Charlie Emers never planned on becoming a baker.
The owner of Patchwork Farm & Bakery in East Hardwick grew up in Providence, Rhode Island. After relocating to Vermont three decades ago, his career path took a circuitous route from lamp maker to vegetable farmer to bread baker.
Emers says he stumbled into baking one winter while he was looking for a part-time job back when his daughters were young, and his wife was working at a local elementary school. He visited the local bookstore one day and randomly picked up a book about building brick ovens.
“A lightbulb went off,” he says. Before long, he installed a brick oven in a two-story building formerly used for winter vegetable storage next to his house. “I thought I could do farming and baking at the same time, but farming took a backseat.”
Baking Bread and Matzoh in East Hardwick
Since 2001, Emers has baked commercially, selling everything from polenta and matzoh to country French bread and challah. His breads are available at City Market in Burlington, Healthy Living in South Burlington, Buffalo Mountain Co-op in Hardwick, Hunger Mountain Co-op in Montpelier, as well as stores in New Hampshire and Massachusetts.
“My first claim to fame was oatmeal chocolate chip cookies I made when I was ten years old,” says Emers, who studied art at Johnson State College. “My mom baked a lot, and I learned how to bake bread from her.”
Emers is especially known for his Everyday Matzoh, which he makes year-round with ingredients that include spelt, rye, sesame, and flax seed. Matzoh is unleavened bread that is eaten to commemorate the Hebrew slaves’ exodus from Egypt. It’s eaten in place of bread for the eight days of Passover.
He first made matzoh about a decade ago when he needed a batch for a Seder and couldn’t find any at the local store. He looked up a recipe in the Bread Bakers Bible and whipped up a white matzoh. It did the trick, but he realized he wanted to set out to make a better matzoh.
“It got me thinking about what ancient matzoh would have been like, and what ancient breads looked like,” he says. “People would put nuts, meats, cheeses in the bread as bread was supposed to be a meal in of itself.”
While emmer (not to be confused with the name Emers) is an ancient grain typically found in matzoh, the Hardwick baker uses spelt—another ancient grain—as it is easier to come by and less expensive. He now grows small amounts of both emmer and spelt on his property, and is planning on making two new kinds of matzohs—a rye honey matzoh and a fennel matzoh.
When he’s not baking, Emers spends time growing garlic, potatoes, grains, and herbs on his three acres of land or making watercolor prints in his basement studio.
“I could spend the rest of my life on this little plot of land and never get bored,” he says. “I love the freedom of being up here, and I feel so blessed to be in Vermont. I don’t make a lot of money, but I do feel rich.”
For more information, visit patchworkfarmbakery.com.
–Happy Vermonters is a series of stories sharing why people love Vermont.