In lieu of mulling further on the current political situation–which is, by any measure, an absolute mess of a joke–I decided that this week, I’d revisit a topic from ‘way back: bread. Staff of life. You know, the tasty stuff that (along with beer, although in no particular order) probably is responsible for much of what we now call ‘civilization.’
When last I mentioned it, I believe I talked a bit about sourdough, and “catching” a culture. I still recommend that as the way to go, if you’re going to do the bread thing; it’s simple and inexpensive, and there’s nothing like the flavor. All you need is flour and water, a container, and a bit of time. To recap the “catching” process: make a flour/water slurry, in a 1:1 ratio. Let it sit, loosely covered, for about twelve hours (let’s call it overnight). In the morning, scoop out half of the mix, and replace it with an equal amount more flour/water mix (still 1:1). Repeat in the evening, and again for the next day or two. Assuming your house isn’t a refrigerator, you’ll start to see the mix get bubbly. Voila! You’ve got a starter culture.
To bake with it, there are any number of sets of instructions on the internet. Experiment, play around, and find a set that works for you. Alternately, you can hit your library for a book or two. I recommend The New Artisan Bread in Five Minutes A Day, by Jeff Hertzberg; the basic procedure there includes getting a culture going. For something just a touch more advanced (but also more in-depth, and certainly not the least bit unapproachable), my new favorite is Flour Water Salt Yeast, by Ken Forkish. Along with the Perfect Loaf blog, FWSY has inspired me to finally learn the Baker’s Percentage, and really get serious about my bread.
How serious? Well, it being the equinox, it’s about the perfect time in my area for planting winter grains; to that end, along with my barley, I’ve got some hard red winter wheat to plant. (A complaint: all the guides suggest waiting until the “Hessian-fly free date” to plant wheat. They suggest that my local extension can tell me when that is–but they seem blissfully unaware. I’ll have to talk to one of the local master gardeners, I suppose…) Come spring, I’ll also be putting in some spring wheat (again, hard red) along with the spring barleys. With luck, by next autumn, I’ll have flour from my own grains with which to make my bread!
I’ve made a handful of loaves, thus far–my baking slows significantly during the summer, when it’s hot as blazes without adding oven heat–and I’m liking the direction things are going. Practice does, after all, make perfect. But even if I don’t quite have the crumb exactly where I like it yet, there’s nothing quite as satisfying as biting into a nice crusty slice of bread, knowing that I made it myself.
In other farm news, we’ve been able to discourage more hawk-strikes, without losing any more chickens. One of this year’s batch of chicks has turned out to be a rooster, and we’ve found a home for him (don’t need him, ourselves). So we’re at 31 birds; come spring, we’ll be up to our eyeballs in eggs.
The bees are doing fine; they’ve been gathering nectar from the local goldenrod and asters. The experienced keepers described the “unique” scent that they produce, processing goldenrod nectar; there’s not really a way to adequately prepare for it, though. I’m hopeful that I can get the colonies overwintered, and maybe expand a bit in the spring.
How are things going in your gardens, and on your homesteads?