A trio of country loaves, fresh from Chase Harnett’s wood oven. Photo: Sarah Luckey.
Finding good bread isn’t always easy. This baker in New York City’s northern suburbs is making it fun.
It’s Sunday morning in Peekskill, NY, the storied river town three dozen miles upstream from Manhattan. A solitary antique cabinet — its allure rivaled only by its mystery — sits at the Hudson’s edge on Fleischmann’s Pier (yes, that Fleischmann’s), repurposed into some kind of Instagram-worthy treasure chest. The spoils? Crunchy, oblong loaves so fresh that they fill the air with steam on every rip, revealing an irresistible inner plush just begging for a smear of local jam.
Chase Harnett is the baker behind The Hudson Oven, a bakery at large with a local following that’s rising faster than its bread.
Harnett purchased his mobile, wood-fired bread oven in 2016, and to avoid waste from his test batches decided to set surplus sourdough on the sidewalk in front of his home. The immediate response was encouraging. “The first morning, I watched cars pass by, then reverse back up the street to read the sign again,” Harnett recounted. “Folks were excitedly digging change out of their cupholders, leaving whatever they had in exchange for my bread.”
But after a gluten-free neighbor complained about the traffic, Harnett rolled in a different direction. He launched a simple website, allowing locals to subscribe and see when and where they could grab the goods. Each week, he’d stuff loaves into sticker-sealed kraft bags and load them into his upcycled armoire. Literally and figuratively, locals ate it up. The sourdough scavenger hunt was born.
Every Sunday since, Harnett has taken to Instagram — typically clad in a denim button down, with the freshly-stocked cabinet behind him — to announce the week’s location, waving a sample of what followers and serendipitous strollers alike can find available. A dangling, flour-dusted country loaf is the proverbial x-marks-the-spot. Sometimes there’s other treats, too. In the past, Hudson Oven collaborated with Bucci Coffee Co. on an ice cream sandwich, with house-made coffee ice cream smashed between a pair of brown butter-chocolate chip rye cookies. Customers are encouraged to leave what they think is fair to support the next bake. Venmo is accepted.
After all the leavened loot has been claimed, there’s only one lingering question: Where will the cabinet appear next week? Under a tree along the Piermont waterfront? On a snowy patch in North White Plains? Under a gazebo in Ossining’s Sparta Park? Even a surprise show-up on Hoboken’s Pier 14 can’t be ruled out.
Format aside, it’s easy to see why Harnett’s breads are a hit. He’s committed to all-local ingredients, a value ingrained in him during his tenure as a farm assistant at Stone Barns Center for Food and Agriculture. A consequence of longer travel is ingredients dulling in flavor, and keeping them locally-sourced means less time en route. The Hudson Oven lets you taste the terroir of just-milled grains grown right in Gotham’s backyard. “Your household’s bread should ground you in the region you live in, and that’s the bread we make,” Harnett remarked.
Hudson Oven sources all of its baking flours from Farmer Ground Flour, which Harnett says is the best the region has to offer. Oechsner Farms in Newfield, NY, provides a blend of Red Fife and Hard Red wheat — rich grains with a complex, almost nutty flavor. “By working with regional farmers and millers, our breads represent a counterpoint to the industrial grain economy,” Harnett explained. “Our engagement as bakers is a study in what it means to make bread the way it should be made, and with no thoughtless added ingredients.”
If you aren’t into sniffing out your sourdough, Hudson Oven also offers a more conventional route of procurement: online. Web orders can be fetched from “bread lockers,” made from vintage filing cabinets, at regular pick-up locations across Westchester and Rockland, like Tarrytown’s Makers Central, Nyack’s Gene Reed Gallery, and the HudCo coworking space in Dobbs Ferry. Harnett’s open to adding more — you can request one by filling out his Pickup Point Application.
Nevertheless, the hunt is still on. If you’re in for the thrill of it, email subscribers get tipped off first. And for $35/month, you’ll afford yourself a personal bread locker in a consistent weekly location. The membership option includes “heavily discounted” loaves, first dibs on new treats — sometimes still in their testing phase — and access to other seasonal, regionally-produced goods from friends.
For the truly adventurous, Harnett has one more way to enjoy Hudson Oven sourdough: You can bake it at home yourself. He’ll ship everything you need, bread brick included, right to your door, personally assisting you through the process through a series of how-to videos. It’s a hands-on master class — just add water.
However you choose to acquire it, you’ll be filled with joy.