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Thursday, March 7, 2013

Another of the ol' standbys; and the Genesis of Bread

Another ww sourdough loaf, and another 20% rye sourdough loaf with spice

85% hydration proved to be a bit too much for the last loaf, so I backed off the quantity of water to 80% for these loaves.  

100% Whole Wheat Sourdough Bread

20% Rye, 80% Whole Wheat with Bread Spice and Chunky Sourdough Starter

The first dough was simply a 100% whole wheat bread, freshly ground grains.  It used the usual Tartine amounts:

  • 100% ww flour, finely ground
  • 20% ww sourdough
  • 2% seasalt
  • 80% water

The second dough was a 20% rye, 80% ww loaf, freshly ground from grains.  At the same time I ground the grain, I also ran through about 20g (2%) of my home-made bread spice, i.e. freshly ground:

Cumin: Fennel Anise: Coriander, in the ratio 10:6:6:2

This imparted a wonderful scent to the warm freshly milled grain, which continued on throughout the baking.

Furthermore, the sourdough I used for this bread was made from fairly chunky, almost merely cracked wheat berries.  I did this deliberately, to see if the larger chunks might impart an interesting texture to the entire bread.  I was happy with the results, and I'd like to experiment more with this sort of thing, for different multigrain effects.

  • 80% ww flour, finely ground
  • 20% rye flour, finely ground
  • 20% ww sourdough, coarsely ground
  • 2% bread spice, finely ground
  • 2% seasalt
  • 80% water
Heaven's Eye view of the WW bread

Heaven's Eye view of the 20% Rye loaves

The Bread of Genesis
I've looked at the genesis of bread since my first blog entry.  This story is fairly familiar to me, by now: how agriculture started in the middle east with the domestication of grain, the congregation of people in towns and villages and cities, supported by farmland that was nourished by river floodplains; the discovery, in Egypt, of fermentation of grain, which gave us bread; the wide dispersion of the bread-making technology via the Greek artisans, and in the path of Roman armies; how it rode with the advance of civilization and thought, through the middle ages, kept alive by farmers and artisans, monks, peasants and kings; and how modern corporations have created new bread-making technologies to provide bread cheaply on an industrial scale.  And now, the kings of the corporate world have patented various DNA sequences and are poised to insert them into the seed of grain marked for bread, to feed the hungry billions of people expected to populate the earth.

Today I look at the bread of Genesis.  And the entire story of bread that I have just related, a nutshell history of bread, is there, in seed form, in the first book of the Bible.

Genesis is a highly compressed version of history.  Many of the most memorable stories of the Hebrew Bible are found here.  The span of centuries is immense, and the language is rich with metaphor.  The story of bread is found here, too.

I. Bread is a curse
The first mention of bread in the Bible is Genesis 3:19, and clearly it is part of God's curse upon humanity for the sin of disobedience.  God says,

Because you have listened to the voice of your wife,and have eaten of the tree about which I commanded you, saying            'You shall not eat from it,'the ground shall be cursed because of you;you shall eat of it in sorrow all the days of your life.And it shall bring forth thorns and thistles for you,and you shall eat the plant of the field.By the sweat of your faceyou shall eat breaduntil you return to the ground.For you have been taken out of it;for you are dust,and to dust you shall return.

Much thought has been expended on why God would not want mankind to eat of the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil.  Why indeed would God not want His creation to know good and evil, and learn to discriminate between them?  Perhaps it is because from the very beginning, man has shown through disobedience that knowing good and evil is not enough to ensure compliance with God's will.  In any case, once turned out of Eden, humans would now have to fend for themselves.  They would no longer have all their wants and needs fulfilled.  They would have to work for their bread.

The Hebrew word for bread in this earliest account is the 3-letter word lechem.  It refers to all food, but especially to bread or the grain for making bread.  The root of the word is Chaldean, referring to feasting.  The act of devouring soon became a metaphor for battle, or war.  Bread is a curse indeed.

II. Bread is a Ritual
The next time we hear of bread in the Bible, is when Melchizedik brings forth bread and wine to celebrate Abram's victory over Chedorlaomer, king of Elam at Hobah, north of Damascus (Gen 14:18).  Now, Melchizedik was not only King of Salem (perhaps an earlier name for Jerusalem?), he was also priest of God Most High, before there was ever a temple, and Abram gave him a tithe.

