and healing for people through therapy.” Now retired, her mission is to “Create space for people to experience ‘le joie de vivre,’” a French phrase meaning the joy of life.

Today, one of Linnea’s joys is baking organic bread, although she claims she wasn’t much of baker while raising her three children. Linnea is an artisan baker who creates over 60 loaves of bread at a time. But what makes her passion even more interesting is she bakes the bread in an outdoor wood-fired oven that hovers around 600 degrees at her home on Man Lake east of Hackensack.

“A wood-fired oven gives the bread a crisp crust and holds the moisture in the bread,” she explained. “And there is also an oven spring in which the intense heat expands the bread while in the oven.” This sudden increase in volume of the bread takes place within the first 10 to 12 minutes of baking.

Linnea admits that she never would have thought she would be baking bread in an outdoor oven. “I believe the oven chose me. It hits my sweet spot,” she laughed.

But after some thought and on a more serious note, the energetic woman with a strong faith, added, “It occurred to me that my sweet spot is my soul, and I am feeding my soul by splitting and stacking the wood, feeding the fire in the oven, the physical making and baking the bread, the creativity and hard work involved and the joy I can give to others by sharing the bread.”

While she and her husband, Gary, were visiting the Boundary Waters area three years ago in northern Minnesota, they stopped in Grand Marais where she paged through a catalog of classes offered at the North House Folk School, a craft school overlooking Lake Superior established to preserve and promote the skills and crafts of the past and present, such as timber framing, wood carving, rosemaling, sausage making, knitting, spinning, cedar-strip boat construction, bread making and more.

“I thought bread making would be interesting, so I gave it more thought and decided to register,” she said. But the class was filled, and her name was put on a waiting list. But she soon received a call that she could enroll in the class that was eight hours a day for four days.

Linnea wasn’t confident enough to start the bread-making process right away and attended another three-day class offered in Grand Rapids by the same instructor, Derek Luchesse from Thunder Bay, Ontario, who has been baking bread and building ovens for 13 years. He and a crew of workers built the Dietrich’s outdoor oven, which has a large overhang in the front to protect Linnea from the rain or hot sun while she bakes. The heat from the oven, which bakes up to nine loaves at a time, helps to keep Linnea warm as she bakes during the below zero temperatures in the winter. She even took another class in Grand Marais in order to learn how to make larger quantities of bread due to the increasing popularity of her craft. She also has many books she refers to on artisan bread making.

After burning her first batch three years ago, Linnea has been mastering a variety of organic breads, including the classic sourdough, whole wheat sourdough, cranberry walnut sourdough, peasant bread and rosemary bread. The peasant and rosemary breads are made with yeast. The sourdough is created from a starter, a mixture of flour, which has wild yeast in it, plus water and lactobacillus that grows in the starter, a good or friendly bacteria found in yogurt, on your skin within your body to help to destroy bad bacteria.

Most flours contain many microorganisms, including yeast and lactobacillus. When the flour and water is mixed together, its volume begins to grow as it ferments in the refrigerator. The starter must be fed twice a day by removing and discarding some of the mixture and adding more flour and water.

Linnea has not purchased conventional bread since she started to make organic bread that contains no oils or sugar. The only sugar in her bread are the cranberries in her cranberry walnut sourdough bread. She may start making gluten-free bread in the near future.

According to The Organic Center based in Washington, D.C., organic bread contains only organic (all natural) ingredients, no pesticides or synthetic chemical preservatives and additives. The organization states, “The type of bread you eat does make a difference. Organic bread on average contains more whole food ingredients (49 percent) than conventional bread (12 percent). Conventional bread is much higher in preservative/additive ingredients. On average, 28 percent of conventional bread ingredients are preservatives and/or additives . . . Remember, bread is one of the oldest most basic foods there is. It wasn’t necessary to add chemicals to bread for centuries and it still isn’t.”

Linnea currently bakes bread once a week, but it’s usually a two-day process. The first step is to “feed or expand the starter” with flour and water. She repeats the process by getting up at 2 a.m. and again at 6 a.m., each time discarding some of the starter as it expands quickly.

The second step on the first day is to start the fire in the brick oven. “The longer you heat the oven with wood, the deeper the heat will go into the mass of the oven as the temperature to bake should be around 600 degrees,” she said. “It usually takes two to three wheelbarrows of wood to bake 60 loaves.” She stops feeding the fire two hours before the baking begins.

“I never thought that I would ever learn to operate a log splitter or stack wood,” she laughed, “but I have. It’s all part of the process.” Living on a lake in the rural area of Cass County, there are many fallen trees on the Dietrich property to gather and cut.

