Bread Stand in Cape May Offers Local Loaves Plus Veggies
At a bread stand in Cape May, the line winds down the street
A few years back, I'd heard via word of mouth about this little, pop-up, roadside bakery and farm stand that is open only on Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays from April to early December. Local lore had it that, although the stand opened at 10am, long lines started forming an hour earlier. So, on a spring morning, I hopped on my bicycle and headed down to Cape May Point to see it firsthand.
The long line of parked cars and bicycles on both sides of Sunset Boulevard was the first giveaway. Dozens of people were milling around at 9:15, many holding thermoses of coffee, waiting in line, chatting, catching up; most seemed to know each other, perhaps from this weekly routine. Behind the stand, two young women were busy unloading warm, fresh-baked breads from the back of a hatchback and into wicker baskets while also arranging fresh produce, both loose and bagged, priced and labeled for sale.
On cue at 10, the line began to inch forward ever so slowly. One by one, customers chatted with the baker, decided which particular breads and muffins they wanted, paid for the goods, shook hands, and headed home. Within an hour well over 100 loaves of bread were gone, sold out as usual – another good day at Enfin Farms.
So who are these two 20-somethings who bake bread and farm for a living? Elizabeth Degener returned home to live with her parents at Enfin Farms in Cape May in 2009 after graduating from Irish American University in Dublin. The farm was named by her Belgian grandmother; "enfin" can loosely be translated as "finally," as in finally home at last. The farm is 28 acres, set well back off the road, and has been a family farm for three generations.
Degener's business partner, who's in charge of the actual farming, is Wesley Laudeman. She's another local; her family owns and operates The Lobster House, a fourth-generation family restaurant, as well as a retail, wholesale and commercial fisheries business here in town. The two attended the same local schools growing up but weren't close until their mothers, who were lifelong friends, suggested they reconnect after college. As usual, mom was right. Degener and Laudeman had much in common, including taking part in WWOOFing forays (farming internships through the organization World Wide Opportunities on Organic Farms) after graduating from college. WWOOFing had brought Laudeman to New Mexico, Montana and Washington state, while Degener worked in Europe and India.
Like many recent college graduates in the midst of the worst economy in memory, they decided to do what they really had a passion for: in their case, farming and baking. So the two joined the ranks of many of their food-obsessed millennial peers throughout the country who are starting tiny DIY businesses in their homes and apartments, making things like single-varietal organic chocolates, kimchi, cupcakes, pickles, beer and bitters, and expanding these startups into full-time for-profit businesses within a few years.
Returning home to Cape May from India, Degener had already announced her intention to start baking bread for a living. She set up her work space in a small, bare-bones, unheated outbuilding adjacent to the family's home. The brick-and-clay Forno Bravo, an Italian-designed, wood-fired pizza oven from California, sits freestanding in the open air, between the family's house and her production kitchen. The firewood comes from their land; with over 28 wooded acres there's plenty of wood to gather, cut, stack and dry. Armed with an antique 20-quart Hobart, a few small worktables, a refrigerator, a freezer, and the bread essentials: flour, yeast, water, salt and flavorings, Degener starts her baking each Thursday, Friday and Saturday night by 3am.
The lack of heat and air conditioning in the work area poses a real challenge. As any serious bread baker knows, yeast is very sensitive to temperature. Too hot, it dies; too cold, it just won't work. The moisture level of flour can vary greatly depending on wheat variety; where and when it was milled; and when, where and how it's been stored. In Cape May's balmy warm spring and summer months flour can carry up to twice as much water as in the winter. Bakers have to learn by trial and hand feel how much water to add, adjusting recipes almost daily. Degener is working as a baker might have worked a century or two ago, with one advantage: she has a freezer. On days that the stand is open she produces 80 to 100 loaves of bread, in a variety of flavors and shapes. To keep up with production she makes the dough on the days the stand is closed, allows the loaves to rise, punches them down and freezes them in advance of the baking nights. For this reason she uses standard commercial yeasts and a straightforward fermentation.
The loaves are all hand formed and are baked 20 to a batch in the wood-fired oven. The crumb is tight, dense and moist, the crust medium soft and colored a deep cocoa brown. Flavors vary daily but usually include classic French; beet and dill; smoked chili and onion; oatmeal molasses; toasted millet; sunflower and poppy; an everything with onion, garlic, sesame, and poppy; raisin bran and lavender; curry, fennel, coconut milk, and anise; pumpernickel; sage and polenta; and olive oil and black pepper. She usually sells a small assortment of breakfast muffins as well.
A long-term goal of the busiss partners is to turn the land into a working farm, and to that end the bread sales are what support the farm and its potential future expansions. In the off-season, Degener and Laudeman can be found clearing by hand portions of the adjacent lands that are now wild. Laudeman works two jobs – four mornings a week at the farm and another five nights at her family's restaurant – but each year Enfin Farms' offerings of asparagus, arugula, leeks, beans and more increase as the size of the field expands.
To appreciate the duo's passion and commitment, just stand in line on any given weekend and check out their genuine satisfaction as they greet customer after customer, bagging breads and vegetables while talking shop and making change. Along with great bread, Enfin Farms seems to be serving up a reminder of how sweet it is to be doing what you want to do and the many ways there are to measure success and happiness in a life.