Saturday, April 19, 2008

Bread

Some of our tree hugging friends got into baking their own bread. It was partially through their influence that we started baking our own bread as well and we owe them our thanks for all the help and good recipes. One of the things that kept coming up over dinner was a passage our friend Tom read in one of his bread books which is something to the effect of: Bread is just flour and a liquid. You can add stuff to it to make it more interesting if you want to, like yeast, sugar and eggs; but all it needs to qualify as bread is those two ingredients.

Every time he says that my mind goes back to the ancient Israelites, leaving Egypt with their unleavened bread. They were in a hurry and getting bread to rise in those days was a little more difficult that tossing in some Fleischmann's. Thousands of years later, Catholics the world over still celebrate communion with a wafer that symbolizes that unleavened (un-risen) bread. As a side note, I know of a number of people who go to great lengths to procure wafer type materials for impromptu communion services. If they only knew how simple it was, they could easily make their own.

Speaking of making your own, I tried it. I was washing up some dishes the other night and gave it a whirl. I put some flour and water in a bowl. I put in a pinch of salt too, so it wouldn’t be too boring. I fried it in a dollop of oil, ate it, and it was good. My mind went in two directions at that point (Three if you count the anticipation of my wife’s odd look when she found out what I was up to.) Half my mind was thinking of ways to add a little seasoning and pass it off as a trendy appetizer the next time we have company over. The other half was swirling back and forth between how complex and varied the bread we eat today is, and how simple, yet enjoyable and sustaining that simple bread was.

For a couple decades now the middle of my day has more often than not revolved around a peanut butter and jelly sandwich. It was what I packed in my lunch as a kid, what I longed for at college (with homemade jam) and what I still pack in my lunch box nearly every day. If lunchtime doesn’t include biting into a hunk of soft, sweet PB&J, it’s just not the same. Lately I’ve been working backwards toward that simple diet of those ancient people, at least a little bit. My sandwiches these days have homemade jam and peanut butter, and the bread is homemade as well. Gone are all the additives, preservatives and softening agents. I don’t mind a bit if the slices are getting a little hard around the edges by the end of the week, my girl made it for me, I love it.

It is to be counted a blessing that I have big, fluffy slices of bread in my lunch, when I consider the lives of people who lived on simple cakes of grain. The primitive lifestyle revolves almost entirely around getting enough to eat; there are many in the world today who could tell you so. The growing of the grain and all that entails and the procurement of fuel to cook with are enough to fill up ones days by themselves. It’s a wonder that mankind ever found time for things like commerce and art.

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