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!


  1. My mother did not bake bread. When I grew up I didn't know anybody who baked bread at home, there were enough good bakeries around.
    I always loved bread, and, when I moved to the Land of the Free and Home of the Wonderbread, I got so desperate that I learned how to make a sourdough and bake my first loaf.

    1. Nice! I like that you didn't realize how important bread was for you until it was taken away! I'm sure things have gotten better since you moved to the US. Strictly speaking is it still a necessity to bake your own? I can imagine that there is some nice bread around now, but you have taken a little bit of Germany with you;that is one of the stories I want to tell as well! Thnx Karin, and is it okay to bother with you with more questions when they come up?

      X freerk

  2. Not everyone is as lucky as I am, to be able to talk with the angels in Heaven, but let's just say that I have it on good authority that God's favorite food is Pretzel Bread

  3. So technically it should read "In the sweat of thy face shalt thou eat pretzel bread till thou return to the ground."

    Religion and bread. It's a bit daunting how intertwined they are, and I'm still trying to get my head around it.

    Can I ask you Klecko: in your opinion; is there such a thing as the archetypal baker? My 'definition' of a baker came into being as a kid listening to and reading fairy tales. Bakers are invariably round, good natured and addicted to making sugar works more than bread in fairy tales, and always seem to be getting in (mild) trouble with the King they are baking for.

    You are not the 'archetypal' fairy tale baker. Do your clients ever make a 'wrong assessment' of who you are? (as in for example; this guy has so much ink, he can't possibly be a baker?)

    I would love to find a way show people a new, 21st century baker, although I don't have any concrete idea on how to do it, yet!

    Hope it is okay to nag you with questions every now and then, for one thing is certain; you MUST be in this story


  4. My opa was a baker in Holland and I took it all for granted. He had a very small counter top oven at home. Could that thing have had asbestos on the outside ? Baked pies and cakes in there. My Palm Paas haan was the most beautiful one . Moved to So.California, married, got 2 daughters. Not one home baked bread in sight. Just Orowheat bread, or Van de Kamps bread. After 4 grandchildren this oma decided on a new hobby. Baking !!! Found King Arthur Flour. Found the kitchen of Arden (Levine) Bread Baking Babes, The Fresh Loaf, where I found you.
    You now can buy very good bread here. The La Brea Bakery Bread is very good.San Francisco Sour Dough is famous. A good Sheepherders bread is always a treat.But try to find a nice dark roggebrood. Impossible. In a very small town at the foot of the High Sierras called Bishop there is a Dutch bakery. Schats' Dutch Bakery. They are famous all through the skiing community in California. Every one who skies in Mammoth or Lake Tahoe stops to get bread and pastries there to keep them well fed. And on the way back they stop there again to stock up for home.

    So yes I do feel great when people love my bread.But I don't feel pressured into baking. I do it because it is great fun and I have met the nicest people on the computer and I want to stay in touch with them through baking.

  5. Ow, the palmpaas haan, I definitely have good memories of that! I love stories like these, and I love to hear more! I'm finding out Dutch bakers have gone around the world spreading their bakes more than a lot of people realize. I have been researching making a proper "roggebrood", and it's quite a process. One of these days I'm just going to give it a try, even if I have been reading about recipes where the bread is in the oven for almost 24 hours or even longer... Would you consider the "roggebrood" the most typically Dutch baking good?



    1. Well, maybe. However beschuit is also not available here, except imported from Holland. So is taai-taai (Sinterklaas is coming soon) About bakers from Holland. The Van De Kamp bakery was very well known here in the Los Angeles area. Their bread was sold in all the grocery stores. I guess when the original owners died the newer generation (maybe not even Dutch)started to make more American taste bread. There also was a very small bakery called The Rollin' Pin. Really nice bread, nice pastries and slagroom gebak. They had something called almond brick. Puff pastry bottom with a thin layer of jam,layer of almond paste and an almost bitterkoekje type top. They sold that bakery to a Mexican baker and retired in Holland. The Mexican baker still makes the almond brick for his Dutch customers. Last week I tried to make it my self. 75 % successful. So have to try again. Oh well....