Saturday, 29 August 2015

Bread (food for thought)

Some foods have more of a sensuous shimmer attached to them than others, and to my mind bread has always been one of those foods. Good bread is something that I find it hard to live without, and sadly it seems to be one of the hardest things get hold of too. Supermarket bread, at least in Sweden, is almost universally terribly disappointing and dull bread is probably one of the main reasons I hate hotel breakfasts (except in England, as the English breakfast cleverly bypasses bread and gives you things like black pudding instead!). If you live in a big city, or in a country like France where they value their bread, you go to your favourite baker to buy bread. But what do you do in the middle of nowhere in Sweden?

When I was little I loved staying with my grandparents and I learnt a lot of my basic cooking skills from my grandma, who incidentally also made almost all the bread that they ate. And indeed when living in the Swedish countryside, learning how to make good bread is certainly the easiest and arguably most rewarding way of getting access to really good bread. I have spent many hours in the last ten years or so making bread. Trial and error, combined with a healthy portion of the scientific theory of bread chemistry has been my method. And as of the last few years I have arrived at a method that seems to deliver the result I am looking for. So many factors come into play here; what flour you use, which proportions, the raising agent, the amount of salt, how you knead/prove/form the loaf, how hot the oven is... but most importantly what it boils down to is the kind of experience that you (sadly) can't learn from a book. The feel for when things seem right. I find that in a world when so much knowledge is available on tap, as it were, right there on the web, experience should be valued higher than ever. Experience require perseverance, dedication, patience, an inquisitive mind and probably some talent - the same things that are central to learning to master a musical instrument, as it happens. And to get started all you need is four simple ingredients: flour, salt, water and time which together transform quite magically into bread.

Of course the word bread carries a wider notion - that of food and sustenance in general - give us today our daily bread. And arguably it is a bit superficial to complain about the quality of bread in Swedish supermarkets when there are plenty of people who either have no choice at all, or frankly have no bread on the table in the wider sense. Well, one thing we could get a lot better at in our privileged part of the world is to value what we have, and stop taking our food for granted. And we need to consider more how our food consumption affects people in poorer countries, including its effects on climate change and other environmental and socio-economical aspects. We could also make sure that we don't bite off more than we can chew in the literal sense, as food wastage keeps increasing. And there are various Fair Trade schemes we can support to make sure the people who grow the exotic foods that we import are safe and get paid properly for their hard work. And then there is the political challenge...

And while on that note, we here in the Western World also need to remind our politicians that man does not live by bread alone...!

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