Artisanal Minimalism

Hillside Bakery delivers real bread without unnecessary ingredients

Knoxville's Hillside Bakery is literally a hillside bakery—nestled among trees in a garage converted into a commercial bakery with its own mill and wood-fired oven—where Patra Rule, owner and baker, produces nutritious, hand-crafted breads.

Rule had always enjoyed baking bread, but after earning a Ph.D. in political science, teaching part-time, doing research, and even running for a seat on Knox County Commission, she got serious about bread and enrolled in a class at the San Francisco Baking Institute. There, she met a guest instructor from the Berkshire Mountain Bakery, which led to a 10-day apprenticeship at Berkshire in Housatonic, Mass. Hillside Bakery opened in July 2002, offering organic whole grain, naturally leavened breads and whole grain muffins and granola in area farmers' markets.

Rule says people are often surprised that you can make bread without oil, eggs, sweeteners, and yeast, but Hillside breads are made with "simple, pure ingredients: whole flour, water, natural leavening, and a little sea salt." She describes it as "bread in its simplest, most wholesome form. There's nothing in the bread that doesn't need to be there."

Breads include basics such as multi-grain, sesame seed, rye, and spelt loaves, but you'll also find kalamata olive bread (made with Greek Divina-brand olives, rosemary, and basil) and sun-dried tomato bread as well as seasonal offerings: dill bread in spring, pumpkin multi-grain in fall, and holiday breads such as cranberry pecan.

The biggest seller is sunny flax, a hearty bread that is nutritious and relatively low in fat, calories, and carbs. (A one-ounce serving has 75 calories, 1.55 grams of fat, and 13.73 grams of carbohydrates.) Rule points out that "not all carbohydrates are created equal" and Hillside breads are a source of "good" carbs—along with a lot of essential fiber and "more protein than you'd think."

Rule doesn't need to use commercial yeast because she mills her own organic grain. According to Rule, "chemicals kill the wild yeast." Organic grain has more wild yeast, so no additional yeast is needed. It's "bread as it's been made for thousands of years," she says.

You won't find Hillside Bakery's breads in stores. Because it is so perishable, it is sold exclusively at farmers markets and by order. Hillside breads are best in the first few days, but they will last up to a week with proper care. Rule provides instructions for storing and "refreshing" breads. "Having direct contact with customers, talking to them, educating them, is very rewarding," she says.

The only Hillside product you'll find on market shelves is the granola, which has a shelf life of six to nine months. You can currently find this wholesome, less-sweet-than-usual granola at Butler & Bailey Market (in Rocky Hill) and at Three Rivers Market (The Food Co-Op on Broadway). There are different blends (almond granola and cranberry granola for example), but all are made with organic rolled oats and sunflower seeds, mixed with organic extra virgin olive oil and organic barley malt, slow-roasted in the bakery's wood-fired oven.

Rule likes selling at the farmers' markets; she supports local farms and is interested in preserving East Tennessee's environment and heritage. In an earth-friendly move, she will no longer provide plastic bags to customers but will sell attractive, durable bags sporting the Hillside Bakery logo (for $7) to encourage the use of reusable bags.

Hillside Bakery suspended operations for a few months this year following a fire, but it has reopened, just in time for the start of local farmers markets. Rule will sell bread at the F.A.R.M. markets (Tuesdays and Fridays at Laurel Church of Christ in Knoxville and Saturdays at Jackson Square in Oak Ridge) and the Market Square Farmers Market (Wednesdays and Saturdays). She will alternate weeks—one week at the F.A.R.M. markets and the next week at Market Square. To see the schedule and the weekly menu (and get on the mailing list), go to m