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King Arthur Flour bakes a sandwich bread meant for the middle ground

  • Amber Dow, of Lebanon, N.H., left, looks over the ingredients of a loaf of King Arthur Flour sandwich bread after Lori Wick, the food shelf manager at the Upper Valley Haven, pointed it out to Dow on Friday, Sept. 27, 2019, in White River Juntion, Vt. (Valley News - Jennifer Hauck) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to Valley News photographs — Jennifer Hauck

  • Lori Wick, manager of the food shelf at the Upper Valley Haven, left, talks with Faith Hathaway, 3, of Claremont, N.H., after giving her a small stuffed animal on Friday, Sept. 27, 2019 in White River Junction, Vt. Hathaway was with her mother Felicia Blish, right, picking up food at the food shelf at the Haven. (Valley News - Jennifer Hauck) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to Jennifer Hauck

  • A loaf of King Arthur Flour sandwich bread sits in a client's box of groceries at the Upper Valley Haven in White River Junction, Vt., on Friday, Sept. 27, 2019. (Valley News - Jennifer Hauck) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to

  • Adrianna Jenkins of Claremont, N.H., looks over the produce at the Upper Valley Haven's food shelf on Friday, Sept. 27, 2019, in White River Junction, Vt. Clients are told to take what they need in the produce section. (Valley News - Jennifer Hauck) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to Valley News — Jennifer Hauck

Valley News Staff Writer
Published: 10/1/2019 10:00:17 PM
Modified: 10/1/2019 10:00:11 PM

Earlier this year on a visit to the Upper Valley Haven in White River Junction, celebrated bread baker and cookbook author Martin Philip noticed something curious. On the bread rack near where he was chatting with the Haven’s Laura Gillespie, several beautiful loaves of King Arthur artisan bread were getting no love. People would stop by the bread rack, which provides free bread seven days a week to community members in need, browse the selection of rustic, crusty loaves, then choose a bag of ordinary sandwich bread or rolls.

“He said, ‘They don’t really want those breads, do they?’ ” Gillespie, director of development and communications for the Haven, recalled.

Philip, a baker for King Arthur Flour in Norwich and author of the 2017 New England Book Festival grand-prize-winning book Breaking Bread, then let Gillespie in on a plan that was brewing in the bread world. A group of craft bakers, academics, wheat breeders and millers from around the country, known as the Bread Lab Collective, had recently met at Washington State University and was developing a new loaf designed to do the seemingly impossible: pack a hearty dose of whole wheat, taste good in a sandwich and skip the nutritionally dubious additives are common in store-bought breads.

“He said, ‘Would this maybe be a better fit for you?’ ” Gillespie said.

The fruit of the Bread Lab Collective’s labors, a seven-ingredient, whole-wheat, kid-friendly sandwich loaf called Just Bread, is now on store shelves as well as the Haven’s food shelves, where it’s already in demand.

“People have started asking for them,” Gillespie said.

In developing Just Bread, King Arthur bakers wanted to create something they could share with everyone, said head bread baker Carrie Brisson. That’s evident in the collaborative process that birthed it. Its name is also a play on words that hints at that mission.

“Everyone deserves a good loaf of bread,” Brisson said.

In addition to baking about 300 loaves of Just Bread a week for its store and other area retailers, the King Arthur bakery makes five loaves a day for the Haven and plans to increase production to 10 loaves a day in the coming weeks.

King Arthur bread and other bakery items regularly show up at the Haven through donations from both the King Arthur Flour company and local co-ops that sell their product, but the Just Bread partnership is new.

“This is our first time we’ve made something specifically for the Haven,” Brisson explained.

Bread is a staple at the Haven, which provides food for about 65 households per day, Gillespie said, and there never seems to be enough. “We run out of bread every single day,” she said.

Families in need tend to gravitate toward soft, sliced breads. “They’re looking for something that will nourish their families, that is tasty and familiar,” Gillespie said. Some have dental problems that make hard, chewy breads problematic, and some don’t have bread knives to slice a loaf of bread.

The new bread also aligns with the Haven’s efforts to supply families with mostly whole, natural foods as opposed to the cheap processed foods often selected by shoppers on tight budgets, Gillespie said.

King Arthur sells about 600 loaves a bread a day at its cafe and bakery and at retailers, including area food co-ops. The company has other sandwich breads, but nothing quite like this. In developing the bread, the collective had a few key criteria: seven or fewer ingredients, 60-percent or more whole-wheat flour, no artificial ingredients and a five-day shelf life.

Oh, and “it really had to taste amazing,” Brisson said.

In other words, the best thing since sliced bread.

The first sliced bread hit store shelves in the 1920s. After an initial phase of uncertainty, consumers fell in love with it. But as food technology progressed and mass production became the norm, bread underwent a transformation that eventually rendered it unrecognizable, at least in terms of ingredients. It’s no secret that today’s conventional sandwich bread is laden with mysterious ingredients designed to prolong its shelf life and give it the soft texture consumers have come to prefer. Meanwhile, its nutritional virtues have been stripped away. When it comes to health, sliced bread is definitely not the best thing anymore.

Of course, the Bread Collective is not the first group to tackle that problem. But as any kid staring sadly into her lunch box will tell you, healthy sliced bread can be a hard sell.

To give the bread some kid appeal, the bakers employed several tricks of the trade. They used white whole wheat flour, increased the moisture content of the dough, sweetened it with honey and added a bit of oil, Brisson said. Honey, a natural preservative, also helps increase the shelf life, as does a small amount of sourdough culture.

King Arthur staff tested the bread by bringing it home to their families.

Carey Underwood, director of mission driven partnerships and programs for King Arthur, said her 5-year-old daughter, Georgia, gave the bread a thumbs up when she took it to camp last summer.

“She said, ‘I didn’t like it.’ Dramatic pause. ‘I loved it,’” Underwood recalled.

The new bread is available at co-op food stores around the Upper Valley for $4.99 (on sale for $3.99 through the end of October), as well as at the King Arthur Flour cafe and bakery ($4.95). Home bakers can find the recipe for the bread at

Sarah Earle can be reached at or 603 -727-3268.

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