Peasant Baker in Alunisu,

By Rupert Dunn

December 2022

My wife Indre and our young daughters Aranwen, then 4 and Ausra then 10 months; made the long journey to Alunisu from Lithuania in January 2022.
I had been to Alunisu years before, during the European Nyeleni food sovereignty event and had long been wishing to bring my family to this enchanting place. The work of Lars and Robyn keeping alive the peasant way of life, is something I hold dear in my heart.

So it was that we were fortunate enough that Robyn, Lars and Carsten welcomed us for three months. After many recent challenges, we needed a place to recuperate, rest and find ourselves again close to nature.

Only a few months before, I was running what we call a ‘peasant bakery’ in Pembrokeshire, West Wales.
I was growing around 20 acres of heritage, population wheat (a mixture of varieties) and running a stone mill and wood fired bakery on a local farm where I made up to 300kg of bread a week entirely by hand in a dough trough using a sourdough starter. I had been inspired by French friends doing the same. What I often longed for though, was to be doing this within a cultural context which understands the peasant way of life.

Alunisu has many wood fired bread ovens. For me, it was too hard to resist lighting at least one of these up. By the time I left, I baked in three of the village ovens.

One cannot better bake bread than in a direct fired, masonry oven. The type of heat from the wood fire and the bricks, the aromas from the wood and the elemental energy one works with is, in my view, far superior to using electric heat. So in this sense, despite many of the ovens needing significant repair, they are indeed the height of technology.

Good quality stone ground flour was hard to come by and I was resigned to using the basic roller milled flour available in all the shops. That is until Lars put me in touch with an organic farmer he knew growing a Romanian heritage variety of wheat called Ariesanu. After talking with Dan Cismas, the farmer, he agreed to get some of his grain milled for me in the last remaining watermill in Romania. I was able to ask for the grade of flour I wanted. In my case an 80% extraction of the grain, without the bran. I went to meet Dan in Cluj and I was also able to give him some of my heritage population from Wales. I was overjoyed.

The resulting bread from this flour was beautiful, a fitting testimony to the oven it was baked in.
Once I had fallen into a routine of a weekly bake, and started to get to know people in the village, I began to swap bread for other produce.

We were especially fond of Szilard’s cheese. Szilard, the priest in the Hungarian side of the village, learned to make cheese in order to buy the villagers milk and sustain the village economy when the local cheese factory closed. I particularly enjoyed walking the village with a basket of bread, having warm conversation about village and religious life with Szilard and returning home with cheese, eggs, sometimes sausage and fresh milk.

In the final month of our stay, I took some bread to the Huedin market, with the thanks of Sara and Douglas who organise an ecological corner there. Some people began to get their taste buds hooked on it, so it finished only too soon!

Mention here must be made of Jonas, who provided all the wood in return for a few loaves, thank you Jonas! Also for our dear village neighbour Danielle, now back in Canada.

Lars invited me to write a little on my thoughts on the potential of a peasant bakery in or near Alunisu. Paysan Boulangers in France derive their family livelihood from growing, milling and baking. They have their own farming equipment, as well as grain processing, grain storage and bakery to realise this.

These elements represent a significant amount of investment both in terms of time and finance. Importantly, there needs to be a regular market for 200-350 loaves per week and if this is in place, it is a viable livelihood.

If someone ventured as far as Cluj, then this market could be realised over time. I would strongly recommend however, that if someone were interested to pursue this livelihood that they lived in the area for a year before deciding to commit to it.

Our memories of our time in Alunisu are etched into our lives. That Provision welcomed us in a time of need, is a gift we still carry, and intend to pass on to someone else.

We called the field at the bottom of the village ‘Rumi’s field’. This is in relation to the quote ‘Beyond wrongdoing and rightdoing there is a field, I will meet you there’. Alunisu will always be this place for us.

If you read this and are inspired by the peasant baker way, I am always willing to connect, support, collaborate.

I close with heartfelt thanks and good wishes to Lars, Robyn Carsten and all the people of Alunisu. I leave you with this poem I wrote not long after our arrival.

Surrender in Alunisu
Rupert Dunn

The end
The final calling on our descent.

Bottomed out,
We spill our longings into the thin air
Only to fall to the ground where
They can rest a while.

We came here driven by our own fog.
Dimmed, cautious, desperate,
Our grief clinging to us,
We walk into times forgotten.

With us is a glimmer, a spark, a seed
To rekindle and burn anew in the fire of our days.

The swing of the axe,
The cries of our children
Resting in walnut, apple, plum and pear.

The four walls of our farmstead
Containing us not from nature,
But in her.
Hewn from her earth, her timber and her stone
We are embraced.

An embrace which cascades us through every feeling,
Spoken to by the trickling cadences of the water,
We let ourselves run through our own fingers,
Only to look for each other once more
Under a timeless sky.

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