From this time on, Bread became part of the rituals of priests: the "Shewbread" was a symbol of God's power in battle over all enemies and a celebration of his victory in the field.

III. The First Bread Recipe is for God
The same character, now named Abraham, has a visitation from three curious personages, while Abraham is relaxing in his old age by his oak grove at Mamre (Gen 18:5).  Somehow, Abraham recognizes these three not merely as angels, but as God Himself.  He tells them, "rest yourselves under the tree while I fetch a morsel of bread that you may refresh yourselves, and after that you may pass on."  Turning to his elderly wife Sarah, he gives her the recipe for an ashcake that he intends on offering to the strange trio:  "Make ready three measures [seahs] of fine [soleth] meal [gemach], knead it [loosh] and make hearthcakes. ['uggah]."  The bread is to be made hurriedly, and is evidently some sort of flatbread, made on the stones surrounding the home fire.  The visitors approve; and while eating their bread, they make the famous but absurd prophecy that Abraham will become the father of a huge multitude.  So wild is this prophecy, that Abraham's wife laughs at the thought of it.

Shortly thereafter, a similar visitation occurs in Sodom, to Abraham's nephew Lot and his family (Gen 19:4).  Lot also offers the curious visitors bread, and lodging, including protection from the sodomites outside his door.  Because of his faithfulness to his guests, he and his family alone are spared from the destruction of the wicked city.  This time, the bread is called unleavened cakes [matstsah], and they are baked ['aphah].  Matza has been called "the Mother of Bread," perhaps because of its utter simplicity in ingredients and method.  Here, the idea of a Matsa is not merely that it be made hurriedly, but that it is sweet -- it is not to be soured by natural leaven.  It is greedily devoured.  The word itself comes from the root "matsats,"itself a very ancient word meaning 'to suck milk.'

Bread becomes a symbol of what may be offered to God as a proof of righteousness and faithfulness, and here it has become an acceptable exchange for one's life, and for immeasurable profit and increase.

IV. Bread and the Birthright
Bread features prominently in Genesis's stories of birthrights and blessings.  Abraham gives bread to his wife's slavegirl Hagar, and her son by him Ishmael, just before he banishes them into the wilderness (Gen. 21:14).  God does save the girl and her son, and Ishmael's descendants have survived to this day to rejoin the argument over ownership of the promised land.

A generation after Abraham, Jacob and Esau argue over their birthright, and Esau sells his birthright for a single luncheon of bread and a pottage of red lentils (Gen 25:34).  Bread is also part of the deception of Rebekah and Jacob, who collude to obtain the blessing of birthright from blind Isaac.  Bread and savoury meats is the meal offered to Jacob's father, that he might convince him that he is Esau and is deserving of the mysterious blessing (Gen 27:17).

The result of the subterfuge, however, is the enmity of siblings, and Jacob's flight.

V. Bread and the Covenant
Bread was also on Jacob's mind, and part of his bargain struck with God, when he made a vow near Haran, following his famous dream of seeing angels upon the ladder (Gen 28:20).  He posed his covenant to God in these terms, which remind me of a computer algorithm:
           { God provided bread and clothing }
           { the Lord would be his God }
           { he would tithe}

A couple of chapters later, Jacob has served his father-in-law Laban for 20 years, and has taken as wife both Leah and Rachel.  He departs again for the country of Gilead, but Laban pursues him and catches up with him.  After accusing Jacob of theft, he finds no proof.  The two men eventually come to an agreement, sealing it with a stone pillar and heap of stones, and a meal of bread (Gen 31:54).

Along with the named pillar, the mountaintop meal of bread becomes a witness to the event, the symbol of a covenant sealed.

V. Bread as the Source of Political Power
The Hebrew identity that was formed at the Exodus is preceded by the complex tale of Joseph and his brothers in Genesis, by which we learn precisely how the people of Israel ever ended up in Egypt to begin with.  The entire story can be viewed through the growing trope of bread.

