Bread like Our Lady made it;

Sourdough;

 

If someone had told me this time last year that I would be baking my own bread by now, I would never have believed them; it seemed far too hard. Also I could not believe that after several years of avoiding wheat bread due to intolerance, I would be eating bread without ill effects.

 

Last year I discovered sourdough. Sourdough is often tolerated by people like me who can't digest ordinary bread, because the yeast predigests the gluten. This kind of bread was a staple of the first century diet in the Holy Land and Our Lady would have spent quite some time kneading sourdough, as commercial yeast production did not start until the 19th Century. Home-produced wheat (or barley bread for poorer families) would have been eaten at most meals. The following recipe may sound complicated, but once you've done it once, itís like brushing your teeth, you don't forget :). It only takes about 10 minutes a day for the three days of preparation and its such a good meditation. I like to think of Our Lady making bread as I knead ours. And the children love it; baking day is always something to look forward to. Although I use commercially ground flour, our eldest has recently been having a great time enthusiastically grinding wheat in a hand operated coffee mill (following the example of the Ingalls sisters in "The Long Winter") to "have as an emergency back up if we run out of flour" :)

 

Sourdough;

 

1) on the first day, mix a cupful of starter *, with a cupful of filtered water and then three cupfuls of stone-ground wholemeal flour (I use spelt flour as its easier to digest).

Knead it until well mixed about 5 minutes and then put into an earthenware or glass bowl and cover with a clean cloth. Leave it overnight in a cool place e.g. a spare room.

2) On the second day, put one quarter of the mixture in a ceramic or glass bowl and cover with a saucer; reserve in the fridge for a few days for the next batch;(if you keep it longer than this, it will go grey and slimy on the surface, so skim it before you reuse; alternatively, freeze the starter until you next need it)

then mix into the remaining 3/4s of the dough, 1 cup of water, 1 1/2 teaspoons salt and three cups of any flour (you can afford to experiment with different kinds, as if its a disaster, you'll be able to revert to the original flour in the next batch!  I usually use white spelt flour for this second kneading).Knead until well mixed, about 5 minutes. You may need to add in extra flour as you go, to get a good kneading consistency. Leave overnight in a cool place as before, covered with a clean cloth.

3) On the third day, take a large casserole dish with lid (I use a Le Cruset iron one, but an earthenware one is just as good; they used to bake these loaves on the bottom of the oven apparently). Grease it with olive oil, cover the bottom with a layer of porridge oats or wheat flakes, place the dough onto this.

Add about 1 cup of boiling water around the edges of the dough. Put the lid on and put in a warm place for 4 hours (I use the dehydrator on 105 deg F) to prove.

Heat the oven to 220 deg C; prick the mixture on top (to stop the crust splitting) and bake covered for 30 minutes

Turn the oven down to 140 deg C for a further 30 minutes (still covered). The loaf is ready when it sounds hollow when you knock on the top with your knuckles.

 

I adapted this recipe from the wonderful book;

"The Laurel's Kitchen Bread Book" By Laurel Robertson, published by Random House;

it is worth getting this for the inspirational introduction alone, which talks about Gandhi, celebrations and the profound connections between how we live, what we eat and the wider world and how self-reliance in seemingly small matters has wide and deep repercussions for ourselves and others.

 

*starter; the bread Book describes how to make your own but commercial and additive free sourdough starter is now available in some health food stores in packets.