Of all things cooking, the baking of bread has come to stand in for the home. Actually, more than the home, it has come to represent a certain kind of home. Some would say it stands for the kind of home most of us either don't feel like we have time for or have forgotten the value of in our busy lives. These people see bread as a symbol of a time gone by; a gentler, simpler time when the day provided time for kneading and proofing, for punching down and rising, and for baking. Others see the baking of the daily loaf as something just about as anachronistic as the horse and buggy. Possibly worse, it can be interpreted as the ball at the end of the domestic chain women wore (and some still wear) around their collective ankle, a chore that required long hours of work and tending and forbid the pursuit of happiness endowed all our citizens. Personally, I can see both sides of the argument, though I grew up in a Wonder Bread world and never knew an unsliced loaf before I started buying my own groceries.
It might have been during those first solo excursions to the grocery store that I got the bread bug. Walking through the bakery section after working a split shift, just as the baker started taking loaves out of the oven and the warm smell permeated the entire store. I started out with "basic loaves", that is to say white bread. At first they came out like bricks - dense, hard, and tasteless - but something kept me from giving up. Now I'm known for brioche, focaccia, and gingerbread. Until now, however, I hadn't found a certain recipe that I'd always wanted to make.
Salt rising bread holds a special place in my heart and those who know me well might be able to guess why. To clue you in further, you should know that salt rising bread is especially popular in the south and Appalachia (the Carolina's, Virginia, and Kentucky). No clue? The answer goes back to an episode of The Andy Griffith Show titled Dogs, Dogs, Dogs and a scene in which Barney mentions salt rising bread. I tried to find a video snippet for the blog entry but couldn't. Regardless, since I saw the episode I've been looking for a copy of the recipe and during my perusal of The Gourmet Cookbook I stumbled upon the very recipe. Of course afterward I managed to find the recipe on the net in just a few seconds. Regardless, here it is.
I strolled through the bread section and it contained most of the usual suspects - rye breads, baguettes, brioche, and the sort. There are the bad 50's pictures and unholy combinations such as pate en brioche or duck liver pate baked inside of a brioche crust. Modern bread baking has turned more toward the "country" or "peasant" loaf, recipes like focaccia and other rustic loaves that focus on herbal notes, unbleached and specialty flours, and rustic textures. What I found most interesting about the bread section was the preface shown below:
The idea of a baker being pilloried for a "bad loaf" seems pretty harsh considering the lax laws regarding the quality of foods in the past. I did a search on the web but the only thing I came up with was an unsighted article stating that in medieval times there were laws regarding bakers cheating customers and that the term "baker's dozen" emanates from this period when exceptional bakers gave their customers thirteen of an item instead of twelve to separate themselves from the rest of their profession. I hate to think what would have become of me for all the bad loaves I baked while learning! My sourdough still comes out plain and dull, doubtless a crime worth of the stocks! It also worries me that the authors seem to be lamenting that they can't nail their baker's ears to a post when they feel their whole wheat isn't up to snuff. It seems to go beyond quality control to institute corporal punishment for sub-standard bread. Then again, maybe I'm just soft.