Whanganui baker's rēwena loaf a piece of family history

Customers buying rēwena bread from Whanganui's George Jackson aren't just getting a great loaf - they're enjoying a piece of his family history.

Jackson's bakery uses a starter, or 'bug', to create rēwena bread that dates back in his whānau to 1849.

His rēwena renaissance began as a tribute to his grandmother Patricia, who was renowned for the bread. She would rise early every morning to bake in her camp oven.

After her death, Jackson missed her so much that he wanted to recreate his nan's bread for his own family.

"I started getting obsessed with it and making the bread for my kids so they would grow up like I did with it."

He was giving his loaves away to family and friends. Then his cousin gifted him with the starter, the original natural yeast bug cultured from potato, that had been given to the family by an Irish chef who arrived on a boat into Wellington more than 170 years ago.

It was the same bug their grandmother had used and was kept alive by the family for generations.

"My cousin, he had the actual true bug of nan's, which was taonga really."

From strong sales at the local farmer's market, Jackson opened a retail shop two years ago where he also bakes on-site.

George Jackson.
George Jackson. Photo credit: The Hui

It's a labour of love. The entire bread-making process takes around 16 hours with each stage requiring care and attention.

"The hardest thing, which up to this day is still a learning curve, is the bug dynamic. Getting it to perform 100 percent. If I stuff it up, it can stuff up everything," Jackson said.

Reviving the Jacksons' rēwena recipe is now putting Whanganui on the world map. 

Whanganui & Partners, which helps promote businesses in the city, put Jackson's name forward last year for UNESCO's 'Creative Cities of the World' programme, which highlights the cultural importance of bread as a basic staple food that brings a community together.

"I was really stoked because finally rēwena bread got its recognition," Jackson said.

And now production of his bread is moving apace - he's started supplying a local supermarket.

He has ambitions to sell his bread across Aotearoa New Zealand.

"To Wanganui first, everywhere else next." 

Made with support from New Zealand On Air and Te Māngai Pāho.