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January 2018



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Getting the most out of your food

I recently watched a documentary about four college boys who spent the summer in Guatemala trying to live on $1 a day. One of the things their neighbors taught them was that they had to spring for the lard to add to their food, and they had to mash the beans to get all the calories out of them. This reminded me that Indian food has a special word for beans that have been skinned, dal. When people are living close to the edge getting the starch out of it's protective skin can mean the difference between life and death. This got me thinking about the many African and Caribbean dishes that involved pounding a root vegetable into a paste. Vegetables have hard cell walls and this pre-pulverizing is important. In Asia rice and millet are pounded into a paste and made into balls and noodles. What food do Europeans pound into a pulp? Wheat! Bread is our pre-pulverized staple.

This got me thinking about the origins of bread and beer. It's difficult to imagine how a process as complicated as bread could have evolved. But if you realized that people were already in the habit of pulverizing their food the development of bread is almost inevitable. It begins with pulverizing the grain and mixing it with water before cooking it. Mashed grains can be eaten as porridge or cooked on hot stones as flat breads (or tortillas). Mashed grains mixed with water will begin to ferment fairly quickly. Wheat has the gluten to catch the fermentation gasses and rise, producing our bread, and if you leave the wheat mash overnight it will develop it's own gluten without kneading. The Egyptians used a sourdough started method of bread production (we know because they wrote it down). That means they kept part of each batch of mush to start the next batch, which would also facilitate the gluten formation process.

People could see that fermenting plants turn into alcohol. It would happen every fall when the ripe fruit started fermenting and all the animals started getting drunk. Once you see, and smell, the grain mush bubbling it should not be hard to figure out that it will produce the same effects.

Speaking of bubbling mush. I made Lentil soup for dinner tonight. Lentil soup is great for summer because it tastes wonderful even when it is cold. Once it is done cooking I can put it in the fridge and have something to eat whenever I'm hungry. That reminds me I should make a pot of ratatouille, that taste good cold too.


French boulanger Lionel Poilane described his bread as "solid beer" if I remember correctly (from a long-ago article in the Smithsonian magazine about Poilane bread... stone-ground flour, natural fermantation, wood-fired ovens...)...
The discussion about the relationship between bread and beer is old and hardly originated with me. The debate is over which came first. I'm going with flat bread came first. But was probably followed very closely by beer. Risen bread probably came later, it required high gluten, hard, wheat.
Very interesting!
Thank you, that was very interesting and informative.
You are welcome :)