Feature // Josh Mattson Bread & Manuscripts

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Our good friend, Jesse Morrow, went to interview a friend of his, Josh Mattson, a bread maker, with a passion for creating wooden journals on the side. Josh and Jesse both live in Seattle, and just before Jesse embarked on his journey with Man Man Van, he was able to go hang out with Josh and capture for us, this beautiful, and inspiring story. Thank you Jesse!

There is an awesome Bread Recipe coming up next week, STAY TUNED my friends.

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Josh Mattson is a friend of mine who always seems to be seeking and discovering new avenues of creation and exploration in life.  Since I met him a few years back, he has biked down the West coast from Washington to California, bought a sail boat and sailed through the San Juan Islands, as well as hiked a number of peaks in the North Cascades. Although he no longer has the sail boat, his curiosities about life and new adventures haven’t ceased.  Three years ago, Josh also began talking about two things: bread and manuscripts.  That’s right, he began baking bread and making small wooden journals and manuscripts.  I recently spent a Thursday with him at his place in Everett, WA to get a better look at the process of crafting scrumptious homemade bread and learn how to make a loaf of my own.

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Josh described to me how since his childhood, curiosity has been the invitation to passion. The journey to his current passions of constructing wooden journals and bread making has been no different. It all started when Josh’s roommate at the time decided to make a loaf in a bread machine.  Josh’s interest was instantly piqued by the practice and he dove right in. For 9 months or so, he spun fluffy loaves out of machine. As his enjoyment in the art of bread making grew, he soon felt torn between it and his journal-making, briefly considering sacrificing the baking in the name of his journal craft. Instead, however, he headed to the library where he picked up many books, including Tartine Bread by Chad Robinson. At the time, Josh was also very intrigued by the “gluten-free” movement that was just starting to sweep the nation. He spent his hours focusing on how to take the big industry ‘conveyor belt’ process out of the loaf and bring the ingredients, flavor, and tradition back in. This work would prove to be a game changer in taking Josh’s loaves to the next level. That, and the bread machine broke, so he really had no choice but to get real and start using the oven.  

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Formulating his own unique starter—of flour/water/yeast mixture that allows the dough to rise—Josh was soon on his way to a more perfected specimen.  Not only was the starter combination his own, but he continued to make his recipe more original and in the vein of “old world” style by picking up raw wheat berries and a hand-crank mill. By milling his own wheat, it cut down costs and simultaneously served as a great workout. One hand crank soon turned into two, which makes for a double arm exercise and increased flour output.  By November of 2014, Josh’s biggest dream for his bread-making passion was turned into reality in the form of the purchase of a new mill which can be attached to a bicycle.  The bike mill allows Josh to turn out large amounts of flour in an even shorter amount of time without using any electricity, all the while getting that good work out in and usually a good read as well!

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It almost seems to me like baking bread has become a sort of therapy for Josh.  I listen as he talks eloquently about the forgiving nature of the bread and how there’s never a really bad loaf. Even if the bread doesn’t turn out exactly as planned, it could be turned into croutons, toast, or crumbs for baking other dishes.  The wheat combination can also be used to make crackers, cookies, pizza dough, and pancakes – which he makes  every Saturday.  The oat groats, or hulled kernels, along with the wheat berries can also be used to make a simple ‘oat meal’ for breakfast. I’ve learned from Josh that making bread and other baked goods with home-grown wheat is not only cathartic, but is a simpler, cheaper, and more nutritious alternative to most store bought solutions, appearing to be more rewarding in every way. 

While four loaves are cooking in the oven, we make our way back to the basement workshop where Josh starts on a new journal.  The journals operate under the name, Book Grain, and can be found at bookgrain.com. Most of Josh’s journals come in one size, but have been made as custom sizes for a variety of special requests, like wedding guest books. Sometimes he even wood burns illustrations or initials and names into the cover.  “Bread is a simple mixture of water, flour, salt, and yeast; these journals are also a simple 4 ingredients: wood, paper, shoe string, and oil” Josh tells me. It’s this simplicity in creation that I find so beautiful in his crafts. 

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Nowadays Josh is cranking out around 50 loaves per week from his home kitchen and delivering them to friends and family, on…you guessed it - his bike. The loaves are wrapped in a cloth and embellished by a note card with a poem or sometimes even crossword puzzle. His hope is to grow the operation into a commercial kitchen and start selling at a local market in Everett. 

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While you won’t be able to find his bread unless you live nearby, in part two of this post we’ll be teaching you his recipe and how to make a loaf of your own. We’ll even include some tips that Josh picked up over the years on how to perfect your own recipe. His journals, on the other hand, are available for all at bookgrain.com and custom orders can be made by contacting Josh at jdmatts@gmail.com.

Article by Jesse Morrow

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Resources: 
Tartine Bread by Chad Robinson
The Third Plate by Dan Barber
Redefining Bread
Against The Grain