It’s no surprise that the vibrant small city of Northampton in the Pioneer Valley of Massachusetts is home to the wonderful Hungry Ghost Bread, which has been providing delicious breads, naturally leavened with sourdough starter and fermented for 24 hours, and pastries for nearly 20 years to appreciative customers. Easy to see why Hungry Ghost Bread has a supportive community of bread lovers in Northampton, which as noted in the Wikipedia article on the county seat of Massachusetts’ Hampshire County, is known as an academic, artistic, musical, and countercultural hub with a large politically liberal community along with numerous alternative health and intellectual organizations.
This praiseworthy bakery (which has been sharing for free its sourdough starter with home-bound bread bakers during the pandemic) actively supports the non-profit organization, CISA (Community Involved in Sustaining Agriculture), whose goal is to sustain local agriculture in the Connecticut River Valley of Massachusetts. CISA on its website notes that the Valley has some of the finest agricultural soils in the world with farmers producing vegetables, dairy products, meat, maple syrup, tobacco, and fiber. A “Support Local Farms”mural painted on the bakery’s storefront includes the telling words, Encouraging local sourced wheat since 2004.
Northampton is also home to a community of appreciative bread lovers evidenced by the continuing success of Hungry Ghost Bread, which has sustained its operation during the challenges of a pandemic which undermined the life of this small Massachusetts city. On its home page, the bakers Jonathan Stevens and Cheryl Maffei in a 3 minute, spirit-raising You Tube video (“Hungry Ghost, Baking In Place, July 2020”) explain their commitment to enduring the challenges, and the gratitude of appreciative customers is voiced for a bread bakery which has become a staple of the community.
Jonathan Stevens notes that a huge part of being a baker is having contact with customers, and the energy of having customers coming into the front door is sorely missed. Hopefully, Hungry Ghost Bread will be able to go back to the way it used to be, in the words of Cheryl Maffei, with more bread, lots of pastries, pizza and the healing of social justice issues. In fact, it was recently announced that Hungry Ghost Pizza will resume on June 2nd.
Nonetheless, the bakery has remained in operation during the pandemic, open daily from 10AM- 6PM, with its breads and pastries offered first come first served at a take-out window. On its website, the bakery describes its cashless, payment system, which relies on the honorable behavior of its customers. Daily offerings are noted on Hungry Ghost Bread’s Facebook page, and are also listed on a board by its take-out window.
On a recent visit to the bakery in the early afternoon on a weekday, there was still a generous offering of breads and pastries. Breads included French Batard, 8-Grain, Rye, and Cornmeal Dance. Hungry Ghost Bread’s offerings are carefully described on its website with ingredients noted.
Baked 90 loaves at a time in a wood-fired masonry oven that the baker/owners helped build themselves, the bakery’s bread has delicious flavor and a chewy texture unmatched by commercially yeasted breads. In explaining “sourdough” or “natural leavens” a concise explanation on the bakery’s website notes the health benefits of baking with a mixture of wild yeast and lactobacillus and also explains why sourdough bread can actually be quite mildly flavored with rich, complex delicious wheat flavor, and not alway “sour”.
On its website, the bakery also answers Often Asked questions. Noting that its bread freezes well, it was an easy decision to purchase a couple loaves each of the Hungry Ghost Bakery’s Rye and 8-Grain breads to bring home. Its Rye is made with 50% bolted rye flour and 50% unbleached, unbromated & germ retained white flour, caraway seeds, water, sea salt, kalonji (nigella) seeds on top. The combination of caraway seeds inside the bread, and black kalonji seeds on top is perfect! The 8-grain according to the bakery’s website is a customer favorite, made with flax seed, sesame seed, sunflower seed, corn grits, millet, rye flakes, oats, local whole wheat flour, water, and sea salt.
Also available at the take-out window were buttermilk biscuits, big cookies including chocolate chip, chocolate walnut, maple pecan granola, and corn buckwheat crackers. And this customer was fortunate to purchase the two remaining blueberry almond scones.
Hungry Ghost Bread is one of nearly 100 craft bakeries included in our directory of craft bakeries. As life continues to get back to normal and people begin to travel again, this directory, as well as our coffee directory, are especially handy.
[Hungry Ghost Bread, 62 State Street (between Center Street & Bedford Terrace), Northampton (Hampshire County), Massachusetts, 413.582.9009, Current bakery hours: Daily 10:00AM-6:00PM, http://hungryghostbread.com]
(Frank W. Barrie, 6/1/21)