Friday, September 21, 2012

Sweat, Bread and Returning to the Ground

Bread came into the picture the instant paradise was lost.

"In the sweat of thy face shalt thou eat bread till thou return to the ground."

Clear message.

For the last few years, my passion for bread has ripened, proofed and risen to the point where I am starting to be puzzled with myself. What is this. Why is this?

There are some obvious reasons that don't really matter. I like to eat bread, just like the rest of the world. I like to make it myself, like millions of other home bakers. It is soothing, relaxing, healthy and all of that. But that's not it.

Vincent Talleu - Ready for Battle
Blind Spot
It has to do with the times we live in. Bread is a constant symbol in a changing world. It is the modest constant around which we hurl our immodest lives. Throughout history, looking at the bread we eat, will tell us who we are. No matter where we are; bread even transcends culture. It is so close to us, that we tend to overlook its impact and importance, and take it for granted.

For some time now, I have been sharing recipes and how-to videos. Judging from the feedback and the number of readers, they are well appreciated. From now on you can also occasionally find snippets of content that are not immediately geared towards getting your mixer out and taking your oven for a spin. 

This material serves, deo volente, as the basis for a documentary on bread I am developing. My hope is to engage you as an avid fan of bread and help me find the best places on this globe to tell this amazing story of bread. I hope I will succeed in getting you to share your story.

Why do you like/love/lust bread? What loaf most tickles your fancy? Did your mom do her own baking ? Do you have a special memory or a deep thought on bread you would like to share? Feel free to let me know; reading your stories will definitely help in finding this global story on bread and making it as real as it should be!

Biblical Bread
In effect, 'bread' was the first word given to all the food items containing  "farinaceous vegetable substances". In plain English; stuff you can eat and that, if you have any concept of how to do it, can be ground into what we generally call "flour".

Poor Adam and Eve. The farinaceous vegetable substances around in their days were hearty nuts, seeds, roots and grains...
With the low hanging fruit out of the way pretty soon, and without as much as a concept of milling or grinding, folks were pretty much relying on their moulders and jaws to chew the goodies out of anything edible.

Ever tried to chew away a handful of wheat berries? I don't blame Eve going for the apple!

The human family increased. With it, the crude art of domestic life refined and brought about fundamental changes.

Although there was little talk of it when the door to paradise was slammed shut on our heels, water proved to be just as essential as all the nuts put together. So, people settled close to a water source.
The domesticated farinaceous vegetable substances were in the back yard now, rather than half a walkabout away. And some one, somewhere, came up with these;

Grinding stones!

And there was fire. Always useful, once you know how to use it to your advantage.

Three elements came together: grain, water and fire. Add the notion that a ton of rock is better at crushing a nut than your own moulders and everything is in place for a small miracle to happen.

It's not hard to imagine water coming together with the ground grain or nuts. Eating either dust or a slurry that goes down a lot easier; no tough choice there! As a matter of fact, eons later, the Romans were nicknamed 'porridge eaters', because of exactly this habit.

The Romans were a bit late in discovering the real miracle that must have happened somewhere in Egypt long before the Romans butted in and took over.

Put some water and ground wheat berries together, forget about it for a while and see what you end up with. With time the dough will ferment and magically grow bigger. If you pick it up, add some more flour and slap it around a little, the dough actually starts to tighten up and come together. Then; throw it in the fire, or, if you are a bit picky about grit and charcoal, wrap it up before you throw it in, and lo and behold, it puffs up and looks like it is going to explode after a while.

The result is a leavened bread, and that meant a whole lot less sweat on thy face before thou return to the ground!

To be continued!

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

silent battles - the flour moth

A few months back I purchased some flour straight from the mill. It didn't take long before I realized that I had brought home more than I bargained for.

One night, sitting at my computer, a moth flew itself to smithereens on my desk lamp. This has happened on many a summer night before, but this moth.... was different... It didn't look anything like the variety in your walk-in closet that eats favorite lambswool sweaters beyond the point of repair.

