by Tammy Surline
According to the powers that be, or Google, National Homemade Bread Day is upon us November 17th. This reminded me of a radio show I listened to a few years back. Some group was going to give demonstrations on how to survive during the pioneer days and one of the aspects was making homemade bread totally from scratch.
The radio host smugly asked why on earth anyone would need to know how to make bread when they could just pop by the grocery store and buy it. Or at the very least use an electric bread machine to make it. (I suppressed the urge to call in and ask the announcer how long radio announcing would be relevant, considering iPods and, at the very least, satellite radio.) The air slowly escaped the balloon of the group representative as she patiently explained that bread making was a lost art. This demonstration, she went on to point out, was an opportunity to experience some of the challenges faced by the pioneers and learn a new skill that may come in handy someday. I proudly shouted “here, here!” at the radio and thought about making my own loaf for the cause. Naturally, building a cook fire out in the backyard was out (those pesky neighbors). My modern day natural gas oven would have to suffice, but other than that it would be a totally authentic experience.
As I set out to gather the ingredients for my quest, a thought occurred to me. Why not put the stuff in my modern day bread machine as well. Oh, it’s not like I’d be cheating. After all, I’d take it out to do the final kneading, rising, and baking. As the machine whirred away, a great sonic boom came from the vicinity of my oven. The oven door, which had been warm to the touch, was now cooling off at an alarming rate. Thinking like a true pioneer, I went to the drawer for an “aim & flame” lighter to reignite the oven. (I know what you’re thinking, but it’s not like I could rub two sticks together.) With the oven properly lit again, I set out to finish the remaining tasks. But alas, the bread machine had already started the “rise” phase. It’s not like I could stop it now and pull the dough out. That would ruin it. Thank goodness I had a library book to read at this stage or it would’ve been like watching dough rise (insert comedic drum and cymbal crash here).
At long last it was time to remove the dough and knead. Now this was getting exciting! Apparently, a regular bread recipe is too much for a bread machine because the dough was overflowing the pan. Like an episode of I Love Lucy, the dough was still expanding when I got it out. No matter. We’ll just have two loaves. I was really beginning to knead with authority when I realized the kitchen seemed a bit cool. Yes, my oven once again was experiencing climate change. Well at this point, what could I do? I had to succumb to my contemporary surroundings and stick one of the loaves back in the bread machine. But alas, when I removed the dough from the machine I had to turn it off. So getting back to the “bake” phase was going to take some maneuvering. I let it run through another cycle until it reached the “bake” phase. I stuck the loaf back in the and let it finish.
Phew…success! Well, sort of. And what an ordeal! I can really appreciate what those pioneers went through just for a loaf of bread. Maybe next time I should just go to the library and read about bread making…or the lives of the pioneers.
Check out our collection
The Bread Book: More than 200 recipes & techniques for baking & shaping perfect breads, by Betsy Oppenneer
Dough: Simple Contemporary Bread, by Richard Bertinet
Staking Her Claim: Women Homesteading in the West, by Marcia Meredith Hensley
Emigrants on the Overland Trail, by Michael E. LaSalle