Green Rabbit Bakery – Suzanne Slomin’s Solar-Powered Sourdough
Suzanne Slomin’s life has revolved around food. After six months at the French Culinary Institute in the early 1990s, Slomin landed jobs in funky downtown NYC eateries, fine dining establishments in the Berkshires and beyond. But something was missing.
Volunteering at a farm in western Massachusetts convinced her to swap her chef’s knife for a harvest knife. “I was hooked!” Next came a farm in Pennsylvania before she and her former partner bought 45 acres of bottom land in central New York. And this is where her baking story begins.
“I picked up an old Blodgett pizza oven and a Hobart mixer from a local guy and set up a rudimentary bakery in our root cellar.” Slomin spent that first winter learning the art of sourdough. By spring, she was bringing fresh baked sourdough loaves to the farmers’ market along with the produce she and her partner were growing.
Baking seemed a natural accompaniment to farming. Sourdough was the perfect medium because the slow fermentation process balanced well with farm work. “I would wake up at 4:30, feed my starter, head to the field and harvest the salad greens, come back to the bakery and mix the dough, go out and wash the greens, and then divide and shape the bread in the afternoon. The dough proofed and fermented in the walk-in cooler overnight. On market days, I would wake up, do the bake, and bring fresh loaves to our stand. The bread usually sold out within two hours.”
Slomin and her partner eventually sold the farm and moved to the Mad River Valley where Slomin took a job at American Flatbread. Although they were ready to take a break from farming, the Vermont Foodbank had bought the old Kingsbury Farm in Warren and needed farm managers. “We submitted our plan and they chose us.” That plan included a commercial kitchen, bakery, and retail farm store. In exchange for renting the farm and outbuildings, they provided the food bank with approximately 30,000 pounds of storage crops annually.
By 2009, Slomin was back in baking and farming. “I still helped with transplanting and harvest but focused more on the kitchen and bakery. I was making soups, pestos, sauces, pastry, breads and selling them right there at the store.”
“Tropical Storm Irene hit us hard and we lost land and all our storage crops, but it didn’t harm our equipment or retail store. We had about two thousand pounds of tomatoes safe in the cooler, so our crew roasted them over wood fired grills, canned and sold them. It kept everyone engaged and positive.”
Slomin left the farm in 2013 and ventured out on her own. “I continued to bake from Kingsbury for two more years but sold my bread under the name “Green Rabbit” exclusively through wholesale accounts. That experience showed me that I could run a viable wholesale business.”
In November 2014, Slomin relocated Green Rabbit Bakery, taking the name of her farm in central New York. “The only reasonable way for me to keep the crazy hours as a baker was to live where I work.” Danny Sagan, an old friend and head of the art and architecture department at Norwich University, designed her new bakery in Waitsfield. “The electrical systems in the bakery are 100% solar powered and the building is very well insulated which makes it easy and efficient to control the atmosphere, crucial for baking.” All products are hearth-baked in a three tiered oven powered by the solar panels located behind the orchard.
Slomin uses only organic grains, seeds, and fruit. She maintains a large garden of herbs and greens for her breads and pizzas. She also grows currants and blueberries for her teacakes and has a small orchard with pear, plum, and cherry trees.
Slomin bakes exclusively naturally leavened sourdough products – breads, pizza crusts, and teacakes. “I’ve had my starter for 15 years. I feed it twice a day, and yes, I’ve taken it on vacation so I could tend it. If I keep my starter healthy, the acids are balanced and the dough has a subtle flavor as opposed to an aggressive sour. My dough ferments for 24 hours at a cool temperature, and this slow process develops great flavor, extends the shelf life of the product, and renders the grain much more digestible.”
While Slomin bakes classic levain loaves and baguettes, she also produces a decadent cinnamon raisin bread with plump, soft raisins. “I soak the raisins in hot water for three hours and then toss them in cinnamon. Each loaf has about 20 -25% raisins, which we manually spread through the dough. We do the same with our olive rosemary and Cabot jack and chive breads. We fold the garnish in as we shape the loaf to ensure that each loaf has plenty of olives or cheese. Sunflower flax is another popular one, with hydrated flax seeds and toasted sunflower seeds.” The pain de mais uses Butterworks cornmeal.
Green Rabbit products are highly digestible and rarely go stale because they contain so much moisture and boast the proper pH. Even so, it’s hard to imagine having a loaf stick around long enough to get stale in the first place! Slomin makes seasonal loaves: potato shallot and sage in the fall, foraged ramps in spring, and garlic scapes in early summer.
Slomin’s teacakes aren’t your grandmother’s dainty version; Green Rabbit’s weigh in at a hefty 28 ounces, filled with currants, blueberries or apples, Wood’s boiled cider (an intensely flavorful apple syrup), cinnamon, and oat crumble topping.
Other members of the Green Rabbit team include Cam Fox who assists on the workbench and deliveries and John Benjamin who handles logistics, maintains the equipment, and helps with the morning bakes. Depending on the season, Green Rabbit can produce up to 240 loaves, 50 pizza crusts, and 12 teacakes on bake days. The products are available throughout the Mad River Valley, Waterbury, Montpelier, Stowe, and Middlebury and seasonally at several farm stands around the state.
After an hour and a half interview, Slomin reflects, “I’m pretty fortunate to find a way to bake that fits my daily life.”
Sounds like she’s pulled a rabbit out of her hat…