An entrepreneurial Duluthian has turned her passion for bread making into a business. Tina Higgins Wussow launched Tadpole Sourdough, a community supported bakery, out of her East Hillside home last fall.
The bakery is “community supported” because people sign up ahead for bread shares. Tadpole Sourdough offers full or half shares. Full-share customers get a loaf of bread each week while half shares get a loaf every other week. Customers receive a text when the bread is ready and they pick up their loaves at Higgins Wussow’s house.
For Higgins Wussow, who is a poet and teacher with an MFA in creative writing, Tadpole Sourdough is more than a business. It’s a lesson about discovering fulfillment and joy in an unlikely place.
For most of her adult life, Higgins Wussow didn’t know how to cook. “It’s been a giant journey for me to go from refusing to cook to loving to make bread,” she says.
As a girl, Higgins Wussow rejected the practice of cooking after watching traditional gender roles play out over family holidays with the women preparing food, cleaning and serving while the men sat around visiting with one other and talking about “important” things. “From a very young age, I decided ‘I’m not going in that kitchen. I’m not going to be like that,’” she says.
That all changed a couple of years ago when Higgins Wussow made the decision to quit drinking alcohol. She says she found herself with a lot more free time and energy. After chatting with a friend about how cool it would be to know how to make bread, she was inspired to try.
She bought the Tassajara Bread Book, which many consider the bible of bread making, and assembled all the necessary ingredients to make a basic, yeasted bread. She spent the whole day nervously watching the bread rise and hoping it would turn out.
When she pulled the bread out of the oven late that night, she felt a sense of accomplishment and pride that she had never felt before. “It was beautiful. And it was delicious. And I was alive. I felt really alive when I did that work — so then I kept doing it,” she says.
The Art and Science of Bread Making
At first, Higgins Wussow just made loaves for herself and husband Jason Wussow, who owns Beaner’s Central coffee shop. A customer overheard Wussow talking about his wife’s bread baking and ended up bringing a 40-year-old sourdough starter into the shop for her.
Higgins Wussow was energized by this new challenge. She started researching sourdough, realizing it was a more difficult bread to make, with a host of variables to contend with that can alter the final product, such as time, room temperature, humidity and quality of ingredients.
“I started realizing that if you tweak one little thing it changes the bread. Just one little variable. And so it became this kind of puzzle and game,” she says.
She did a lot of experimentation and admits she failed a lot in the beginning. She nearly killed that initial yeast starter, which she named “Hazel,” through improper feeding. But all the while, she was learning important lessons related to both the art and science of bread making.
Within about six months of bread making, Higgins Wussow began baking loaves for a small group of friends on a monthly basis. The pressure of needing to make bread for others on a consistent basis was an important step. It gave her the excuse to practice as well as solicit feedback from friends so she could improve. Her passion for bread making grew.
“I’ve never felt the excitement that I feel when the loaves kind of pop in the oven and come out beautiful and perfectly browned … and then when I give the bread to somebody and they love it and they enjoy eating it — it’s this whole other exchange that I’ve never really had before.”
After gaining further confidence in her abilities, Higgins Wussow decided to expand her business last fall by offering a small number of shares to the community. She eventually had 28 weekly customers, which was a big leap from the six customers a month she started with.
This gradual growth has worked well. It allows Higgins Wussow to operate out of her home with a cottage license and continue writing and teaching. This spring, the bread business will serve as an important bridge since she won’t have a regular roster of classes to teach at the University of Wisconsin–Superior.
Higgins Wussow expects bread making to keep her challenged. “It’s a lifelong journey for me to really understand, to master it, which is my goal,” she says.
She’s created her own sourdough starter, named “Margaret,” and is in the process of playing around with another starter, named “Stella,” which uses a special type of whole wheat flour that some people with gluten intolerance find more digestible. Using different starters adds variation because they change the flavor and texture of the bread.
You Are a Tadpole
The name Tadpole Sourdough is inspired by a dream Higgins Wussow had a number of years ago in which she woke up to a voice saying, “You are a tadpole.” The phrase stuck with her.
She’s researched the meaning of the dream and thought about it a lot, finally settling on an interpretation that emphasizes the importance of the process of metamorphosis but not necessarily the result.
“I’ve started to understand that I don’t ever want to be a frog,” she says. “I always want to be going somewhere new. And growing and learning … And that’s pretty much what’s happened in my life since I had that dream. I’ve taken on one challenge after the next after the next.”
Higgins Wussow’s journey in bread making has corresponded with her journey of sobriety. The bread has been “my outlet and my gage,” she says. “If I look at where I am now and where I started for both things it’s pretty amazing that I’ve made it this far. I can see how much the bread has improved and how much my welfare, my well being, has improved alongside it. I had no idea I would love making bread so much.”
Subscriptions run for 15 weeks, from now until the second week of May. The bread alternates between white, wheat and rye bread so that customers have some variety. Full share subscribers also get a specialty loaf each month with ingredients such as fresh ground cardamom, dried fruit or olives.
Pricing is $117 for full shares and $56 for half shares (prorated for those who join after the subscription begins). At the time of publishing, there were still some spots left. Higgins Wussow also bakes individual loaves by request or for special events.
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