November 15, 2013
Baking education in the U.S. began in the twenty-first century. Doesn’t that seem odd! Baking, after all, is a very old craft.
But even in those countries with deep bread traditions, formal education in baking began only after World War II.
The U.S. has a bread tradition of sorts. European immigrants opened bakeries here in the 19th and early twentieth centuries. But later in the twentieth century, the old bakers began to retire, national companies arose and many of the little bakeries consolidated, the old bakers passed from the scene, and the tradition of neighborhood bakeries declined.
So while some European countries invested in baking schools, we had none, public or private, until a few years ago. Even the vaunted Culinary Institute of America (the real CIA) still teaches bread as a minor part of its baking and pastry program.
That does make sense. Bread has not been a vitally important food in the U.S. Whereas in traditional cultures it was for centuries a primary source of nutrition, America was never a country of peasants whose eating lives were structured around bread.
Indeed, these days bread in the U.S. is a food of the elites. If you don’t believe me arrange sometime to drive past Tartine Bakery in San Francisco’s increasingly toney Mission neighborhood and look at the line of people waiting virtually all the time to buy a seven-dollar loaf of bread.
It’s ironic that the food of the poor has become a food of glamor.
Michel Suas of whom I have written previously was determined from the moment he stepped on these shores in 1981 to create a school that teaches baking and in 2001 he opened his San Francisco Baking Institute.
And please, I have heard the culinary/political joke about the rivalry between the CIA and the sFBI.
SFBI is where I spent a week taking a class to learn more about baking with ancient grains.
We’re all so accustomed to being limited in our breads to wheat, rye, and corn, occasionally barley. We in Washington have an Ethiopian community and don’t find it surprising that teff is used to make a bread although injera is probably all we know about that grain.
I have used chickpea flour for years as an ingredient in a couple of breads but chickpeas are legumes, not grains.
But what about amaranth, quinoa, spelt, kamut, sorghum, teff, buckwheat, and the rest? What about all those grains and grasses?
I had already decided that Bread Furst will offer a line of whole grain breads, a different one each day, a menu of seven. I was wondering whether to those we might offer as well a bread each day made from different ancient grains.
Most of these grains disappeared from our culinary repertoire and are coming back into vogue. I wish I could say that they are being revived because of a greater awareness of their nutritional value; but I believe they are attracting interest because so many people these days are (or imagine they are) gluten-intolerant.
Whatever the reason, I want to take advantage of the increased interest in these grains, and even more important because these grains are delicious in breads. That’s why I went across the country to attend the course.
(More to come)