Every time I sprinkle baker’s yeast into warm water and honey, then see it bloom and rise to the surface like foam on a rich beer, I feel like I am witnessing life begin in a primordial sea. I am a farmer watching my microcosmic crop ripen in the space of a moment.
Pushing my palms into dough bonds me to all those who have baked bread before me. It is a connection I didn’t always have. As a child, I thought bread was the perfectly machined object that my mother bought, four loaves at a time, to fill her hungry family. My brothers and I loved its airy compactability. We pinched whole slices of Wonder Bread down into tiny pellets and called it “space food.”
Wonder Bread was one of the very first things to go when I set up my own kitchen. I prided myself on baking loaves that might have come from a pioneer’s hearth, but my recipes expanded. Soon I was searching farther back for grains like spelt, a relic of Bronze Age Europe, and amaranth, a staple of pre-Columbian Aztecs. Then I began looking forward, gleaning from research on amino acid composition about how to combine grains to increase their protein content. Bread bowl as both laboratory and playground.
I have baked hundreds and hundreds of hearty loaves for friends and family, but recently I take a special pleasure in the process because I can combine this tactile, tasty practice with my new passion – eating foods grown close to home.
One Saturday, while wandering among the heaps of tomatoes, chard, beets and broccoli at my local farmers market, I almost missed a table lined with brown paper bags folded shut around freshly-ground wheat. Farmer Tom Brantmeier’s modest parcels of speckled, tan whole-grain goodness opened up new vistas to me.
I often daydream, while kneading flours into an elastic globe. I’ve dreamed of milling my grains just before mixing them together. Those hard-case little seeds protect their nutrients faithfully up until, but not long after the moment they are ground. I have also idly dreamt of sowing and harvesting those seeds. So, when I scooped up and cradled those bags of grain that had been freshly grown and milled just miles from Madison, my fantasy expanded like dough brimming over its bowl. If Tom grows his own grain here in Wisconsin – why can’t I?
Picture a painting of a sun drenched field by Van Gogh. There’s a woman in that field I wish was me. She has her long skirt pulled up and tucked into her waistband so she can scythe that amber grain. O.K., I don’t wear a long skirt, but I do swing a mean scythe. I’ve been wielding it with deadly accuracy for years in a battle against invasive plants on my 44 acres. Now I’d like to hone my skills as well as my blade and sweep through shafts of grain destined for bread bowl.
I want to grow and gather grain to feed my community. Since Van Gogh painted his sunny fields, so much has changed. Our petroleum-saturated system of agriculture has its foot pressed hard on the climate change accelerator, but don’t expect to see food marketers adding the label, “Caution, this method of feeding humans adds tons of greenhouse gasses and may be hazardous to the planet.”
A food revolution is growing, and where else should it rise but from the bread bowl? I hear the call, and like peasants before me, I press my palms into fresh dough and do my part.
SOME REALLY GREAT BREAD BLOGS FROM AROUND THE WORLD
Wild Yeast She brings out the wild and amazing aspects of baking – and she knows her stuff.
Ye olde bread blogge This one comes from Germany, and if you’ve ever been there – you know they can bake incredible bread.
Sourdough companion http://sourdough.com/ This is the place for beginners which will take you to the limit with bread risen naturally using wild yeasts.
Bread Cetera http://www.breadcetera.com/?p=185#more-185 An obsessive’s Quest for professional-quality baked goods from a home kitchen with great quotes on the beauty of bread.
The Fresh Loaf http://www.thefreshloaf.com/ A massive compendium of recipes, lessons, community forum and baker blogs.
I’m going to the Midwest Renewable Energy Association’s 20th Annual Energy Fair this weekend, and my next post on Tuesday will fill you in on what I learn there.