All grains contain peptides that mimic morphine or endogenous opioid substances. This is where I deal with my latest loaf craving. Get your bread-based exorphin fix here.

Friday, August 31, 2012

Garden Tomato Bread Revisited

Revisiting the Garden Tomato Bread

I've been blogging about my bread now for about 3 years, give or take.  And the first year, I had a lot of failures, which I didn't fail to write about.  I had so many bad loaves in 2010, in fact, that at the end of the year I made a "Top Ten List" of my worst loaves.  That was fun.

The following year, I didn't have quite as many failures, and I was actually thinking of making a "Top Ten Best Loaves List" at the end of 2011.  Because I was working on some nursing research, however, I simply didn't have time to go through all my breads and make a decision on which loaves should make the list, at the end of the year.

One bread stood out in my mind, however, and I felt pretty certain that it should be in the number one spot.  That was my sourdough version of a Garden Tomato bread, that I first saw discussed on Cathy's Bread Experience Blog.  

Cathy said she modified her recipe from Sunset Magazine's recipe from November 2001 (a recipe which was uploaded  on July 2005 to "", which seems to be a permanent link for Sunset Magazine's recipes): didn't provide an author for the original recipe.  I had some difficulty finding the original article because Sunset Magazine's online archives only go back to 2008 (once you know what the article is, though, you can find it on their site, under "techniques".  Because I didn't know what I was looking for, however, I had to take a more tortuous path -- follow me).  A couple of third parties 
( [read part of it here for free], or [where you can find the complete article]) had also archived the Sunset Magazine article however, and finally I learned the provenance of this recipe.

The original Sunset Magazine article is called Crusty Loaves from your Oven (Review) [Now found online as "Artisan Breads at Home"].  Reporter Charity Ferreira wrote a review of Lou Preston's bread and included a couple of adaptations of his recipes, for home-bakers.  The adaptation is Ferreira's I think, but Preston's original recipe was most certainly made with sourdough.  So by my making a sourdough version, I was basically returning the bread recipe to its more original form.  That piqued my interest.

Lou Preston? Who the heck is Lou Preston? I wanted to know.  And more importantly: does he have any more bread recipes?

About Lou Preston

Once I had a name to go with this recipe, I began to do some more nosing around the Internet.  I wanted to know more about this Lou Preston and his bread.  It truly is amazing how much information you can find, if you have the patience to look.  All of this info is "out there".  I'm merely presenting what I found.

Information about Preston's early career is sparse, but some can be found online in wineclub newsletters.  He was starting to draw the attention of wine lovers within a decade of becoming a vintner, and he was making everyone curious about his ideas -- so he was interviewed several times.  Lou Preston was born in San Mateo, California, and his family ran a dairy, orchard and vineyard in Healdsburg since the early 1950's.  He is Stanford educated, and has served the U.S. Army Security Agency in Europe as a linguist and intelligence analyst.  After his term, he worked as an auditor back in California, and it was during this time that he became interested in wineries.  He took the obligatory viticulture and enology courses at UC Davis.  Then in 1973 he purchased his first 40 acres, an old farm at the north end of Dry Creek valley.  The farm had a pear orchard and an old 1917 prune dehydrator (from: Hinkle, R. et al (1991). Beyond the Grapes: An Inside Look at Sonoma County. p. 190),  and he turned the farm into a vineyard, and the dehydrator into a winery.  Eventually he acquired 120 acres.

The Preston farm sits between two streams, where steelhead and salmon traditionally spawned, in the creeks that run through Dry Creek Valley.  The tiny valley has its own microclimate, similar to that in the south of France; and Preston discovered that his farm can grow grapes comparable to those grown in the Rhône region.  It had always grown Zinfandel grapes, planted by the first farmers to break the sod, probably Italian immigrants who wanted wine for themselves; now he planted Syrah, and other Rhône varieties.  Apparently he was the first in the valley to do so.  He continued to experiment with grape varieties, and he began making wine.

That is how Lou Preston became the owner (and in the beginning he was the sole winemaker) of Preston Vineyards near Healdsburg California.    But at what appeared to be the promise of his commercial winemaking success, he raised the consternation of several people by "downsizing" his winery.

He turned his farm back into mixed farming and orchards, even ploughing under vineyards to plant olive and apple trees.  He became interested in the area environment, said a firm "no" to monoculture, planted hedgerows and diversified crops, and began playing a part in restoring the streams in the area, to save the spawning salmon.