Joseph's brothers conspire to kill him, but before they do, they throw him into a pit and sit down to eat bread together.  While eating bread, they conceive of a more profitable plan: they will sell him into slavery into Egypt (Gen 37:25).  Bread thus becomes a calming influence, it settles the wild and violent passions, and it inspires new ideas.  And thus the roadmap for the entire tribe thereafter is placed before them.

Joseph performs his duties for his Egyptian master Potiphar so well that Potiphar has "no concerns for anything but the bread which he ate."  The increase in profit that Joseph brings to his household leads to Joseph interpreting the Pharoah's famous dream.  After seven years of plenty, there are seven years of famine.  All the earth begins to starve -- except for Egypt, where, due to Joseph's foresight of storing grain during times of plenty, everyone had bread (Gen 41:54-55).  Egypt became the storehouse for other nations who came to purchase grain, and the wealth of nations became concentrated in Egypt -- all due to bread.

When Joseph's brothers come to buy grain, Joseph meets them, and they eat bread together (Gen 43:25;31).  Bread is the feast of reunion, and ultimately, forgiveness.

But the Hebrews and the Egyptians ate separately -- because eating bread with the  Hebrews was an abomination to the Egyptians (Gen. 43:32).  Bread is thus a symbol of cultural and tribal separation.

Bread was part of the gift that Joseph sent back with his brothers for his father Jacob (Gen 45:23).  It is the symbol of love, of hope, of family, of promise.

When Jacob moves his entire household to Egypt, Pharaoh settles them in the best of the land, in Goshen, and Joseph provides bread for all (Gen 47:12).  Bread is the symbol of plenty.

The famine continues, and all Egyptians, and people of all nations spend all their money, then give all their livestock, and finally sell themselves into slavery, for the sake of bread from Joseph's stores (Gen 47:13, 15, 17, 19).  So Joseph thereby bought all the land of Egypt for the Pharaoh -- all except for the land still owned by the priests.  Joseph gave the people seed -- enough for them to grow grain on the land, but henceforth 1/5th of the harvests would be taxed, and given back to the Pharaoh.

Because of bread, individuals were willing to give up their autonomy, and accept a government and single ruler; because of bread, the wealth of nations was consolidated and concentrated into the hands of a single powerful person;  because of bread, the eternal slavery of taxation began.  Those who control the distribution of bread end up ruling the entire known world.

From this moment on, following the curse of bread, bread now orders the world's political hierarchy.

VI. Bread as a Promise of Future Happiness
Before Genesis ends, Jacob on his deathbed speaks a long prophecy regarding his sons.  The ninth son is Asher, a son of Jacob by Zilpah, Leah's handmaid.  Rachel named him Asher, which means "happy," or "blessing."  Asher's prophecy is shorter than most, and may go unnoticed among the more interesting prophecies of his brothers: "Asher's bread shall be rich (literally, 'his bread shall be fat')," Jacob said, "and he shall yield royal dainty (i.e. he will provide delicate food for kings)."  

Of course the prophecy refers to the tribe that grew from Asher's descendants.  Those who have bread are carefree; those who feed kings become powerful and influential.

Bread began in the book of Genesis as a curse, but it ends the book as a promise of future blessing.  

Results of my Bread
This bread makes me happy.  Unlike its most ancient relative, the matzo, my bread is leavened, of course, by sourdough -- and it is full of flavour.

I didn't stretch and fold these doughs quite as much as the Tartine method calls for, but I did knead them for about 5 minutes each instead.  The gluten was not as well developed as it could have been -- or so I thought.  I fell asleep and awoke 4 hours later to bake them, despite which they turned out pretty nice.

The bread with rye in it didn't undergo a bench rest before being placed in the proofing basket, and so the gluten cloak wasn't as tight as I would have liked.  It did flatten out in the basket, but it too saw a fairly nice oven spring.

Crumb of 20% Rye loaf

Crumb of 100% WW loaf

It is my curse that I love bread.  It is my blessing that I am able to make bread, and share bread, and eat bread.

May all be fed.

Notes to Myself
  • Perhaps I'll continue looking at bread in the Bible. Perhaps not. The last time I said I'd work my way through a book, it was Reinhart's Whole Grain Breads. I soon grew tired of that. Maybe someday I'll get back to it though, who knows?

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