Bread of the People

I have to confess it’s taken me a while to come around to whole grain breads. I’ve avoided them most of my adult life, as I associate them with the brick-like fruits of my hippie college buddy’s labors. I can still recall the experience of staring down at one of Scott’s fresh-baked loaves, marveling that such sheer density could be achieved by strictly natural means (and wondering whether that weird hashish aroma was coming from him or something he’d put in the bread).

It’s no accident that hippies and whole grain breads go together. The act of making your own bread was considered a subversive act once upon a time. A way of sticking it to the man, but in the privacy of your own home. Though we tend to forget now that the 60’s and 70’s are well behind us, there was once a inescapable political dimension to food preparation, at least among the nation’s cultural revolutionaries. So-called “brown foods” were thought to be morally superior to their white counterparts. Brown rice, brown eggs, brown sugar and tahini good — white rice, white sugar and mayonnaise bad. Yes, eating brown was considered healthier, but it was also a way of showing solidarity with the exploited brown peoples of the world, a sort of protest-on-a-plate (or hand-hewn wooden bowl as the case may be). The rule of course applied to white and whole wheat breads. However since commercial bread producers rapidly discovered that color was more important than content among the more bourgeois revolutionaries of the time, big bakeries simply started producing standard breads dyed with caramel color. Under the hood, these loaves contained nothing more than the oppressor’s usual white flour. No wonder the stuff was so darn tasty.

What I intend this week is a fair representation of wheat bread, perhaps half whole wheat flour and half white flour. There are a number of reason for this, most of them having to do with texture. Whole wheat flours, due to their coarser grind and high bran content, can be tough to get off the ground. However they compensate with deep toasty grain flavors which marry extremely well with sandwich fillings, among them tuna salad, roasted vegetables and dried fruits. Who knows, though? After a look through Peter Reinhart’s Whole Grain Breads, I may well decide to go whole hog. Because truth be told, I’ve come to relish a good, chewy, dark loaf of bread. I may not reach for two slices of 12-grain when I want a PB&J, but count this former white bread suburbanite converted to the cause, man.

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