Photo by Richard W. Brown
Reproduced by courtesy of Frank Cabot
A man with a cause (see
) is generally a man with a passion. Frank Cabot is no exception. Bringing good bread back to Charlevoix County was a worthwhile cause and he made sure he achieved his goal, spurred on by his wife's unfailing enthusiasm and support. But he isn't a bread warrior. For him, the bread issue is part of a larger rescue operation: preserving the legacy of the past in the county. His true passion lies in creating gardens.
A self-proclaimed romantic when it comes to landscape and food, Frank became a gardener when he married Anne Perkins, herself fascinated with plants. Their garden at Les Quatre Vents in La Malbaie, Quebec, has been acclaimed as one of the most beautiful gardens in North America. It wouldn't belong on this baker's blog however except for the link between Frank, Anne and
The Greater Perfection - which Frank calls the garden's own autobiography - makes for lovely reading (a friend lent it to me and I couldn't tear myself away) and when I met Frank and had a chance to hear him talk about the mill and the bakery, I was struck by the similarity between his approach to bread as part of the larger culture and his conception of the garden as part of the larger natural landscape. He clearly knows where Man stands in Nature. He is also very aware of the fact that for a society to keep its identity overtime, the Past must leaven the Present. The same holds true for a person or for a garden.Les Quatre-Vents was 75 years in the making and while very much bearing the signature of its current owners, it clearly remembers the previous generations: the horizontal lines that anchor the house to the landscape, the tree-lined drive up to the house, the carpet of plain green lawn, the framed vista of the distant hills, all were dreamed up by previous stewards of the land.When I feed my levain, morning and night, inhaling the complex and rustic fragrance of the freshly milled grains, I feel my hands come alive with the gestures of countless generations of women who have been baking bread in my family over the centuries. When our grand-children help with the scaling and mixing or simply when they tear eagerly into the loaves I make for them, I know that, on another continent and in a different language, they are acquiring the taste of bread and, beyond bread, being handed a thread of their past to weave into their present and their future. It feels right. I imagine that, on a much larger scale, Frank and Anne have the same feeling when they look back at what they have achieved.
I like to imagine Frank looking at it as one looks at a photo album, recalling loved ones, distant countries, reluctant plants, forgotten memories but wondering at the blank pages waiting to be filled. What will they hold? Who will browse through them?
Anxious that the garden should continue to exist and not "deteriorate once the shadow of its patron no longer hovers, until it becomes what French writer Colette referred to as "le débris d'un rêve" (the remnants of a dream)", Frank and Anne have put in place a legal mechanism, the Charlevoix Trust, that will carry it into the final quarter of this century. To their deep satisfaction, their son Colin has agreed to take responsibility for Les Quatre-Vents when his turn comes. Again this doesn't have much to do with bread and yet in my mind, there is a link.