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Breaking the Bread of Tradition

Tuesday, August 05, 2008

I remember the first time I tried to make bread. Actually, I'd like to forget it, but my dad won't let me--I've heard about the re-usable targets for his gun range ever since.

The second and third times were not any better. In despair, I called my source in times of kitchen trouble--my Grandma.

After pouring out my tale of woe, letting her listen over the phone as I bounced a couple of loaves off the floor for proof, she said, "I'm making bread tomorrow. Come up and make it with me--and bring your yeast."

Well. Did you know that yeast can go bad? At sixteen, I certainly didn't. After soaking it with sugar and warm water for ten minutes in a bowl and getting no reaction, Grandma declared that my yeast was bad and I would have to get more. I looked enviously at her perfectly-round loaves that made just the right sound when you tapped your fingernail on their perfectly-golden crusts, and thought, "Maybe after I've been making bread for seventy years, I'll be able to do this too!" Then, of course, I enjoyed a hefty slice that was swimming in butter.

I dutifully got the new yeast. While the next attempt I made at bread--albeit white--was markedly better than any previous one, the loaf was still dense and unsatisfactory. At that point, I gave up for a while, thinking I may as well have my dad keep buying the whole wheat from the store and bringing it home, rather than go through all that time and effort for something we only ate out of some twisted sense of obligation.

When I got engaged, I hinted loudly in several directions that I would like a bread machine as one of the wedding gifts. I figured any idiot could make bread in a machine, right? Well, I can't say for sure whether that theory was correct, but this idiot certainly managed it! We even got the wide, extra-long-slot toaster to go with it! Yippee!

This is how I made bread for years after that, and loved it! The machine had a "delay" feature, so we sometimes woke up to the aroma of freshly-baked bread. Not much beats that. And finally, finally, I no longer had to worry about my woeful lack of bread-baking talent in order to have our own, preservative-free loaves all the time!

Can you imagine how appalled I was to discover, upon becoming educated on the findings of Dr. Weston A. Price, that my whole-wheat loaves--while better than what I would have found in the store--were not as healthy as I had believed? That all that unfermented whole grain was chalk full of phytates, anti-nutrients that actually blocked nutrient absorption in the small intestine? That in my ignorance, I had been following the relatively recent dietary trends of our time (which arrived with the invention of dry yeast about a century ago), rather than preparing grains the way humans had benefited from them for thousands of years before that and fluorished?

But I don't like sourdough bread! I pouted at first. In reality, I had only had it once or twice, and my Californian aunt kept insisting that what we eat in Canada is not the really real sourdough bread, and does not even compare. So, I decided to give it a shot.

I found a couple of recipes for starter on the internet, but didn't have my own grain grinder at the time, so thought I would just see if I could do it with pre-ground rye flour from the store.

Nope. The starter went bad after only a few days. I threw it out, and decided instead that I would have to pay the exorbitant rates for sprouted-grain bread from the store (up to four times the cost of a regular loaf of whole wheat bread.)

That all changed when my mother gave me a grain mill for my birthday last year. However, despite my new-found grinding freedom, it took me a while to find a cost-effective source of wheat berries.

This summer, all the elements came together: grain mill, check! wheat berries, check! renewed desire to try making my own bread, check! decent starter recipe, check!

Last week, I took the plunge. I nursed my starter as the recipe said, feeding it, watering it, and singing it bedtime lullabies. And! It didn't go bad! After the seven days it takes to make, it had a slightly wine-like aroma, and looked just the way it was supposed to.

Last night, as I was pounding and kneading up my first batch of sourdough bread, several things occurred to me:

1. No wonder the Israelites were told to make unleavened bread before the Exodus from Egypt. If making enough starter for three loaves took seven days, and the rising process took another 12 hours, that is definitely not something you want to risk your freedom for. "But, I can't leave yet! The bread won't be done for another two days!" Nope, not worth it.

2. As I said to my husband, there is a certain amount of fun, for lack of a better word, in making a product like this for us to consume, rather than buying one more thing that took no thought, no planning, and has no value. It makes me feel connected to the millenia of people who have gone before and prepared bread just like this, who passed on the knowledge of how to do it from generation to generation, and who raised strong, healthy families by the love and sweat of their own brow.

This morning, as we sank our teeth into the first slices of warm whole-wheat sourdough bread, swimming in butter, I knew it was worth it. If Grandma was alive, I know she'd be proud of me, too.

And it didn't even take me until I was seventy!

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  1. MMMMMMMmmmmm.....so I take it the whole family gave it the thumbs up?! And does it have a milder flavor than the "storebought" sourdough?

  2. Jason's still getting used to it. And I don't really remember the store-bought stuff, except I didn't like it, so this must taste better.


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