House That Bread Built
Pepperidge Farm is now a fabulous home
The outline of where an exhaust pipe once connected to a stove remains visible underneath creamy colored paint. The white porcelain sink where employees washed dishes and hands still works. These are but two clues that this building once belonged to the most famous kitchen in America.
Nearly 75 years ago Margaret Rudkin, founder of Pepperidge Farm, baked her famous loaves and began experimenting with the now-popular line of cookies and crackers. Today the owners of the Greenfield Hill garage live in the accompanying groom’s cottage. Both buildings are painted a rich dark chocolate. Stately elms adorn the lawn.
The current owners were drawn to the property’s beauty, and privacy. “It’s tucked away and so few realize that Pepperidge Farm was right here in Fairfield,” says the
owner, who purchased the property in 1998. “Honest to God, Pepperidge Farm was right here.”
Born in 1897, Margaret Fogarty Rudkin was the oldest of five children. Soon after she married her husband Henry Albert Rudkin, a Wall Street broker, they moved to Fairfield. The couple chose a picturesque 160-acre estate called Pepperidge Farm, named for Pepperidge trees. When the stock market crashed in 1929, the Rudkins faced many challenges, particularly the health of their youngest son. He had severe allergies to most commercially processed foods. Rudkin decided to bake her own bread. She used an old recipe, a coffee grinder, and whole wheat from a local feed store.
Rudkin baked a loaf. Then another. Finally, when she believed she had achieved the right balance of ingredients she gave her local grocer a taste. He began selling the bread. The all-natural bread became very popular, and sales soared. Meanwhile, Rudkin’s husband would take loaves with him to New York and sell it in specialty shops.
In 1930 Pepperidge Farm’s operations moved from Rudkin’s kitchen to the nine-bay garage. The business thrived. In 1940 Rudkin relocated the factory to Norwalk. Walter Bradnee Kirby, the architect who had designed all of the buildings on the original farm, designed the new facility.
Before the business moved to Norwalk, the garage was a bustling place. Rudkin employed local people from nearby Sturges Highway. Outside the garage doors Pepperidge Farm trucks would wait for the baked goods.
During renovations the owners insisted architects and designers respect the buildings’ history. In fact, the small bathroom behind a door marked “Gentlemen” is original as is the sink inside the kitchen. The groom’s cottage in which the family lives has won prestigious architecture awards including a Palladio Award in 2008.
Today the upstairs of the garage serves as a guesthouse. Each room is painted an off white, with simple but inviting furniture. Since the Rudkins’ time at Pepperidge Farm the property has changed hands only twice. “That allows for continuity and that’s why everything was in such good shape,” says the owner.
A row of windows in an upstairs bedroom neatly frames a pair of apple trees in the yard below. Apples factored in many a Pepperidge Farm recipe, explains the owner. The Margaret Rudkin Pepperidge Farm Cookbook is a beautifully illustrated work including about 500 recipes. It is because of Pepperidge Farm’s place in culinary history that today’s owners so treasure the two original bread wrappings found during renovations.