Thursday, 21 May 2015

Bread Stories. 1

     Bread Stories. 1.

The Staff of Life

Definition: food made from dough of flour or meal and usually raised with yeast or baking powder and then baked
From Wikipedia
Bread is one of the oldest prepared foods. Evidence from 30,000 years ago in Europe revealed starch residue on rocks used for pounding plants. It is possible that during this time, starch extract from the roots of plants, such as cattails and ferns, was spread on a flat rock, placed over a fire and cooked into a primitive form of flatbread. Around 10,000 BC, with the dawn of the Neolithic age and the spread of agriculture, grains became the mainstay of making bread. Yeast spores are ubiquitous, including the surface of cereal grains so any dough left to rest will become naturally leavened


Bread in Difficult Times

We take bread for granted to day. It is cheap, mass produced and sliced can be bought in supermarkets, equally white and pappy bread can be bought in well known bakeries and speciality bread can be bought from delicatessens or from regional markets.

But there was a time when bread was not so available. Takis and I are old enough to ‘remember the war’. Takis in Alexandria remembers eating very dark bread made with Egyptian rye and wheat flour with added cotton seed oil. I remember a slice of bread for supper spread with something called ‘dripping’. This was animal fat.

(I remember my grandmother always made pastry using lard, animal fat, and it made the very best and lightest pastry for apple pies I’ve ever had.)

One neighbour showed me pictures of when her father grew their wheat and the whole family would help reap, and then thresh it. They would tether a donkey that would walk round and round, over the stalks. Then when they gathered up the straw all the grains were left behind and they would then take these to the mills to be ground into flour.

Yet another neighbour told me that her father would collect brush from the hills and load up three donkeys then walk into the main town of Myrina to sell to the baker for his oven. (There are not many trees and thus is not much wood on the island.)

In her recipe book Ourania writes that in those days, because the baked bread had to last for a week, the women placed the loaves on a long plank called a Kania, suspended by a rope from the beams of the ceiling.

Another neighbour told us some stories of those desperate times on the island when he helped his parents try to raise cotton crops. He and his five brothers and sisters slept in the same room as his parents, and though his parents had a bed the children slept on the floor. He well remembers his hunger, and how precious the bread was that his mother made once a week. The loaves were hung from the beams to keep out of the way of rats and mice, and from small boys!

From her I also heard a local tale about the doves that coo outside my bedroom window. They seem to me to have an abbreviated call. In England we say they call out, ‘My toe bleeds Betty’ but here they say eighteen, or the Greek equivalent. This is because once there was a young woman who made nineteen loaves of bread. She gave one to her old mother but her nasty mother in law found out and asked how many loaves she had baked. She said eighteen, and the old woman said, ‘You lie.’ She denied this and all her life kept saying, dekaokto, dedaokto, (eighteen, eighteen,) until she died and became the dove that calls, deka okto, deka okto.

My island friend Ourania remembered war time stories from Lemnos. One was that butter was not available and nor was cheese. Two young girls with their bread rolls were sitting in the yard bemoaning the lack of cheese one day when a crow flew over carrying a cheese in a cloth, which was so heavy he dropped it, and miracle of miracles, they had cheese for their bread.

Bread Today

In the Daily Telegraph there was an item that I rejoiced over. It said ‘Bread Shopper Turn their backs on Sliced White’

About 121 million English pounds have been sliced off Britain’s bread market in the past year as prices have hit their lowest level in a decade. Shoppers are ignoring sliced white bread in favour of freshly baked loaves and healthier wholegrain, figures show.’

Perhaps some people have now caught on to the fact that they have been eating ‘cardboard’, and its all about someone making money out of them.

From Wikipedia

‘In 1961 the bread making process was developed, which used the intense mechanical working of dough to dramatically reduce the fermentation period and the time taken to produce a loaf. The process, whose high-energy mixing allows for the use of lower protein grain, is now widely used around the world in large factories. As a result, bread can be produced very quickly and at low costs to the manufacturer and the consumer. However there has been some criticism of the effect on nutritional value.’

There was a time when I regularly made bread when my children were little. We even ground our own flour from wheat. My husband and I had got hold of a small stone mill when travelling through France. And because I made it every week I had got into a rhythm and could do it easily.

Here in Lemnos in our old furno (baker’s oven) I have not been as successful. I baked bread once but found it difficult to get the oven to the right heat at just the time the bread had risen. However since then we’ve had a couple of guests who were very successful. And we have realized the importance of lighting the oven the day before using it, to be able to get the kiln bricks to a white hot heat the next day.
Takis lighting our furno

When our guests said they wanted to make bread we said go ahead.  One was a guest from America who made a whole batch of delicious crispy loves, so quickly and easily it inspired me to try again. The other was my daughter who made a mix of loaves and pizza, again very successfully. She and her partner had previous experience in their own home built pizza oven.

Bread making in our kitchen

The waiting process




No comments:

Post a Comment