Ironically, I was raised in a family of good bakers. Each fall and winter, Aunt Margaret’s Vermont kitchen would be full of the scent of her homemade donuts. Grandma Goodrich was queen of the pies; and one year she taught me the tricks of the trade. The result of our first collaboration, miniature sour cherry pies, was the gourmet hit of the church Strawberry Festival. Grandpa Goodrich, on special occasions, would channel his French/Canadian ancestry, and serve up his famous crepes. Aunt Lois, a Southerner, introduced me to the delights of Sally Lunn bread and seven layer cake. However, no one in our family baked bread until along came “moi.”
Once a week, the children and I would take down the big yellow mixing bowl, flour-up, and produce four loaves of bread. The hands-on favorite was Challah or Sabbath loaf (House and Garden’s New Cookbook, p.257). My little apprentices became expert at punching down the giant yeast puffball, and braiding the three pieces of dough into exquisitely tressed creations. Sometimes, just to put a little pizzazz into our routine, we would add raisins and a topping of sugar glaze, or grated cheese. I even attempted, and mastered Julia’s French baguette recipe.
When we went to live in Europe, I hung up my apron because there was so much good local bread to be found. How could I possibly compete with the brot from the bakkerijs in Belgium, or the pain from the boulangeries in France and Switzerland! When in Paris, we would always beat a path to Poilâne on Cherche-Midi, for some of the best rustic loaves and apple tarts ever. Back home in Belgium, we discovered that the same local monasteries so praised for their beer, also made heavenly bread.
European style bread-making has even come to my hometown in Upstate New York. The new kid on the block is Dustin Cutler, whose shop, Normal Bread, is located at 111 Washington Street, Geneva, NY. Dustin apprenticed to Richard Rice at the North Head Bakery in Grand Manan, New Brunswick, and has been in his present location for two years. He uses only 100% organic flour, and almost no sugar or oils. The bread is fermented overnight, and then baked in a four deck steam tube oven.
Et voilà, out comes his crusty signature Levain de pâte and assorted other breads. (Photos courtesy of Doug Reilly/Dandelion Empire.)
Bread culture and history is celebrated around the globe. For a list of bread museums, see http://foodhistorynews.com/directory.html. (Use the search term "bread" under Food Museums.)
For example, Save the Bakehouses is a unique movement to protect and preserve the old baking huts of Belgium. These historic structures are disappearing quickly. Thus far, 2903 examples have been inventoried. For a complete list and slide show see: http://www.mot.be/w/1/index.php/BakehousesEn/Bakehouses
It’s a Wonder-ful World,
It’s a Wonder-ful World,