The utter unsustainability of purchasing bread at the grocery store, combined with the fact that I cannot even get
organic bread at any local supermarket (and supermarkets are all there are here), chafes me much lately. I always ask my husband to bring back bread from his near-weekly forays across the state into Athens, GA, where we used to live (he still has work there). "Natural foods" is more the assumption in Athens, rather than the eccentricity it is here. Looking at the label on a loaf he brought back recently, I read that it was "produced and distributed by Rudi's Organic Bakery, Boulder, CO." The plastic bag (to be thrown away when you're done with the bread, of course) is stamped all over with "certified organic" and a kitschy description of "the legacy of the artisan baker." I could reuse the bag for vomit.
I don't mean to pick on Rudi's. They make good bread. But the sad fact is, organic doesn't mean much anymore. Sure, all the ingredients in this commercial loaf were grown without synthetic pesticides, herbicides, or synthetic fertilizers. (Note that I do not say what is commonly said, that they do not use "chemical" fertilizers. There is no such thing as fertilizer that is not a chemical; all molecules are chemicals, including those in manure, which organic farmers most certainly do use! But that's a soapbox all its own...) Sure, this is an improvement over conventional farming practices and the ingredient list bears no items of questionable safety. But now that organic is mainstream, we realize that it is not enough. Shipping bread from Colorado to anywhere outside Colorado, let alone to me in Georgia, is not sustainable. Organic flour grown thousands of miles away (currently producers are not required to reveal the source(s) of their ingredients, so in the global market, flour could be from Argentina for all I know), milled hundreds or thousands of miles from the field, then baked hundreds or thousands of miles from the mill, is not sustainable. The consumption of the plastic bags (which were likely not produced in the US), even if I recycle or reuse them, is not sustainable. And what about the inks used to print the bags? What about the workers who make the bags? Economically this sends money right out of my community, and it never comes back. And for all this, I pay a premium price for my bread, because the farm (or, more accurately, the corporation that owns the farmland) paid for USDA organic certification.
And lest anyone remains deluded, don't think that it's a family farm you're supporting just because it's organic. Nowadays organic means big bucks, and the industrial-production agribusinesses are right in on it. They are the ones who can afford to pay for the USDA certification, with its high pricetag and minimal guidelines. So you still have to question the treatment of the farm workers and the sustainability of the farm, even with the organic label. It just doesn't mean what it used to...
All this adds up to me being pushed out of my comfort zone. My solution? Become the artisan baker! Proudly presenting whole grain organic spelt bread, made by hand, by me! I created this beauty start-to-finish last night. It is my second loaf (in my excitement the first loaf was devoured before I remembered to take a picture). At this point in time, my ingredients still come from faraway lands, but I have the power to change that, poco a poco
Here's my recipe:
1 cup warm water (straight from the tap)
2 tbsp granulated brown sugar (Note that this is not regular brown sugar; it's also not turbinado sugar. It's sugar, it's granulated, and brown in color.)
one packet Red Star active dry yeast
3 cups organic whole spelt flour, plus more for dusting the kneading surface
organic 2% milk
organic canola oil
I put the warm water in my mixing bowl, stirred the sugar in, and sprinkled the yeast on top. I left it alone for probably 10 minutes (longer than intended; I was distracted by Galen needing help with poop). I then added all the remaining ingredients, loosely measuring the flour, then eyeballing the others. The salt I poured into my cupped palm to measure about 2-3 tsp; the milk I poured in directly, about a 2-3 tbsp splash; ditto for the canola oil. I stirred with a wooden spoon to mix. When the ingredients had agreed to mingle all together into a single entity no longer recognizable as any one component, I turned the sticky blob out onto my floured kitchen counter. I began kneading. Checking the time to make sure I hit a minimum of five minutes, I folded and pushed, making monkey faces in the developing dough. I had to replenish the flour on the counter frequently, and ended up pulling some oat flour out of the freezer when I used up all I had left of the spelt. After about five minutes of kneading, I oiled my same mixing bowl (without cleaning it; what would be the point?) with more canola and put the dough ball back in, rolling it around to coat it. I covered the bowl with a kitchen towel and set it outside on top of my husband's truck, to be sure it was getting plenty of warmth from the sun. I set the timer for an hour and went about the business of cleaning up after myself and being a mom.
When the hour was up, I checked the dough, which had risen plenty. I'm not sure if it had truly doubled or not, but I decided it was good enough. I punched it down, covered it, and set the timer for 30 minutes. Not long after that my husband brought it inside. He and Galen had been playing with the water hose and had sprayed the towel. I set the bowl on a chair in the hottest room of the house, still covered with the wet towel. (It wasn't soaked, just damp.) In thirty minutes I punched it down again and prepared the dough for the final rise.
I oiled my 9" x 5" glass loaf pan with more of the canola, then oiled the counter with some not-very-tasty olive oil I didn't mind wasting and turned the dough out on the counter. Following some guidelines I found a few days ago (I'll have to edit this later to give credit to the website, which I can't remember at the moment), I pressed the dough out into a large rectangle, then folded that in half and pressed it out again. I folded the ends to the middle, pressed again, and rolled it back and forth a bit to shape it into a cylinder, pressing the ends together somewhat. I plopped it into the loaf pan and covered it with the towel for the last rising before baking. I set the timer for 30 minutes again and turned the oven down to 425 degrees (we had baked cornbread at 450 for supper).
When the time was up for the final rise, into the oven it went, and baked for around 30 minutes (I started checking it at 20, not sure how the oven performs). Voila! Bread from grain! The loaf stuck a little, as did my first, so I will probably switch to butter for greasing the sides of the pan. I think the oil slides down the glass too quickly, leaving it essentially ungreased. But I extracted it with little trouble by running a table knife around the sides. Magnifique!
Now, I still don't know the origin of most of my ingredients, and they doubtless came from at least hundreds of miles away. But I know where the bakery is, and there's no plastic bag, not to mention the quality is far, far superior than anything I can purchase. And the nonmaterial value is immeasurable: the spiritual nourishment of working the dough with my hands, of taking pride in my craft, and sharing the process with my child, who will not grow up thinking bread comes "from the store." He helps me knead, tastes the dough, punches it down, asks "is it ready yet?" It is a good beginning.
Steps I plan to take to further increase the sustainability of my breadmaking:
Growing my own grain (this is not as big a step for me as it is for most, as our family has a 150-acre organic farm, Riverview Farms, which is twenty minutes from our house)
Grinding my own grain (we have just purchased a grain mill-- look for it in a future post-- to add cornmeal, polenta and grits to the Riverview Farms product roster. Thanks go to my dad for the no-interest loan to purchase the mill!)
Using local organic milk (Riverview Farms CSA sells raw milk from nearby Carlton Dairy)
Keeping bees to make my own honey for sweetener/ yeast food
Switching to sourdough
My ultimate goal: the completely local organic loaf. I am excited to be on this journey.