Saturday, September 10, 2011

Bread - The Staff of Life

Bread is one of the most commonly eaten foods in the world.  Basic bread is simply flour (of almost any sort) mixed with water and then cooked in some manner (baking, frying, boiling, steamed, or whatever).  Extra ingredients such as salt, yeast, sugar, milk, egg, fruits and nuts, etc. add flavors and textures.  Every culture seems to have its own type of bread.  In the US, white bread is the most common though almost all others are available if you know where to look.

As the prices for ingredients, transportation costs, several layers of middlemen, and other factors go up so has the price of bread. When I was a kid in the 1960's a loaf of plain old white bread was about 20-24 cents for a one pound loaf. Yes, a quarter was worth more back then.  If you found a quarter you were a rich kid.  A quarter could buy you five candy bars, or 25 pieces of penny candy, or a bottled soda and a pack of cupcakes, or a McDonalds hamburger and a drink.

In July 2011, The national average retail price of white bread was $1.513, up 2.3¢ per lb from June and up 15.3¢ from July 2010. In 2007 there were widespread "Tortilla Riots" in Mexico when the price of a basic food commodity, tortillas, increased by 50% to 8.43 pesos a kilo (2.4 pounds).  In 2010 they increased again to 12 pesos (about one US dollar) per kilo.  This was mainly caused by the steep increase in corn prices partly in response to diversion of millions of pounds of corn to the ethanol industry.  Farmers' costs for seed, fertilizer, and fuel are not likely to go down any time soon so grain prices will continue to go up.  But farmers' costs are only a small portion of the price increases the consumer is having to deal with. All the processors and handlers in between the farmer and your supermarket add their costs and that is what is killing you at the checkout counter.  What can you do?

You have a couple options and all of them require work on your part.  One option is to find a discount store that sells "day old" bread.  Supermarkets only keep "fresh" bread on the shelves for so many days and then it gets pulled and replaced by new product.  That "old" bread goes to secondary markets such as Big Lots and the various Dollar Stores.  Most of the major bakeries (Holsum, Sunbeam, Pepperidge Farm, Arnold, etc) all have bakery outlets in the towns where they have bakeries or distribution centers.  I grew up on products from the Day Old bread outlet on Lehigh Street in Allentown.  If my mom bought stuff there it had to be cheap; she was raising five hungry kids.

Second option is to buy various types of flour and bake your own bread.  I have owned and used two or three bread machines over the years and the product they produced was a bit heavy but very delicious.  There is nothing better than fresh bread that finished baking a few minutes before the meal. You can let the machine do all the work or you can let it form the dough and then bake it in your own oven for a better shaped loaf. The nice thing about a bread machine is you can add whatever ingredients you want to create bread with specific nutritional content.  The price of bread machines has come down to the point where the pay-back point is probably pretty quick.  The unit shown here is only $59.00.  They do use electricity so there is a continuing cost to operate.  You can bake bread from any kind of flour and people with gluten allergies can still enjoy bread made from beans, dried peas, acorns, rice, and other non-grain flours. Some of these flours will not rise without adding other ingredients but you can search for that on your own. Search for bread machine

At the store you will see racks of flour for different baking needs.  There are bags of flour that say, "Better for Bread".  This is flour with a higher protein and gluten content.  It is the strands of protein and gluten that allow bread to rise. These flours are a little better but if they cost more they aren't really worth the price.  I like a heavy bread with texture so I feel like I am eating something; I'm not too fond of the light and airy breads. Do not waste your money on the pre-mixed bread machine flours.  There is nothing magical about them and they almost always cost significantly more than plain flour. Buy yourself (or go to the libray and borrow) a bread machine cookbook and make your own special bread mixes.  Write down what works well with the machine and ingredients that you have access to and go from there.

If you want to save even more money, and have a much more nutritious end product, you can buy your own grain and grind your own flour.  Flour mills are not cheap; you will pay somewhere in the neighborhood of $180 - $300 depending on the type and quality of the mill.  A good mill, taken care of, will last 15-20 years easily.  The better ones are solidly built.  Most of them are very loud.  When milling flour, you should only mill what you are going to use within a few days.  Once a grain is ground to flour it is exposed to much more oxygen because of the larger surface area and destruction of the protective bran.  This quickly starts to degrade the nutrients.  Put any leftover flour in an airtight container and store it in the fridge. I have never used a home kitchen flour mill so I can't say much about them but I have used small industrial mills at a farm I once worked for.  We made a corn flake type product for feeding the cattle and we often ate a bowl fresh out of the mill and it was incredibly tasty.

