by Ashley Lodato
Bluebird Grain Farms staff writer
They say some things are so addictive you can get hooked on your very first try. Patrick Jeannette (aka “Grampy Pat”) had this experience the first time he sampled a true Alaskan sourdough bread, and he’s had nary a sourdough-free day since.
Growing up in the Los Angeles area, Grampy Pat learned to cook beans, tacos, enchiladas, and Mexican rice from his Mexican-American father. The eldest of 6 children, Grampy Pat was the official babysitter and ad hoc parent when his mother and father needed to “get away from the brood,” he says. But Grampy Pat had never really baked anything until he was 17 and his father died, leaving him as the main supporter in the household for his stay-at-home mother and 5 siblings. Still, the “baking” was just Bridgford frozen par-baked breads–a far cry from the gorgeous hand-shaped baguettes, boules, and miches he would later pull hot from his oven.
Still, many years passed between those Bridgford rolls and Grampy Pat’s signature sourdoughs–years that Grampy Pat spent, in his wife’s words, as a “serial entrepreneur.” Life moved at a fast pace in the 70s, says Grampy Pat, and after a couple of failed ventures a successful printing business allowed him to “buy the big house on the hill for my wife and 2 kids,” before migrating north to Alaska to use his design minor to create fabulous kitchens for affluent Alaskans. When Grampy Pat had completed a kitchen, he always cooked the first meal in it for his clients. One night a client said “That’s great–you cook dinner and I’ll bake Alaskan sourdough bread to go with it.”
Well, “OMG,” says Grampy Pat, “for me that first dinner was all about the bread!” The client used a sourdough starter that fed gold miners in 1878 in Ketchikan, AK. He gave Grampy Pat some of the starter and wrote the recipe on the inside of a paper bag, quite possibly unaware that he was unleashing a culinary tornado of leavened bread potential on not only Seward’s Folly but on the rest of the continental United States as well.
A passion was born. “A few weeks later I was holding seminars on baking Alaskan sourdough,” says Grampy Pat.
Grampy Pat eventually moved back to California and baked for family events and friends. Forever the entrepreneur, he had 3 different businesses going when one day his next door neighbor asked if he could bake her 14 baguettes. “Yes,” he said, “but I only bake naturally leavened sourdough breads, nothing with commercial yeast.” This was not a problem for the neighbor, nor was it a problem for Grampy Pat that he had never shaped or baked a baguette. “I went on YouTube to learn how,” he says, baby boomer in age but millennial in spirit.
Grampy Pat was working by day and baking by night when his wife, now Dean of the College of Arts at California State University, Long Beach, told him “Honey, I can’t sleep with you banging around and baking bread in the middle of the night.” So Grampy Pat quit his day job and started baking in his home, after securing licensing that made him legal and an oven that allowed him to bake 48 loaves of bread at a time. He also acquired a name for his bakery: GrampyPat’s (almost famous) Sourdough Bread, after his grandson said “Grampy Pat, why don’t you start a bakery and call it Grampy Pat’s almost-famous sourdough because someday you’ll be famous.”
Grampy Pat still uses that 130-year-old Alaskan sourdough starter for all of his breads. He began baking for restaurants and breweries, as well as selling at the Orange Home Grown Farmers & Artisans Market, at which–judging by online comments–Grampy Pat has achieved at least a modest level of notoriety, if not outright fame.
It’s a well-deserved reputation, built on the taste, texture, and quality of Grampy Pat’s breads. He creates only 100% organic breads made with high alkalinity water and ancient fiber-rich freshly milled grains. “Enter Bluebird Grain Farms,” says Grampy Pat. He uses Bluebird’s Organic Einkorn Flour in his Einka Sourdough, noting that these breads go through a 48-hour fermentation period. “The longer the fermentation, the healthier naturally,” says Grampy Pat. “It’s baking like our forefathers did; they couldn’t go to a convenience store and buy yeast.”
Indeed, not only does Grampy Pat not buy his yeast at grocery stores, but he doesn’t buy his flours there either. That’s why he says that Bluebird’s reliable shipping process is critical to his success. “Their bread flours are fresh-milled and dependable,” he says, “and I always receive my orders in a timely fashion.”
Grampy Pat admits to a more health-conscious approach the older he gets. It’s why he values the 48-hour fermentation, why he likes Einkorn Flour (what’s not to like about a low-gluten flour that’s rich in protein, phosphorous, vitamin B6, potassium, antioxidants and amino acids?), and why he uses sprouted wheat flour in other breads. (Ok, so maybe his Wine Flour Sourdough with Chocolate Nibs isn’t at the top of the list for a weight loss diet–especially when you can’t help but eat the whole loaf yourself–but if you’re going to eat Wine Flour Sourdough with Chocolate Nibs, you won’t find a more nutritious version than Grampy Pat’s.)
Grampy Pat’s offerings read almost like a full menu: pretzels with mustard seeds marinate in unripe sour grape juice for starters; warm up with sourdough spelt, rye, or whole chili sourdough; cleanse the palate with gluten-free bread before moving on to Asiago cheese sourdough or true Italian biga ciabatta; sourdough baguettes for the main course; and finish with the aforementioned chocolate wine flour bread. For a moment there you could believe that you weren’t just eating a 6-course bread meal.
A few years ago Grampy Pat got the opportunity to bake in a 17th-Century wood-fired oven in Cortona, Italy. It’s a bit of an “Under the Tuscan Sun” memory for Grampy Pat: fresh Italian Asiago cheese, an aged Borolo wine opened the day prior, 16 loaves baked in the village oven, his wife, and friends, in a villa near an olive grove. “It was incredible!” says Grampy Pat, (only he added an expletive before “incredible” for emphasis). “Stupefacente!” the Italians might say. “Amazing!” Read more here about this experience.
Although Grampy Pat’s bread is best enjoyed fresh from the farmers market, those of us out of reach of Orange County, CA, can still experience the flavors and texture of his sourdoughs through shipping channels. “I ship internationally and stateside,” says Grampy Pat. Sourdough is a natural preservative, so Grampy Pat’s breads will last up to two weeks, as long as it’s not too hot, so order away.
In a celebrity-filled place like Los Angeles, fame can be fleeting. But like his 1878 Ketchikan sourdough starter, Grampy Pat is in this baking business for the long haul.
Learn more about Grampy Pat’s (almost famous) Sourdough Bread by visiting his website.