Baking bread in a tiny cottage in rural Baldwin County seems like a romantic way to make a living, and for Jane Holland Smith and her husband Perry, it is.
Jane, above left, more commonly known around the farmers’ market circuit as The Bread Lady, moved to Baldwin County in 1997 after spending most of her adult life working in restaurants in Baltimore. She had never married, and she wasn’t planning on it.
Two years of working at a plant nursery in Summerdale led Jane to start growing herbs in a greenhouse on her property in 2000, selling them at local farmers’ markets. Eventually, she began baking herb swirl bread to showcase her product. After Hurricane Ivan in 2004, Jane decided to bake bread full time, as people were quicker to buy bread than herbs. So she opened up her copy of “The Joy of Cooking” and started experimenting.
“Once I’d mastered a basic white bread recipe, then I began understanding the chemistry of yeast dough and figuring out by trial and error what you can and can’t do, ” she says. “It was really just practice, practice, practice. I don’t believe you’re going to find anything like my bread anywhere else. I made it all up.” And her “homestyle loaves, made the old-fashioned way, with no artificial ingredients or preservatives” caught on quickly.
A few years into her venture, Jane realized she couldn’t run the business alone. A friend stopped by with Perry Smith, a man from Louisiana who was looking for work. “The day before, I had been praying for help. It was the height of the season, ” Jane says. “And nine months later, we got married. I always say it’s because I couldn’t afford to pay him anymore.”
The Smiths were married April 1, 2008 – a Tuesday – which was Jane’s 50th birthday. “We decided the Thursday before that we wanted to get married, ” Jane remembers. “My best friend was coming down for my birthday. That, combined with the fact that it was April Fools’ Day, we had to do it. Who would have thought that the 50-year-old Bread Lady would ever get married?”
And the couple has been baking bread together all day, every day since then.
“We spend virtually 24/7 together, ” Jane says. “That’s a good test of a new marriage – and we haven’t killed each other yet.”
Jane and Perry sell their bread at local farmers’ markets, but it is also sold in several retail stores, so they are constantly mixing dough, letting it rise, kneading, baking and packaging. “You don’t get a day off, ” Jane says. “They’re long days, and it can be stressful because it’s time sensitive.” But the long days are spent in good company, and the Smiths wouldn’t want to be doing anything else. “We could probably come out ahead financially if we went out and got menial jobs in the city, ” Perry says. “But we enjoy this.”
Old-Fashioned Raisin Bread Pudding
Serves 6 – 8
1 loaf of the Smiths’ Old-Fashioned Raisin Bread
4 cups milk, cream or half-and-half
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 cup cinnamon sugar, if desired
1. Preheat oven to 325 degrees.
2. Cut raisin bread into cubes approximately 1-inch wide.
3. In a large bowl, whisk together milk, eggs and vanilla.
4. Add bread cubes. Soak 30 minutes, until most of the liquid is absorbed.
5. Pour mixture into a greased 13-by-9-inch casserole dish and top with cinnamon sugar, if desired.
6. Bake for 50 – 60 minutes, or until center is puffed.
Where to Find The Bread Lady’s Loaves
Elberta Grocery • 25250 U.S. Highway 98, Elberta. 986-8681
Hazel’s Market • 26751 U.S. Highway 98, Daphne. 626-9939
Market on the Square • Cathedral Square. 208-7443
Sweet Home Farm • 27107 Schoen Road, Elberta. 986-5663.
text and photo by Jillian Clair