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For a certain group of people in the Searcy area, “bread day” is often the most eagerly anticipated day of the week. That’s when Sarah Fraser of Table Bread Company makes her door-to-door deliveries. Sometimes it’s baguettes, sometimes it’s rosemary polenta, and sometimes it’s sourdough. But it’s always just out of the oven, and it’s always delicious.
From her home kitchen, Sarah bakes an average of 30 loaves a week. Her business model began in 2016 when she sold bread subscriptions for a church fundraiser. She said she enjoyed it, so she decided to continue. “It has been a good way to learn and grow,” she said. Many of those original subscribers are still monthly customers.
The name Table Bread Company is Sarah’s response to the negative reputation bread has in some circles.
“I was thinking about how sad I feel that bread has been reduced to a ‘carb’ by our diet-crazed culture,” she explained. “Bad bread is definitely bad for you. But good bread made with quality ingredients can be a regular part of a healthy diet. As I thought about this, I thought of the idea of ‘table wine’ as the staple wine one keeps to serve at meals. I think bread deserves to be treated similarly.”
The search for “good bread” is what made Laurie Diles of Searcy a loyal customer. She grew up in Brazil and spent 11 years in the Czech Republic. “I have missed good bread since living in Searcy,” she said. “When I tasted Sarah’s bread, I knew I had found good bread.” The first time she received baguettes from her Table Bread Company subscription, she shared one of the two loaves with her parents, and they were also hooked. “I got them a subscription too,” she said. “They have really enjoyed it.”
Bread is also a family affair for Sarah. “My mom is an excellent cook and baker, and her food was a significant way she communicated love to her family,” Sarah said. “It still is. This is also my favorite way to communicate love.”
Her first bread recipe was handed down by her grandmother. “I’m not exactly sure, but I think I was in junior high [when I baked my first loaf of bread],” she said. “My grandma and mom used the same oatmeal bread recipe for years, so I know it was that loaf. I also remember using boiling water to activate the yeast and kneading in way too much extra flour because the dough was so sticky — both big no-nos.”
Sarah recently returned from a week at the King Arthur Baking School in Vermont, where she attended an artisan skills intensive. King Arthur Baking Company traces its roots to 1790, when Henry Wood & Company, its original ancestor, opened as the first flour company in the United States — and the first food company in New England.
“The teachers emphasized how it’s all about the final product, and that there are many ways to achieve a good loaf,” Sarah said. “I have learned to be wary of phrases like ‘no fail’ or ‘perfect sourdough’ or really anyone insisting there is only one proper method.
“I also left with more confidence and new friends. My classmates were delightful.”
The recent class is the only formal training Sarah has received. “I’ve baked my way through several bread books, read every King Arthur bread-related blog post, and most importantly, I’ve made so many mistakes,” she explained. “I have learned much more from my botched loaves than my good ones.”
Table Bread Company is well-known for its sourdough loaf, whose culture is named Barbara Kingsolver and has experienced a journey nearly as adventurous as her namesake author’s characters.
Sarah and her family worked on the southern coast of Tanzania for about five years. They were called to the immigration office on Christmas Eve in 2014, when they were told they had seven days to leave or be prosecuted. “We left fully expecting to sort it all out and return, but I didn’t want anything to happen to my sourdough culture, so I put it in an insulated lunch box with ice packs and fed it right before we left for the airport,” Sarah explained. “My fingers were crossed that no one would notice and make me toss it. Luckily, no one noticed, and this is still the culture I use today.
“This sourdough culture is close to my heart because it literally and symbolically keeps my connection to Tanzania alive. Most of the time, I feel like that experience happened to someone else or on another planet. The experience of living there, learning another language, and making cross-cultural friendships-all this served as a kind of leavening agent for my life.”
Borrowing another literary device, Sarah refers to bread as her hero. “It’s edible art,” she said. “It’s my favorite food. It’s filling and delicious. It’s versatile and comforting. I’m amazed humans figured out how to harvest grass and transform it into bread. I never get over this.”
Sarah plans to keep growing subscriptions and hopes to one day build a small commercial bakery behind her house. “This is a big dream,” she said. “I’d love to be able to do wholesale baking and to do it all in my backyard.”
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