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Bread, A Slice Of Life

By Sue Ommen

Mon, Mar 19th, 2012
Posted in All Columnists

Baking bread becomes so much more than flour, yeast, butter and water. Baking bread can transport you back to your grandmother’s kitchen, to childhood at the extended family gathering, to the voice of your father saying, “Pass the rolls.” Baking bread engages the senses, as the smell of the fragrant loaf fills them up, along with the kitchen.

My first adventure with baking bread was in my grandmother’s kitchen in the small house she’d moved to, surrounded by woods and close to her daughters. It was an opportunity to spend time with one of my favorite people and learn a cherished family recipe. I was 19 years old and the experience is still a fond memory. Her delicious rolls are requested at every holiday gathering.

While living in Denver, I worked a few hours every week at an organic food co-op as part of my membership, and was introduced to sourdough bread. There is folklore about the hearty souls who carried starter with them to make the crusty loaves. I caught a past episode of Julia Child on PBS. Her guest was the owner and chef of a San Francisco bakery that was renowned for its sourdough bread. He demonstrated his techniques with more steps than I care to take at this time. Someday I will make a starter and experiment with a new batch of this favorite form of bread.

Once again on Minnesota turf, I decided to try French bread, and invited relatives to share it as part of a homemade meal. The heating element in our rental house oven chose that day to quit. I discovered that running two loaves of bread dough to the neighbors in winter is apt to make them fall into hard rocks.

I’ve always loved kneading the living dough, working out all kinds of frustrations in the process. Baking bread is one of the few experiences that provides exercise, mental health, and a fragrant loaf to devour later. Homemade bread is more natural as well, with a list of ingredients that are recognizable and definitely healthier for you.

Recently, I read an article in the paper about Anna Stoehr, of rural Elgin. She is 111, holds the renowned title of the oldest resident of Minnesota, and is 45th on the validated list of oldest living people in the world. She still lives on the family farm she bought with her husband in 1936, plays the games of 500, Mexican Train, and Scrabble with family members and bakes her own coffee cakes and bread. She claims homemade beats the bread you buy, and I am inclined to agree with her. I have crossed paths with her several times at the birthday parties of her granddaughter, Mary Woods, and she is an example of how most of us would like to live in our elder years.

When bread makers became popular and life too busy, I found it took a short amount of time to throw ingredients into the bread machine and the result was a fairly satisfying bread. Eventually, the bread maker gave its last sigh and quit, ending that era.

Focaccia bread, with herbs and garlic from the garden and Parmesan cheese sprinkled liberally across the top, is another treat I am fond of making. However, Oatmeal Bread is the bread we make most often, published as my recipe in last month’s Sue’s Muse.

Our latest passion is pizza baked in the wood-fired pizza oven my husband finished last year. We first tasted this delicacy at a garden gathering at Lee and Lindsey Lee’s house near Decorah. It has been a learning experience to get the heat right (it takes two hours to heat up the oven) and the recipe refined, as we found a thin Italian style crust and a few toppings works well and tastes incredible. I can already smell the apple wood and the fragrant aroma of the pizza coming fresh from the oven, with the sights of the garden surrounding us, and friends waiting to devour the mouthwatering morsels. Our favorite pizza has a homemade crust, basil pesto sauce, the marvelous flavor of the bacon from Oak Meadow Meats in Harmony, Baby Bella mushrooms, and a variety of cheeses.

Soon, the breezes will blow the warm air of summer onto the landscape and the daffodils that have popped their heads up from the earth will burst the cheer of bright yellow into our spirits. Then we can dream of harvesting our homegrown tomatoes, garlic, and basil to place on top of homemade pizza pies.

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