Give us our daily bread

During one of my school holidays, I worked in Pegrum’s bakery, the firm that supplied the village I lived in with freshly baked loaves: split tin, cottage, sandwich, milk loaf, cob, farmhouse, baton, brown, white, granary… Those were the days!

The great British sandwich (an antiseptic concoction, according to one of my colleagues) was the food of my youth. Smeared with Bovril, Heinz Sandwich Spread, or Shippams Fish Paste made it the grandest of teas. Or so we thought.

Bread was a staple food of the ancient Egyptians. One of the main agricultural activities in Egypt was producing grain and it is frequently illustrated on tomb walls. When Egypt was part of the Roman Empire, the country served as the main source of grain for Rome.

Italy now has many different kinds of bread, and each province boasts its own variety. One of the most popular comes from Genzano di Roma, situated on the Alban hills south of Rome. Its round loaf, baked in a wood-burning oven, has an unmistakable fragrance.

In 1997 Genzano became one of three towns with the right to label its bread with Italy’s official designation guaranteeing origin, the Indicazione Geografica Protetta (IGP). The other two are Alto Mura in Apulia and Terni in Umbria.

I am learning these interesting details from reading My Bread by Jim Lahey (W.W. Norton, 2009), founder of the Sullivan Street Bakery in New York. Lahey’s philosophy of bread-making can be found in his Introduction:

“Good bread should be a masterpiece of contrast, crackling as you bite through the browned, malty-smelling crust, then deeply satisfying as you get to the meaty, chewy crumb with its distinct wheaten, slightly acidic taste. And that’s precisely the sort of loaf you’ll produce at home with my method… The recipe is so simple and forgiving it’s practically foolproof.”

I can still smell working in a bakery. It transcends time.

Published by

Philip Lee

Writer and musician who tries to join up the dots.

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