…a Loaf of Bread – and Thou.” It’s a line made famous by poet Omar Khayyám in his “Rubaiyat” over nine centuries ago. Bread and wine have not only been consumed but written about since man came forth from the Stone Age. No single food since the advent of agriculture has had more impact than bread on humanity in most cultures on Earth.
In our culture, “breaking bread” commonly refers to having a shared meal or may refer to the last supper when Jesus ate with his disciples. It can further mean brotherhood, establishing trust, welcoming others into your household, or sealing a pact or truce. Bread has been used for centuries as a bond between people, as well as a major source of nutrition.
Early bread, before the leavening process was discovered, actually had to be broken in the hands. Unleavened bread was typically flat, hard, and could not be torn. Later, when bread was torn from the loaf, the term “breaking bread” also represented a symbolic gesture. In some cultures, slicing bread with a knife at a shared meal instead of tearing it meant a sundering of kinship or agreement.
Bread has taken many forms. Our neighbors to the south brought us tortillas, a flattened pan-cooked bread made from wheat or corn flour. I recently decided to try making some with wheat using a tortilla press. I discovered that most Hispanic grandmas use rolling pins instead, and it became much faster and less troublesome for me. They’ve become part of our varied grain edibles weekly.
Who in their right mind could forget the iconic quick-breads named “biscuits”? Tortillas are easy to make, but biscuits require secret skills that are becoming a lost art. I must confess, I take great pride in mine. My mother made great biscuits. I honed my skills until I could make them just as well. My wife thinks mine are better.
Jewish folks from Poland gave us the ubiquitous bagel. I have yet to try my hand at making them – crisp on the outside, chewy, and soft on the inside. Part of the cooking process includes boiling the dough. I do love a good bagel, and trying my hand at them is on my bucket list.
Sourdough was the first method of leavening wheat dough and is still used today to produce tasty artisan loaves. It has a notable character and is still my favorite. It differs from loaves of bread found on grocery store shelves in the same manner that a fine craft beer compares to a bland Budweiser Lite. Sourdough has a far more complex flavor than your average bread. Of course, I believe homemade bread of any type is better than “store-bought” mass-produced chemical-ridden fare.
You Southerners, I’ve not forgotten cornbread. Some mix wheat flour and cornmeal to make a softer, more cake-like product. I must admit, many consider that the “real” Southern cornbread. Nope. My cornbread is 100% cornmeal. It’s fantastic with a little butter and a slather of honey. My wife is an “add flour” camp member, though.
It would take quite a book to cover all forms of bread we humans enjoy – hot water cornbread, pita bread, donuts, waffles, dumplings, crackers, cookies, cakes, pancakes, and soda bread, to mention a few.
Flour, water, leavening, and salt are all you need, and with a recipe, you, too, can make a loaf of delicious, home-cooked bread. Mmm …I can smell it baking now.