Interested in sustainable practices before it was popular, Preston expanded his interests to organic farming and gardening, and Rudolf Steiner-inspired biodynamics.  He raises grass-grazed pigs, sheep and egg-laying hens.  And he continues to grow grapes, concentrating on best methods, best practice, best varieties, but now he also champions composting, which he calls "yoga for the vines".

Preston is enamoured by fermentation, seems to know Sandor Katz (the fermentation guru), loves kefir and is now diversifying further to make pickles.

But what about the bread?

According to the early wineclub interviews, who thought it a quaint touch, Preston started baking in the 80's, inspired by restauranteur and recipe book (The Pizza BookFrench Country Light Cooking) author Evelyne Sloman.  

Preston loves to bake, and soon it became a passion.  According to Leonard Maran, San Francisco, who visited Preston's farm in 2004 for a buffet lunch, 

"He said when he first started baking he would forget all about time; his wife Susan would have to remind him that they were going out to dinner, and he’d have to haul the dough with them. In the middle of dinner he’d have to get up and announce 'Excuse me, I have to go punch the dough.' "

Barefoot baker, a commenter to a 2006 blog about bread mentioned Preston's technique of spraying the sides of an ordinary kitchen oven with water, to produce steam for his bread's initial rise.  During the mixing phase of bread making, Preston uses a biga, long slow rises, and he uses cold water mixing after using warm water to start the yeast.  

His sourdough techniques are featured in Michele Jordan's "California Home Cooking: 400 Recipes that Celebrate the Abundance of Farm".  Here, it is claimed that Preston perfected his breadmaking abilities by the careful study of Carol Field's "The Italian Baker".

Jordan wanted a recipe for her book, and Preston seemed evasive.

"I don't use a recipe," he insists.  

But when pressed, he did give Jordan a description of his technique, which can be read via GoogleBooks.  I would refer you to the original for details (and despite his original reticence, Lou gives a lot of details), but in a nutshell, it is:

  • 1/2- 2/3 cup wild yeast starter
  • 1 2/3 cup water
  • 1/2 pound quality flour
  • 2 tsp salt

Mix it, let it rise 1 hour, then stretch and fold it.  Do this 3 times.  Preheat your stone at 450 degrees F for 45 minutes, then bake your bread with initial steam for 50-60 minutes.
Preston started his first sourdough culture from wild yeast cultivated from his century-old zinfandel grapevines.  Jordan tells us he feeds it twice a day, when baking, or refrigerates it when he travels.

A posting to the Bread channel and now archived at claimed that in 2004, Preston's wild-yeasted doughs were mixed to 72% hydration.  Online buzz about his bread breaks out on unlikely forums across the Internet.  For example, a discussion on "" suggests that Preston once competed in and won international bread competitions.  And that he had a book on baking bread for sale in his tasting room.  Whether he wrote it himself, though, I don't know.  

Preston was limited to 4 loaves at a time in his original oven, in the winery's kitchen, and when he wanted to bake more, he built himself an outside adobe oven.  Peter Reinhart claims Preston as a friend, and reports that Lou built that original wood-fire oven himself, made with adobe, horse manure and straw (Reinhart, P. (1998) Crust and Crumb: Master Formulas for Serious Bread Bakers).  Later Preston would build an Alan Scott brick oven, fired with oak and madrone.  Now he stone-mills his own grain for fresh flour, and over the years began to grow his own hard red wheat, the local Sonora wheat, and rye.

According to, Lou continues to bake bread (sometimes this is reported as daily, sometimes this is reported as twice a week) and sells his bread in his tasting room.  In the beginning, you couldn't buy his bread except in that tasting room.  But as demand rose, he could be found selling his produce and bread at Healdsburg's Farmer's Market -- but whether he's there Tuesdays or Saturdays these days, is anyone's guess.

It was his interest in local markets that led him to invent a "Farmer's Market Currency", an idea that is spreading with the locovore craze.  He supports the farmer's market as the core of the community, and he even occasionally blogs about it (e.g "Tastes and Tidbits: A Tale of Healdsburg Farming" and "Update").

Despite his success at his organic, biodynamic farm, when asked 20questions in an interview, he counted this as his best quality:

"Best quality? Knowing when to shut my mouth. Oh yeah, and I can make a pretty mean loaf of sourdough."

Lots of people who have tried his bread agree.  I've read many bloggers who say his bread is the best they ever tasted.  

