Sometime about sixty years or so ago, American and European historians began shifting their focus from the reigns and wars of kings, Popes, explorers, and presidents to more pedestrian inquiries, designed to get at the daily lives of ordinary people. What was it really like to be alive in, say, the fifth century?
I wish someone would write a history of rye. Archaeologists tell us this little grain began as a weed, a persistent, undesired stowaway in the great grain storage silos of the Fertile Crescent some 13,000 years ago. But when a global cooling trend occurred about 12,000 years ago, rye thrived while the other grains suffered, and it began to cultivate us just as much as we cultivated it. Rye gradually travelled north with human occupation, and as the climate warmed again, it found a more permanent home in central and northern Europe. Rye, once a disdained weed, flourished and became a major source of food for the Roman empire. Because this tough little grain can withstand drought, germinates at temperatures near freezing, and resists winterkill to forty below zero, it secured a permanent place in human agriculture.
I love eating rye, but baking it can be a challenge. It has very little gluten, is incredibly sticky and troublesome to work with, and if managed improperly will turn gooey and unpleasant in the loaf. But with some modified techniques and surrender to its sticky nature during the mix, it can produce many varieties of rich, flavorful bread. I wish I could source the different grinds so that I could bake some of these for my customers, but at present I can only buy them on-line in extremely small quantities and at prices that are prohibitive for a commercial baker. At the moment, I can only get dark, reasonably finely ground rye in quantity. I hope to be able to change that soon, but the logistics of shipping 50 lb. bags of flour out here to the provinces is a challenge.
This week I will have my standard rye sandwich loaves, the light deli rye and the rye with caraway, along with the seeded sandwich loaf, the golden-raisin and oat, and the cranberry-walnut. I will also have a few of the walnut boules, although I will have to charge $6.00 for these loaves. The price of walnuts leaves me unable to make any money at the normal price. I will also have the Country French, of course, and pasta. Depending on how baking goes on Thursday, I may also offer a non-sourdough, perhaps a rustic baguette? And if I have time, I'll have a few varieties of cookies, too.
See you at 5PM on Thursday!