Where do you get the grain to mill? Well, the easy place is a whole food store or health food store.  Many of them carry whole grains.  But you will pay a premium "hippie" price for the product.  Those stores mainly cater to a certain clientel that is willing to pay the price for "green", organic, or unusual foods.  Nothing wrong with that unless you are trying to Feed Yourself During Hard Times for less $$. Next option is to find out where the bread companies in your area buy their grains.  You can check online of course. An often overlooked source is your local feedmill.  Grains fed to livestock are just as good as what you will get from more traditional sources for human consumption.  You might have to clean a little more chaff out of it but otherwise it is fine to use. I highly recommend freezing your grain before you use it or store it to kill any insects.  Yes, there are insects in grain, including in the bread you have been eating all your life.

Glen Novinger's Dad Picking Corn
If corn bread and tortillas are your thing, and they are the easiest breads to make, feed corn, or field corn as we called it, is the same no matter the source.  This is one grain that you can grow and harvest yourself if you have a little bit of land and some time.  My family had a corn planter but not a corn harvestor.  In the fall, after the corn had dried on the stalk, my two sisters and I walked up and down the rows and picked many acres of corn by hand.  Nothing was left behind and wasted as when you use machinery to pick it. It is a bit of work but it was a nice time to talk and work outdoors after school and on the weekends.  "Corn Picking Bees" is what they used to be called and all corn was harvested this way years ago.  Some places still do it as a way of remembering the old farm ways.

LeMars Globe Post

Harvest corn at Raby farm
    A corn picking bee was held Nov. 10 at the home of Mrs. Chester Raby 9 miles west of Merrill. There were 10 pickers and 100 acres of corn was picked.
Mrs. Raby wishes to extend thanks to the many kind friends and neighbors who assisted with the picking, and helped in any other way since the death of her husband.
    Men who helped were Myrls Goodrich, Russel Anderson, Leonard Brown, Lyle Regan,
Roy Dreezen, Alvin Altrill, Harry Attrill, Herb Raby, Delbert Raby, Robert Fraser, Clarence Gloyer, Lawrence Hecht, Dennis Hecht, Wendell Parry, Ray Hoffman, John Blackmore, Charlie Rosenow, William De Rocher, Billy De Rocher. Jerry Dewey, Duane Dewey, Marvin Juzek, Charlie Juzek,  Earl Orr, Harold Beaulieu, Earl Graham, Wayne Lias, Paul Rollins, Alva Rollins, Armand Brown, Glen Trometer, Francis Baker, George Lehmann, Elmer Petty, Barwich Implement, Ralph Latham.

    Women who provided food and helped with the meals were Mrs. Henry Beaulieu, Mrs.
Pauline Lias, Mrs. Wendell Parry, Mrs. Harold Beaulieu, Mrs. Orel Banks, Mrs. Charles
Knapp, Mrs. Marvin Juzek, Mrs. Charlie Juzek. Mrs. Lester Dewey, Mrs.Charlie Rosenow, Mrs. Herb Raby, Mrs. Dennis Hecht, Mrs.Glen Trometer, Mrs. William
De Rocher, Mrs. Duane Dewe and Mrs. Robert Fraser.
    Others helping were Paul Bay, Faye Smitt, Don Waterbury, Loren Thurirger and Dolly Palmer who provided folding chairs.

1 comment:

  1. I bake a lot of our bread during the cooler months. Nearly all when I was not working. I enjoy kneading bread but have used a bread machine for the convenience now that I am working. My machines burned out so that both machines will only get me through the first rise. That's okay because I like the loaves shape when I use any of a number of bread pans I own. A favorite is a terra-cotta one that looks like a braid. By making my own breads I am able to cut back on the butter and salt required and still get a good loaf. I love to experiment with flavors. Dried dip mixes when added make flavorful breads as do dried fruits, nuts and cocoa. When an experiment fails as a good bread I will make croutons, bread puddings or bread crumbs from it. No waste. I would like to make tortillas but strange as this may sound I have an awful time with a rolling pin. Right now I don't even think I own one, anymore, since I hate using them.