Here is a list of Lou's Bread Recipes that I've found in various places online.  The problem with such a list is, these recipes may be adaptations for home ovens (and home bakers who may not want to trouble with sourdough), they may be from earlier stages in his bread making development, and they may not reflect his current practice.  However, one should be able to see at a glance that they often involve the fresh harvest -- what's growing on his farm at this moment:

Notes on these recipes:
The first three are from the original Sunset magazine article.  I suspect that Preston invented the Zucchini Bread with Moroccan Spices after he and his wife Susan toured Morocco on vacation.  I'm intrigued by a Zucchini Bread that isn't a quickbread.

A couple of his Artisan Bread recipes can be found online: one courtesy of Frank Dörenberg of Nonstop Systems, seems to be from Preston in 2001.  Like most of his recipes that one can find online, it isn't made with a sourdough starter, but with a biga (which he claims duplicates part of the sourdough taste).  The other artisan bread recipe was posted posted by Diposkan oleh Angelista di at kindsofrecipes.  Kindsofrecipes also has a recipe for Preston's Raisin Bread.  This is the one recipe that doesn't use a biga, it is a straight yeast dough, and I am surprised.

According to "", the olive-bread is Lou Preston's "favourite bread recipe".  Of course, he grows the olives and herbs on his farm.

Preston's bread recipes have turned up here and there in various recipe books: e.g. he has a sourdough bread recipe in Michele Jordan's "California Home Cooking: 400 Recipes that Celebrate the Abundance of Farm", he is mentioned in Fran Gage's "Bread and Chocolate: My Food Life in and around San Francisco".  

But the recipe book he uses most at home is Sally Fallon's "Nourishing Traditions".  He raises his own pastured sheep, pigs and egg-laying hens, and meals there tend to be memorable -- lots of bloggers have waxed eloquent over them.

I'm glad I did a bit more sleuthing into this Garden Tomato recipe, or I never would have learned about Lou Preston.  There are lots of photos of Lou online, but the very best is one I found of him smiling in front of his brick oven.  Hopefully if I provide enough links, WineTravelAndFood won't make me take it down, because it belongs to them.  You should go there, check out the original:

Preston has been known to donate his produce and bread to the local food bank.  Let's be blunt about it: his is a spiritual lifestyle, consciously chosen.  He talks about how he has developed his identity in his community, in what he does.  But along with that, he has developed character.  He has already done a lot: but as he says on his website, "there is much to do."  He really is an inspiration.

Maybe if ever I'm in Sonoma County, California near Santa Rosa, I'll take a trip to Dry Creek to see what new bread Lou has come up with.   He seems to have the knack of putting the labour of his heart and hand into his land, and the fruit of his land back into his bread.

My Bread
To recap: 
I felt that my first version of Lou Preston's Garden Tomato Bread recipe was possibly the best tasting loaf I had made in 2011.  I made a 100% whole wheat version too, and it was almost as good.  In some ways, it was better, since I included nasturtiums for a peppery taste.  And I retarded the dough for extra flavour.

But I had made those loaves at the end of the tomato season, using the very last of the full-season tomatoes from my garden, and I simply could not see myself making the bread again with store-bought tomatoes.  They just don't have the same freshness and taste.  Without fresh garden tomatoes, this bread would be nothing.

But  with my heirloom tomatoes bursting on the vine again, I felt it was time to make this favourite bread again.

Changes this time
But I made a few changes (mostly through stupidity and/or time constraints).  I cut up a few tomatoes and ended up with 480g of pulp and 7/8cup of juice (191g), when it was pressed into a sieve.  I tossed none of that juice away.  What?  Are you kidding me?  I mixed all the ingredients except the salt and the sourdough and the tomato paste.  My intention was to add the salt and tomato paste together after the short autolyse; but it was after I added the salt and tomato paste that I began to wonder why the bread didn't seem very well hydrated.  Then I realized that I hadn't added any sourdough starter!  I kneaded it in late.  I've never done that before -- but then, usually I add the starter with the water, and this dough doesn't have water, just fresh tomato juice.  So I had forgotten the sourdough.  Until I remembered.

Another change: I couldn't find my sunflower seeds (I know I had them when I was camping, dammit!), so I doubled up on the pumpkin seeds.

And I didn't really measure the herbs, I just picked a bunch and tossed 'em in, going heavy on the parsley.

Finally, I had forgotten also to add my usual 50g of wheat germ to the whole wheat flour.  So I ended up sprinkling some in the banneton before placing my dough to be proofed.  This toasted on top of the loaf during the baking, and gave the bread a toasted wheat germ flavour, on top of all the other interesting scents and tastes.

