Wednesday, June 2, 2021
Chicago-born Jackson transplant Robert Raymond has been enriching the metro-baking scene with his artisanal bread since opening Sunflower Oven in 2017. "Although I've been baking and sharing my own bread for several years, I had never thought of doing it for a living," he says. The business is a cooperative, meaning that each worker is a part-owner and shares in the profits. "Real, nutritious food is a basic human right. With that as our 'soil,' we sell real bread to as many people as possible each week."
Raymond sources ingredients from local and regional suppliers. His unbleached flour comes from non-GMO wheat grown and cold-stone milled in North Carolina at Carolina Ground, although he also buys flour from Bellegarde Bakery and Mill in New Orleans. "The flour comes from the older heritage strains of wheat, so it might even be more easily tolerated by people with gluten sensitivity," Raymond suggests.
Sunflower Oven's breads and pastries contain no commercial yeast and are naturally leavened in a style similar to sourdough. Dough prepared this way does not require kneading, just the occasional pulling and folding and a longer prove, a term that refers to its rising time.
Despite the challenges of the pandemic, Sunflower Oven has continued to produce bread for Jacksonians. "COVID really changed the scene," Raymond says. "For a while, we were the only ones with bread because we were able to consistently get flour from our small-mill supply."
Each week, Raymond and his coworker Betsy Bruening bake nearly 250 loaves at The Beanery, the site of a former inn for railroad men traveling through Jackson. The two-story Craftsman residence at the curve of Spengler and Madison streets in Belhaven Heights is also the pickup location for pre-ordered loaves and dozens of pastries available, subject to what ingredients are fresh and seasonal. Pickups occur every other Tuesday at 5 p.m.
On Saturdays from 8 a.m. to noon, Sunflower Oven sells bread from its stall at the Mississippi Farmers Market on High Street. During June, July and August, Sunflower Oven will also have a stand at the Clinton Farmers Market on Tuesdays from 5 p.m. to 7 p.m. Customers are encouraged to pre-order their loves to ensure they receive precisely what they want.
Bruening loves baking bread and the deep sense of community that the Sunflower Oven ethos inspires. "It's great working with friends. It feels healthy and balanced," she says. "We create quite a selection each week." Sunflower Oven breads include rustic round loaves, sandwich loaves, bagels, baguettes, pita bread, Iranian flatbreads, brioche, chocolate-almond babka (a Jewish filled pastry bread), cookies, scones, and even seasonal king cakes. She and Raymond also ferment vegetables for sale and craft stone-ground mustard from scratch.