My summer is coming to an end and with it my time in the mountains. When I come to a new place to live I like to warm the kitchen with an oven full of homemade bread, beginning my time there with good food and memories. But, I believe there is something to saying goodbye to a place with a couple of warm loaves, as well. These loaves bring finality to a memorable summer of friends, family, the outdoors, self-reflection, and new experiences. They are the last products of my treasured ritual of baking bread every week. They hold the last energy from my kneading with tanned arms, the last heat from the glorious August sunrays, the last stray ingredients from my cupboard, and the last bites of summer relaxation. So, as my parting farewell to these mountains I love, I baked these loaves filled with gratitude for the time I was given to spend here. I leave tomorrow to return to the east coast. These loaves and the memories they hold will travel with and sustain me through the journey.
Archive for the Musings Category
Experimenting with spelt is a rather new to me. I’ve always associated it as a heart healthy food, full of fiber and nutrients, but not a flour that I would eagerly incorporate into bread. But, as I was reading Ed Wood’s World Sourdoughs From Antiquity, (an intriguing book with a wealth of information on ancient baking techniques and ingredients) I came across this categorical statement in favor of the grain: “Spelt is, however, a remarkable grain that produces terrific sourdough breads. The flour produces a soft, satiny dough with minimal kneading.” The next logical step after reading that was to go out to the store and purchase myself some spelt flour to test out Wood’s assertion. I also did my homework and read up on the grain. Here is what I found out…
I recently finished Six Thousand Years of Bread: Its Holy and Unholy History by H. E. Jacob. It a comprehensive collection of the history of bread, beginning with the discovery of yeast and plowing over 6,000 years ago up until the Second World War. Jacob keeps the history lively and entertaining, clearly forwarding his own ideas on every topic and imbuing the characters with very human and tangible qualities. I would highly recommend this book to any baker. While hefty in its length, it is quite readable. Read it with and open mind and take some of Jacob’s long-winded sagas with a grain of salt.
While I do not want to review the book here, I do want to discuss one topic that I found particularly interesting: the history and process of milling. As a baker, I believe that I should be well informed about the origin of my ingredients, how they were grown or made and what defines their quality. Understanding milling is essential, in this respect, to ultimately understanding flour.
Backpacking and camping trips require creativity to create meals that are both delicious and satisfying, but also quick and convenient. Often, however, the quality of bread or baked goods on these trips is compromised for durability and ease of packing. This usually means that poor quality tortillas and crackers are standard fare when out in the backcountry. Last week I was backpacking and climbing in the Sangre de Cristo mountain range of southeastern Colorado. When planning for the trip I made it an imperative to bring good quality bread along with me that was both nourishing and would stay fresh for the entire week that I was out. I also wanted to bake something that was appropriately ‘summer’-ish.
I’ve learned that it is very dry at this altitude. My hands are constantly chapped, the cuticles catching on everything I touch and pulling painfully. I guzzle down water, glass after glass. I apply chapstick in copious amounts. But, in addition, I’ve also discovered this with my last loaf of bread. I stuck the loaf in the oven, poured probably a half-cup of water into a pan at the bottom of the oven, and then let the yeast do their magic. I came back after 15 minutes, expecting to see a blossomed loaf, the result of the fervent activity of the yeast before their hot and steamy death, but instead saw a pitifully flat-looking loaf that had already developed a stiff crust. I had thrown this recipe together as a whimsical experiment, so I figured that this recipe was just a failure and this loaf wasn’t going to be an all-star. I went off to do other things for the remainder of the bake time and when I came back I found a loaf with a protruding, lobate anomaly. It looked almost like a stuck-out tongue, the loaf mocking me for some oversight or misstep.
After a long hiatus, I return. Finishing up the school year, attending graduations of siblings, and getting ready for my summer job consumed much of my time. But now I am settled down and returning to my usual patterns, but in a very different place. I’ve left the east coast for the high mountains of Colorado and will be here all summer. So this entry is dedicated to my new surroundings and how they will influence my baking. All of my bread this summer will be baked at close to 9,000 feet elevation and in a fairly arid, montane climate. After some reading, here is what I have found.