A FRIEND IN KNEAD
Our daily bread was very much in the news last year when the pandemic lockdowns had just turned a whole new generation into home bakers. Then the subsequent world shortage of grain and its price rise caused severe supply issues to countries that really depend on flour. It is ironic then that it was the ancient Egyptians that really perfected and baked the first real breads as we know them today. They had about thirty varieties as far back as 2000 BC including sour dough.
Now that bread is in not so much jeopardy it still gets its annual mauling from the diet, fitness and medical markets as one of the bad foods to avoid at all costs if you want to lose weight and live longer. Nothing could be further from the truth. Bread is an essential part of any healthy diet. It is a fuel food and if you want to expend energy during your day then the body needs this as a crucial carbohydrate.
You can literally live on the stuff it is so nutritious and in some countries they do as they may have little else. Our problem is we eat too much of the stuff and our lazy sedentary lifestyle means we just do not move enough these days to burn up the fuel that bread gives us. It is as simple as that. Bread is not bad, it is we that have changed, bread is still bread and delicious at that. It is a very easy target for blame.
My first bread was my mother’s soda bread which I was making at nine years of age which I still make today to her recipe using my locally milled wholemeal flour. Our local bakery now long closed, made sliced pans of white sandwich bread and a batch loaf. I lived nearby and still recall the wafts of the industrial ovens emanating the fresh bready odours when I walked by to school as they cooled down from their midnight baking. I had my first summer job there at about eleven delivering the pans to doorsteps for the van driver. So bread was all around me from an early age.
It was not until I went to Paris at twelve that I ate my first real baguette and that was a whole new experience. The first crunch of the crispy golden crust and the fluffy white interior still warm from the cooking was a real moment for a young aspiring foodie. My relationship with bread changed forever.
When I learned how to make yeast breads later as a trainee chef I appreciated it even further. These days I cringe at the demise of the bread basket in restaurants. It is only at the fine dining level that you will now be offered some freshly baked loaves. There is no better pleasure to the start of a meal than a piece of freshly cooked warm bread slathered with real butter.
You actually only need one good variety of homemade bread to offer customers, preferably white but in Ireland I liked to be offered a slice or two of our national soda bread too. There are excellent breads available to buy in now so it does not even have to be made in the restaurant from scratch. The bread basket should be left and refilled right until the end of all savoury courses including cheese which bread is essential for. Forget about cheese biscuits, they do nothing for a good cheese.
It is great to see so many artisan bakers now and if you have one in your locality then do give them some business. Bakers were the first craft workers to form an association back in ancient times, they were that valued and organized. Whole communities down through history depended on the village miller and baker to cook their bread. These days they will charge a bit more than the supermarket but you are buying a bit of history, culture and humanity every time you eat a morsel of real daily bread which is good for you too, so keep eating it and even better to make it yourself.