|Barron's Bakery, Cappoquin, Waterford|
Apparently it is “impossible to go into a bakery and just come out with a loaf of bread” which is certainly the case with Barron's Bakery in Cappoquin, in County Waterford, a small, sleepy town on the river Blackwater, backed by the Knockmealdown mountains.
Serving Cappoquin and the wider community now for over 125 years, Barron’s Bakery is a much loved institution that has survived against all the odds.
“The supermarkets ruined it for the small bakeries”, Esther Barron, tells me as we stand chatting in front of the oldest working Scotch Brick Ovens in Ireland, which are fired up daily to bake the hand molded loaves of bread on ‘a falling heat’ which is entirely regulated by experienced hands, to produce the finest bread in Ireland today.
There is simply no comparison between ‘factory made’ bread and Barron’s bread. Only the finest flour and yeast are used following an age old tried and trusted process that cannot be compared to cheap, additive laden, ingredients and mass produced products. In Italy and France small independent bakeries still dominate, with a 90 percent chunk of the bread market while in Ireland, it is sadly the other way around. But change is slowly on its way with a renewed interest in good quality food and an anti-recessionary spirit inspired to ‘shop local’ in an effort to support not only local businesses and jobs but to breathe life back into rural communities.
Barron's Bakery has been at the heart of Cappoquin since 1887 when John Barron started a small bakery there on the square, on completion of a five-year apprenticeship at Touraneena and a short stint in America in 1885. His son Joe took over the business in 1940, married to Joan the hardworking couple had five daughters, the youngest Esther is now at the helm with her husband Joe Prendergast. She is forever indebted to a beloved Aunt Hester whom she credits with the business acumen which led to its success, which definitely rubbed off on her niece.
But no one individual can take the credit, Esther is quick to point out how it was very much ‘a hands on’ family operation were every child and visiting cousin was expected to row in and lend a hand, whether it was counting eggs, loading the bread van or helping out with deliveries. A great employer many generations of Cappoquin people were and still are employed in the bakery alongside other non-nationals who filled a gap when emigration or lack of interest in hard graft, took its toll.
Barron's Bakery has certainly endured its fair share of ups and downs but with an extraordinary generosity of spirit led by its founder Joe, who Esther continues, received a tidy sum of conscience money (small bills owed) but never chased, after her father died in 1980. Reminiscing even further Esther remember the neighbors bringing in their turkeys to be roasted in the bread ovens on Christmas day, their own ovens being too small to fit turkeys at the time, God be with the days.
Sweltering in the (still) ambient heat of the cooling ovens a warm glow sweeps over you of similar small businesses from your own childhood that were the lifeblood of communities, sadly long gone, I wonder what is the secret? Family for sure, all pulling together when needed, with Mother keeping the kettle on or soup in the pot for hard working bakers, weary shop assistants and even delivery men. A tried and trusted process with no compromising on ingredients, knowing what the customer wants and responding to their requests, whether it's old fashioned (delicious) Chester cakes, scones, spotted dog (soda bread with fruit). But Esther insists and I will have to let her have the last word, that Barron's success is the directly result of the local people's loyal support. I wish I could have stayed there amongst them, drinking tea or Cappoquino's and having the chat as they say.