Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Why I make bread

The other day I was chatting with my mum and my brother about cooking things "from scratch". The conversation was sparked by my mum having had a bit of a disaster with some pickling cucumbers a few weeks ago, and their conclusion was that they really couldn't be bothered with things like making jam, pickles and (I suspect) bread at home. And I think they are right; not in the sense that these things are never worth doing, but in the sense that these (and other) procedures are not things which home cooks should feel obliged to do or should feel guilty about not doing. If you just want good jam, pickles or bread, then buy some. Jam and pickle making used to be done at home by people who grew their own fruit and vegetables and had to find a way of dealing with a seasonal glut. And bread was generally not made at home at all, but was made by professional bakers for the very good reason that it is difficult, time-consuming and frankly uneconomic to make on a household-by-household basis.

And it doesn't stop there. Recipes in cookery books are littered with instructions to peel and chop ginger, to grind and mix your own spices, to peel tomatoes and so on. Each of these steps may only take a few minutes, but once you add them together the end result can be to turn the job of producing a quick curry into an evening's worth of chopping and grinding. And it's not as if there are no alternatives. To take my examples, you can use minced ginger, good quality spice mixes or curry powders, and tinned peeled tomatoes (or leave the skin on fresh ones). Maybe cooking would seem less intimidating if cookery writers made an effort to reduce the amount of preparatory work involved to a minimum, instead of communicating to their readers the idea that failure to prepare everything from scratch is somehow cheating, and that the end result will inevitably be compromised.

There is, of course, still a strong argument for doing these things at least once - if only so that you can see how much extra work is involved, find out what difference (if any) it makes to the final dish, and decide for yourself which of these procedures is worth following in full and which are best replaced by a shortcut.

So, why do I make bread? It may sound odd, but it is not simply so that I can have bread to eat. In fact, anyone who makes bread at home solely for that reason either lives a very long way from the nearest bakery or hasn't thought about how long it takes to make bread. The only good reason for making your own bread is because you enjoy it - enjoy the physical experience of making and handling dough, enjoy changing the quantities and temperatures involved and observing the effects on the final bread, and enjoy the satisfaction of producing something for yourself. And if you don't enjoy those things, well you shouldn't do them and you shouldn't feel guilty about it either.


Madalen Goiria said...

Tim, ¿Cómo te lo diría? Me ha encantado el post. Creo que es verdad, que siempre debemos hacer lo que hacemos porque creemos en ello.
No me acuerdo de nada que he cocinado este verano "from scratch", pero mi hermano prepara las mejores bainas con tomate del mundo desde la huerta al plato. Y él lo sabe, no importa el tiempo, él se puede tomar toda la mañana. Es su creación, como tu masa de pan.
Un saludo con cariño.

Tim in the Kitchen said...

Hola Madalen. Muchas gracias por tu comentario. ¡Me ha dejado con ganas de comer las bainas con tomato de tu hermano!