Within a day of not giving it another thought, there were a dozen of them and my moth terror alert shot from green to defcon1-red. Didn't I read about these some where? 

Comparing a fresh, crisply burnt corpse to the mighty array of disgusting pictures to be found on the Internet, I realized I was under attack by the Mediterranean Flour Moth!

Life Cycle

The moth is pale grey and about a ¼ up to ½ an inch long. On its wings it has two zig-zag lines. They are not the brightest bugs of the bunch; it's very easy to catch them when they are 'resting'. They have a very characteristic pose: it extends its forelegs, and with their little heads raised up in the air it gives the whole creepy bug a sort of sloping appearance. It actually looks like they are 'on alert', but if you are ever unfortunate enough to make your acquaintance with this pest, you will find they can be picked from the ceiling or the wall without them ever seeing you come. Be careful though, especially on white walls, because they are quite 'dusty' and will leave a gray smudge.

Their life cycle takes about 10 weeks. The female moth lays between a 100 and 700 (!) little eggs. Here it starts to get disgusting; they lay their eggs in your flour. But make no mistake about it (I did!); these little rascals may be called 'flour moths', there is a lot more they fancy than flour alone. They also love dried fruits, nuts, chocolate (!), beans, breakfast cereals and grains. The eggs will hatch in the right circumstances within a few days. The larvae will immediately start spinning a cocoon right there in your flour. They remain there until fully developed, which can take up to more than a month.

Little white strands of silk in your flour is a tell tale sign of your flour being 'infected'.

When they are fully grown larvae, they head away from the place they were born to look for a good place to turn into a moth. At sun up or sun down they will venture out to find themselves a nice location, typically a crevice or a little hole in your cupboard or in a tiny crack in the wall or on your ceiling. They stay there for another two weeks or so before emerging  a full fledged flour moth.

make moth flour out of your flour moths!

Make no mistake about it; it is not easy to get rid of them without radical measures. When you notice the little strands of silk in your flour, there is basically just one thing left to do; throw it out!

The next thing to do is making sure the flour that isn't affected remains that way. Don't be tempted to leave a bag of flour out in the open, because they will hone in on it like... well, like flour moths I suppose. Make sure you transfer all of your flours into airtight (and I mean AIRTIGHT) containers as soon as you bring them into your house.

There are a number of non toxic pheromone based moth traps out there that will assist you in exterminating them, but quite frankly; it takes quite some time to trap them all, since they are only effective on fully grown moths and not so much on the larvae.


If you want to get rid of them (relatively) fast, like I did, you will need to be drastic. Thoroughly check all of your food items, and I mean ALL,  for signs of infection. If in doubt, throw it out. And don't only check the content, be sure to check all the folds and crevices on the outside of any bag in your pantry as well; this is where they love to hide!

Clean out your entire pantry and check every nook and cranny for signs of larvae. Check, check and double check; these creatures are very creative in finding the places you hadn't thought of. For example: I found one larvae in each tiny pre-drilled hole of my cupboard used to move around my shelves! Use a skewer to poke around in any hole big enough to house the little buggers.

With your cupboard thoroughly inspected and your pantry or kitchen spic and span you might think you have conquered the pest. Think again, because you will only need one male and one female survivor to start the whole pest cycle all over again.

I ended up repainting my entire kitchen after finding a few more nifty hiding places in the walls of my kitchen, far away from any food source. This finally did the trick.

After this whole operation, make sure to keep checking for at least 40 more days to nip any possible survivors in the bud before calling it a victory, but I'll assure you; you WILL, if this ever happens to you! A moth trap is most efficient in this stage. Just make sure not to put too many moth traps in, because it tends to confuse the moths. One or two traps make a distinctive source of pheromones that they will come and check out!

The most important lesson to be learned here is to not let anything enter your kitchen from a source that you could call risky. Check all flour before it enters the house, especially when it comes from a 'non industrial' source like organic mills and the likes. Invest in a nice array of airtight containers,  immediately transfer your flours into them and you should be safe!

I hope you never have to come and visit this page, but if you ever have to, I hope the tips will help you get rid of them fast!