To make the dough, Linnea doesn’t use measuring cups. The flour, water, starter and yeast are weighed on a food scale. Five-gallon pails serve as the mixing bowls. Linnea never used a mixer until this year when she began making large quantities of dough. Using only her arms, hands and a dough scraper, she admitted that although it was good exercise, she has decided to use a mixer to mix the large quantities due to the many orders received from friends and neighbors, and she now sells her bread at the Walker Farmers’ Market. Last summer she and a neighbor hosted Arts & Crafts on Man Lake, and they will host the same event on July 17 from 10 a.m.– 4 p.m., where she will sell her bread, and other artists will sell their works. She will also participate for the first time in Arts Off 84 on Aug. 30-31.

Once the dough is made and kneaded, Linnea shapes the dough into round or oblong loaves weighing 28-30 ounces each. The dough is covered and goes through the first rise or resting period that takes about four hours. She then punches down each loaf and shapes the yeast breads into oblong or oval loaves. The sour dough breads are placed in a banneton, a round wicker basket that gives structure to the bread during proofing (final rise) for about 1 ½ hours.

During the final rise, Linnea cleans the wood and ash out of the oven and scrubs the floor with water as the bread will be placed directly on the floor of the oven for the baking process that takes 15-20 minutes for nine loaves to bake. A door on the brick oven retains and equalizes the heat within. A laser thermometer is used to measure the temperature of the floor heat in the oven.

Once the dough is ready to be baked, Linnea places nine loaves into a wagon in order to transport them from her kitchen to the outdoor oven. The sourdough is removed from the bannetons leaving a circular pattern on the dough. Linnea slashes the top of each loaf with a razor to help with the rising process as it bakes and gives it a more artistic look. Once slashed, she places the loaves into the oven with a large wooden peel similar to a spatula. While the bread bakes, she once again uses her wagon to bring more loaves from the house to the oven.

Taking the bread out of the oven, she uses a thermometer to check the internal temperature of the bread, which must be at least 190 degrees. When all the bread is baked and cooled, she bags each loaf and applies her Linnea’s Bread label and a 100 percent organic label.

“At the end of the day, I say, why do I do this as it can be a killer?” she said with a chuckle. “But the next day arrives and I’m already to do it again! I’m an active person. It gets me outdoors. It’s good exercise, and I can be creative.”

Linnea donates a portion of her profits to Minnesota Girls Are Not for Sale, a fundraiser of the Women’s Foundation of Minnesota to end the sex trafficking of girls in the state.

In addition to bread, she also makes pizza. Once the oven is heated, the wood and ash are pushed to the sides of the oven, and the pizza is placed in the middle. Two minutes later, the pizza is ready. In June, she and Gary hosted a pizza party for people who live on Man Lake. She baked 40 crusts, and the guests brought their own toppings.

Since the large three-ton outdoor oven retains heat well, the temperature will still be around 350 or 400 degrees a day later, so Linnea will prepare meals in it, such as chicken or salmon.

“In the summer, the oven retains the heat longer, and not as much during the winter,” she explained. “For one Thanksgiving, I did a 20-pound turkey in it, and it was done in about 2 ½ hours.”

Linnea was born in Minneapolis and raised in Little Falls from where she graduated high school in 1968. She earned a degree in social work from the University of Minnesota and then went on to receive her master’s in marriage and family therapy at Bethel University. She and Gary, who have been married for 42 years, have three grown children and three grandchildren. The couple has lived on their lake property for 11 years, and in 2005, Linnea opened her own counseling business in Hackensack which she sold and retired in 2013. She and Gary are active members of the Lighthouse Evangelical Free Church in Hackensack.

Due to her strong faith and deep interest in spirituality, Linnea wanted to create a labyrinth on their property. A load of rocks was hauled in with which she and her family used as a border for the circular path of the labyrinth, just a short walk from their home.

An ancient symbol that relates to wholeness, the labyrinth represents a journey to one’s center and back again out into the world. Compared to a maze, which is similar to a puzzle, there is only one way into the labyrinth and one way out along the path.

“By walking the path slowly I can pray, think and just have quiet time to myself,” Linnea a shared. “I use it often and so does Gary.”

Linnea also enjoys gardening, reading and traveling. Through Gary’s former job with UNISYS, the couple lived in Malaysia for three years. She also plans to take a spiritual director course through the College of Saint Scholastica in Duluth.

Connecting her joy of baking bread with her spirituality, she concluded, “I believe my role as a baker feeds my soul just as through the physical and sensual experience of eating, tasting and enjoying my bread, it feeds others’ souls. It’s like a ‘religious experience’ of the ‘ooohs’ and ‘aaahs’ of eating the bread. It isn’t just, ‘Gee, this tastes good!’ Reactions from tasting the bread are deeper, and I believe I feed people’s souls as well as their bodies. The flavor of the bread causes folks to pause and savor the experience – a mini vacation. It brings me joy to bring others joy.”

Linnea Dietrich is certainly fulfilling the mission for this chapter in her life — “Creating space to experience ‘le joie de vivre.’”

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