Bread is an invasive entity. It has wormed its way into salads (croutons!), breakfasts, and that trite phrase, “the best thing since sliced…,” and it has spawned the ubiquitous sandwich. Despite its frequent appearances, we seldom think twice about this sly edible. However, this past Tuesday one of the directors of Growing Places Indy, Laura Henderson, related a story in which a houseguest surprised her by actually buying bread at the grocery store. We’ve almost always bought our bread from the store. Thus began some deep contemplation about our bread habits.
When I was in Germany, my host mom would go every morning to buy fresh bread from the local bakery. Laura’s husband often makes their bread. Then there are our friends who buy the cheapest loaves possible out of economic necessity. So why these disparate habits for something that’s seemingly straightforward? Our search for an answer began, as most of our quests do, in the kitchen, where we decided to make our own bread.
We decided that the bread maker, first of all, was out. This had to be done the old-fashioned way. We did get a little disheartened by all the mentions of “high gluten flour” found in the Brother Juniper’s bread cookbook, but found comfort in the warm, simple arms of The Joy of Cooking and its easy-to-follow recipes, like the French baguette one we chose. The ingredients, flour, water, salt, and yeast, made the recipe look deceivingly simple. But the kneading, rising, shaping, more rising, baking, and brushing with egg whites made it take quite a bit more time than expected, which brought us to the reason so many food choices are made: convenience. Buying a fluffy, plastic-wrapped, pre-sliced loaf for three dollars from the store may be easier than waiting four hours for your homemade dough to rise. It also is fool-proof against the many setbacks that can occur in bread baking.
Then came this afternoon when we ate our crusty creation (maybe a little too crusty) with the other Growing Places staff, who applauded our first timid step into the bread baking world. Subsequently, we enjoyed those first crunchy bites of our accomplishment, filled with flour and love. Therein lies the reason many people choose not to buy mass-produced bread, albeit its accessibility. The flavor of fresh bread is irreplaceable, the knowledge of each and every ingredient in it reassuring, the touch of the elastic dough enjoyable, and the resurrection of the final product from the hot oven indefinitely rewarding.