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Flour children: Hobby baker shares his love of bread with youngsters

Thursday, June 24, 1999

By Kelly D. Burgess, Post-Gazette Staff Writer

Ready for some delicious summer memories? Make them with bread, fresh from the oven and warm with the memories of busy little hands working the dough. This is a family project that is every bit as much fun as a trip to the park.

Hannah Ciocco, 2, of Ligonier, center above, gets her floured hands into the action at the Flour Child table at Saturday's third annual Urban Garden Party at the Mattress Factory on the North Side. She and other children learned the basics of making bread and took home small blobs of dough -- to be baked later -- for their efforts. (Andy Starnes, Post-Gazette) 

Of course, Ray Werner already knows that. It's why he spent part of Saturday morning at the Mattress Factory's Third Annual Urban Garden Party helping young visitors to the event become "flour children."

"This is just to give kids a feel for bread. Like music or poetry, baking bread gives you a great feeling," said Werner.

As he handed out warm samples to the adults, Werner guided the children in the finer points of kneading dough. He wasn't too picky about how they accomplished it but did remind each of them to always be gentle with bread.

Some, like Hannah Ciocco, 2, could do little more than beam at their small lumps of dough. Others, like 5-year-old Anna Berch-Norton, of Scott, were already experienced bakers from helping mom. She squished and squashed her dough, rolling it on the flour-dusted table while her little brother, Adam, 2, watched with awe.

This is Werner's second year manning the Flour Child table at the garden party and he was up well before the crack of dawn getting ready. There wasn't enough time or space for the children to actually mix their own dough, so Werner arrived with two five-gallon drums filled with dough he had prepared that morning at Il Piccolo Forno in the Strip District.

All the children had to do was knead the dough and put it in a pan. Werner then put the dough in a bag with instructions for baking it later. Before they left, Werner stamped each little hand with a colorful rainbow stamp proclaiming them bread experts.

Ray Werner, below, keeps the dough coming for small hands to pat and shape. This was Werner's second year manning the popular event. Bread baking is a hobby for Werner. By day he manages an advertising and public relations firm in the Strip District. (Andy Starnes, Post-Gazette) 

There's no telling how the final product will turn out. Although everyone started with a good base, even Werner can't predict the results. "Every loaf of bread is different because every baker is different," he said.

Baking bread is Werner's hobby and his love, but it's not his day job. When he's not baking, he is the general manager of Bozell Kamstra, an advertising and public relations agency located in the Strip. Although, sometimes, he bakes even while he does that. Often he gives the bread away. He credits those delicious gifts for making him a few extra friends.

On this day, with the sun shining and a pleasant breeze blowing, he makes lots of new friends. Before it's over, even the adults are happily kneading and rolling, beaming at their own little pans filled with living, rising Play-Doh.

He may even see some of them later. Last year, after the evening party, he was walking home when he passed some neighborhood children sitting on a stoop. "Hey Mister," one called out. "Remember me? You helped me make bread today. Wanna see it?"

Several of the children ran in the house and came out a moment later, beaming, with several perfect, miniature loaves of bread.

"They were so proud, and I was thrilled they remembered me," recalled Werner. "I asked them if I could take a picture and it came out absolutely precious. It's still a wonderful memory for me and makes this project more than worthwhile."

Related Recipes:

Organic Honey Whole Wheat Bread

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