Baking Bread at Home with Farmer Mary Whittier

Since 1945, the Whittier family of Sutton, Massachusetts has worked together to make good food for neighbors. In addition to their dairy herd, they run The Milk Store, which they describe as an overgrown, 40-year-old 4-H project. It has grown from a tree-shaded table piled with sweet corn to a year-round store bursting with vegetables grown on 18 acres as well as the farm’s own beef and dairy (in the form of Cabot products), fresh-baked goods including sweet breads and pies, crusty-topped homemade mac and cheese, and soups like broccoli cheddar and cheesy asparagus.

Along with Whittier Farms’ own farm-fresh ingredients, there is another secret behind their success—though she would prefer to remain quietly in the background. “My mom likes to bake; she doesn’t like to be front and center,” says Sam Staebner of her mother, Mary Whittier.

When life got tough, Cabot farmer Mary Whittier got baking. Here’s her easiest homemade bread recipe and her story. #CabotCheese
Click To Tweet

When Sam and her two siblings were kids, “Mom would always bake us something to take wherever we were going,” she recalls. Dinner every night was something homemade and delicious, usually classic comfort food like spaghetti and meatballs. That meal was always served with Mary’s easy homemade bread enriched with Cabot cheddar, Sam remembers. The no-knead, overnight-rise recipe remains a family favorite, but you won’t find it at The Milk Store; the farm store has a relationship with a local bread baker “and we would never want to step on his toes,” Mary explains.

Mary was not always as busy in the store’s kitchen. Back in 2007, the farm was going through a seriously challenging time, Mary shares. At home, she stretched a very tight budget by cooking and baking everything from scratch. “I wanted the kids to feel like things were ok, so I’d bake them muffins and chocolate chip cookies,” she says. “As a farmer, that’s tough not knowing where your food is going to come from,” she admits.

A good family friend suggested she put her cooking and baking skills to use at the store and as a caterer. “That’s how we survived a really difficult time in our lives,” Mary says quietly. “You take a bad thing and you turn it into a good thing.”

While her homemade bread is a Whittier family go-to, Mary is probably most known for her cookies and cream brownies made with Cabot cream cheese and crushed chocolate sandwich cookies, as well as her signature chocolate chip cookies featuring, of course, Cabot butter. “They are crispy but also soft in the middle,” Sam says. “All of our farm tours finish with chocolate chip cookies and milk.” The farm store even sells frozen cookie dough.

Mary specializes in simple recipes made with real ingredients. “I really enjoy when someone says, ‘This tastes like what my grandmother used to make,’” she says. She appreciates how food brings people together. “When you have someone’s old recipe, it brings back memories and that starts conversations. That warmth and connection is very needed.”

When Sam left for college, she knew she’d be back. The reason? “In one word: family,” she says, “being able to work with my parents and my brother and my sister.” Even though Sam and her brother don’t live at home any more, the Whittiers gather to eat together at least once a week. “We still all really like eating dinner together,” Sam says. “Mom even lets us cook sometimes,” she adds with a chuckle.

Cabot Cheesy Bread

Prep: 25 Minutes         Chill: Overnight
Stand: 30 Minutes       Rise: 1 Hour
Bake: 25 Minutes         Oven: 400 Degrees

¾ Cup Warm Water (105 to 115 degrees)
1 Package Active Dry Yeast
½ Cup Milk
2 Tablespoons Sugar
2 Tablespoons Butter
1 Teaspoon Salt
½ Cup shredded Cabot Seriously Sharp Cheese
2 ½ Cups All-Purpose Flour
Olive Oil
1 Egg
1 Teaspoon Water

In a large bowl stir together the ¾ cup of water and the yeast. Let stand for five minutes.

In a small saucepan, heat and stir milk, sugar, butter, salt and Cheese until warm. About 120-130 degrees. Stir milk mixture into yeast mixture. Stir in flour, dough will be sticky. Lightly coat a large bowl with olive oil and coat a sheet of plastic wrap with cooking spray. Transfer dough to bowl and cover with plastic wrap. Chill overnight.

Loosen dough from bowl and turn out onto a lightly floured surface. Cover with the greased plastic wrap and let stand for thirty minutes.

Grease a baking sheet and sprinkle lightly with cornmeal. Place dough on cookie sheet and shape into an oval. Cover and let rise in a warm place until nearly doubled in sized, about one hour.

Preheat oven to 400 degrees. In a small bowl, whisk one egg with the teaspoon of water. Lightly brush over bread and bake for approximately 25 minutes. Remove from baking sheet and cool on a wire rack.

Add spinach (½ cups) and/or garlic into the milk mixture to add extra flavor to the bread.

Here’s another super-quick homemade bread that doesn’t even require yeast. This delicious, cheesy loaf will take you about 10 minutes to pull together. Pop it in the oven and pair it with a hearty vegetable soup or stew.

Cabot Cheddar Soda Bread
CabotCheese FOOD CO