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Paywa Zuni Bread – Sourdough From (PERHAPS) the Largest Horno in the State

zuni bread

Two days ago I dropped in on Jimmy Paywa of Zuni Pueblo for some bread.

“Jim….hmmmm…. I think I’ll be able to remember your name,” he said.

“Don’t worry if not,” I told him. “Sometimes I can’t even remember my own name.”

“Then you might have a hard time remembering mine!”  He waved me over to a well-built tin and wood shed where the largest outdoor bread oven on the Zuni Pueblo resides. Everything inside was spotless and neatly ordered. Some say the oven is the largest horno in the state of New Mexico.

I won’t make that claim and either did Jimmy but the “THEY” say.  The “SOME PEOPLE” . So take it as you will.

He lifted three moist towels from around the wooden door of the oven and then removed the door.  I stuck my head in too close and too soon and took a smack in the face from the 450 degree air that poured out from the oven.  I stumbled back, shook my head and went in for another look.

There were dozens of loaves of bread on little metal plates just browning up.

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Jimmy, his sister Rose Seeyouma and Jimmy’s daughter, Karlene Paywa have a monopoly on traditionally made Zuni bread, fruit pies and turnovers. Jimmy and Rose’s parents Bowman and Louise Paywa started the company in the early 1970s, calling it B&L Breads.  Their breads were a mainstay for years on the Pueblo and for people coming through.

The small, thin man with the huge smile spent most of his life running a machine shop and making jewelry. Rose worked at a local school and Karlene was a Head Start teacher.  But when the older generation was ready to move on the three all dropped what they were doing to learn the art of bread making and take over the business. They moved the operation, built a bigger over, had the kitchen certified and went to work.

Jimmy heads up the oven work, cutting the juniper wood to burning, repairing broken stone blocks, cleaning the oven as well as actually baking the bread. Rose runs the kitchen, preparing the dough and crusts and filling for the pies and turnovers. Karlene does everything else!

Most of the bread goes at the Gallup Flea Market and regular customers at Zuni and the surrounding communities. But a whole bunch of their customers are just like me – people who simply drop in.  I walked out with a giant loaf of sourdough and a smile on my face. I’m eating some now as I write this in fact.  Yum!

I hadn’t been to Zuni since 1998 or 1999 and I couldn’t find any of the people I knew from that time save one and he didn’t remember me – figures. Regardless it was nice to be back there and this time there was a line up for the rotisserie chicken at Halona Plaza. I dreamed of it one night and then took my turn in line to buy some for the next night. I came to Zuni on assignment for New Mexico Magazine for an article on tourism and cultural preservation.

The article will be out in September or October and I promise it will be very good.  I promise!  Be sure not to miss it.

zuni bread

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zuni bread

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