ADAMSTOWN, Pa. - More for the novelty of it than out of necessity, Elizabeth Stoudt commuted to work last week in her underemployed snowshoes, crunching down the hill from her big, old farmhouse here to her bread bakery a snowball's throw away.
On her way she fed the sheep - Jacob's Sheep, a breed of varying colors, tending toward dark - and the Toulouse geese, who in less tranquil settings might find themselves being fattened for foie gras.
There was a nod to the neighboring emu and the shaggy Angora goat. Then it was off to work, mixing the dough (with her staff: sister-in-law Jodi Stoudt), hand-rolling the loaves, shoveling them into the oven - standard operating procedure, in one sense.
But this particular bakery in this particular stretch of rural Lancaster County uses a beguiling secret ingredient - the robust craft beers from the family's brewery about 20 feet away in the bosom of the sprawling Stoudts Black Angus Antiques Mall.
In the end, the loaves are dense, elemental things, Old World in style, their crusts thick, crackling things, deeply slashed and dusted with flour. There is the original "beer bread," made with fresh-milled barley, created by Elizabeth's father, Eddie Stoudt, who planted the family flag here 46 years ago (at age 23).
Nowadays there's a residential village up the hill, the 70,000-square foot antiques mall (only open on Sunday), the brewery, which was the project of his wife, Carol, one of the first females in the testosterone-ruled ranks of the craft beer revolution, a restaurant, well, there's more on tap.
On this particular day Elizabeth (sniffing at the dough in the mixer and adjusting for the weather) and Jodi start off baking two other contenders - the chocolatey Harvest Dark, a blend of rye sour, spring wheat and oat flour, speckled with poppy and pumpkin seeds, given its character with Stoudts Fat Dog Stout; and a second loaf, Sauerkraut Rye.
Halfway through the baking Eddie Stoudt pops in, then steps out into the adjoining beer hall that - on certain weekdays - doubles as the brewery's bottling and packing line. He puffed on one of his 100 pipes, expounding on the state-of-the-art bottling system.
"Victory [Brewing] has one, and so do we," he said, the bottles marching by, brown-glass soldiers gulping their fill in the pavilion, its margins garnished with flared tubas and racing carousel horses, retired snowshoes and a stuffed reindeer.
It was his idea to make the European-style bread, first of all to serve instead of weak-tea store-bought stuff at his Black Angus dining room. He even took a short course in bread-baking: "But I was just playing," he says. "Elizabeth took it to another level."
Indeed, for my money, the sauerkraut rye is the mountaintop. Her description: "Each village in Germany has their very own rye. This is ours . . . made with stone ground rye and organic wheat flour, we add slow-roasted sauerkraut, our own Fest beer, and ground caraway and onion."
She slides a few loaves from the oven, and if you tear off a hunk still warm, that crust is a crisp shell, the crumb moist and fragrant with the kraut - bread built for soup by the hearth in a cottage in the woods. (It's best, by the way, lightly reheated.)
Eddie's Breads, given this next level, isn't quite the right name anymore. And it's about to get the boot. As the antique business has softened, Elizabeth is overseeing an ambitious expansion of the bakery in an emptying annex of the mall. She's adding a new wrinkle, too - a creamery to make gouda and other cheeses from the milk from a Mennonite farm about six miles away.
When it opens this May, it will be called the Wonderful Good Market.
It's based on one of Eddie's favorite expressions.
But it'll be Elizabeth's baby all the way.
Stoudt's Black Angus Antiques Mall
Route 272, Adamstown, Pa.
717-484-4386 Ext. 210
Contact Rick Nichols at 215-854-2715 or email@example.com. Read his recent work at http://go.philly.com/ricknichols.