It was a backwards way of mixing things, to be sure.  "Bread is very forgiving," I thought, as I set the dough in the baskets to prove.  "I hope."

Like the loaf yesterday, I didn't do any Tartine-style stretch and folds or kneading during the bulk fermentation period, I just let the sourdough do all the work of rearranging the gluten structure and raising the dough.  I expected a tighter crumb, less irregular holes.

I gave one of these loaves away to my friend, and kept the other for myself.

Smells great.  Almost sweet smelling, when you slice into it.  The wheat germ, when it toasts, sort of crystallizes, and because the scent is sweet, you almost expect something sugary.  My wife is reminded of raisin bread when she raises it to her nose and takes a bite.  But to me, it doesn't taste overly sweet.  It is full of flavour, however.  Unfortunately there is a slight bitter aftertaste, from my whole wheat, and the bread could have benefited from a longer, retarded fermentation.

This time, the crumb is very dense, and I noticed that it wants to stale faster than I remember.  If I had added the ingredients in the correct order, no doubt I would have had a better crumb structure, as it would have allowed me to stretch and fold it.  Adding the sourdough starter at the end, after the salt, didn't work well.  But the ingredients hold this loaf together.

The taste is still there.  I like this bread with cheese.  You wouldn't want to put peanut butter or an overly sweet jam on it, though.

While I still like this bread, and consider it a good recipe, this loaf made with this recipe wouldn't make the top ten list of breads for 2012.  Not sure if that means I don't like what I did with this recipe this time, or if my ability to bake bread is getting better, or my tastes are changing.  Probably all of the above.

I'd like to try it again.  Right after I try Preston's Leek and Walnut recipe, or one of the others I've uncovered.  Hmm, I wonder how my leeks are coming along in my garden?

Notes to Myself
  • People who know Lou Preston probably think I am pretty stupid, that I hadn't heard of him before.  I suspect he has long been recognized by the baking community as an irrepressible original.  In case you missed it because of all the obscure links, here is the link for Preston Vineyards, which is Lou Preston's main venu.  A lot of his personal story and "mission" can be found there.  But not so much about his bread.  I had to dig for that.
  • Get a copy of Carol Fields "The Italian Baker".  Hey, if it worked for Lou Preston, why won't it work for me?  But then, my interest is whole grain breads.  Haven't seen too many Whole Grain Italian loaves.
  • Consider again making that brick oven in the back yard that you always dreamed about.
  • There are a number of YouTube videos that showcase Lou Preston and his winery, his organic ideas, or his bread. This list is in the order of my interest: 
  • Lou's wife Susan is an artist. She also has a recipe online that I found by searching, and it deserves an honourable mention here: Susan's "chili flavoured butter" recipe, is from "youvegottotastethis".  I would have thought that with all their olive oil, they wouldn't use any butter.  But I'd be wrong.  They also grow chilis, and they use them happily.
  • It may be that the Garden Tomatoes simply make or break this bread.  Without the right variety, you are just not going to achieve the best effect.  Of course they must be fresh; but they also must be juicy, and flavourful, without being overly acidic -- I think.  I admit I know nothing about the pH of my sourdough, or how tomatoes will affect it.  What would be the best heirloom varieties to try with this recipe? 
  • I have linked to a couple of Healdsburg Patch Pages where Lou has blogged.  You may find more, later, linked from this page.
  • I would find links to some old pages where Lou Preston blogged, presumably about organic farming, but these were six years old, and all the links were broken and the pages taken down.  I had already exhausted myself when I discovered them, but they can still be found via the Internet Wayback Machine.  Try this link, for example.  Lou's Musings go back to 2005, and if you browse them, you will get some examples of his style & wit along with a good dose of his interest in organic farming.  You can follow his experiments with bees, and goats, and solar power, and vegetable oil driven tractors, compost tea, whey-based mildew spray for grapes, attending or hosting conferences on sustainability, diatribes against government, curiosity about the natives who walked his land first, etc.  The blogging seems to have stopped in 2006, having achieved its purpose at the time, which was to build a network of like-minded individuals.  Now Lou networks IRL. 
  • I'm not a Twitter user, but Lou is.  Or he was.  It is infrequent.  To me, it looks like he got bored with it, the first of this year.  You can follow his tweets here.
  • Jordan said that Lou Preston had a recipe in"Gourmet Magazine", in the mid 1990's.  I haven't been able to find it, using their online search engineif anyone knows the link, please share the info.

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