Or, Seasonal Baking: A “Duh?” Moment
A week after Bob died *, when I realized that we had no bread in the house with which to build a PB&J, I resignedly pulled my breadmaker out, threw in the ingredients for a basic sandwich bread and hit go ** before heading out for the morning with The Boy.
* This would be SpongeBob Sourdough, my bread starter.
** Immediately after hitting “go”, I realized that I hadn’t actually put the paddle on its little stump in the bucket, a fact confirmed by the lack of visible stirring, despite my hearing the motor go about its business. So I reached in, felt around a bit, got the paddle in place and restarted. It’s days like that one that make me question sometimes if I shouldn’t maybe start drinking coffee.
A couple hours later we returned home to the welcome, and lately somewhat rare, smell of fresh-baked bread. As I sliced happily into the loaf (before smearing a slice in jam), my thoughts chimed in, treacherously chastising me about my “cheat” bread.
Why am I such a snob about this stuff?
During the winter months, I’m actually pretty good about baking bread on a (roughly) weekly basis. I make challah, sourdough rye and English muffins, oatmeal bread, and occasionally try other sourdough-leavened loaves (which almost never seem to rise properly, sigh). The fact that in the summer I have so many more daylight hours seems to imply that my bread-baking would be that much more regular, right? Wrong.
If I took the time to sort out the “patterns” of our home, I would notice the following about the summer:
- The Boy and I frequent our farmer’s market, which means we usually come home with at least one loaf of awesome bread, pretty much every week.
- Aside from the fact that we spend a lot more time outside (thus making hourly folding or kneading something of a scheduling nightmare), I really, really have no desire to bake anything at 450F. Especially not on a weekly basis.
- I don’t crave English muffins for breakfasts or snacks the way I do the rest of the year. I’m a lot more inclined to snack on yoghourt, or berries, or just milk, so my bread consumption overall goes down in the hotter months.
Why has it taken me so long to realize this??
It’s not like our household suffers for starch in the summer: we eat potatoes and corn, pretty much as quickly as I can get it on the grill, and given our love of curry, rice is also in regular rotation year-round. Bread, however, falls by the wayside. The Boy’s love of toast — like my English muffin penchant — seems to be a colder weather love; he’ll still tear off hunks of bubbly, open baguette to eat with cheese and summer sausage, but we don’t go through whole loaves of sandwhich-type bread in a matter of days the way we might in January.
Still, there are times when our house manages to be devoid of bread. And on those occasions, I’ve opted for the breadmaker partly out of laziness, but in greater part because it doesn’t heat up the house the way the oven does. Given that our town is in a level two drought, I think that’s reasonable.
Now armed with this knowledge, perhaps I can calm my somewhat all-or-nothing Inner Baker with the following suggestions for seasonal baking:
In the winter, keep baking. Keep Bob alive on the counter, try to make sourdough-leavened breads when possible, and… stay warm. Also, make pretzels more often.
In the summer, retire Bob to the fridge, with a weekly feeding schedule. Or consign his soul to the drain, and mix up a new starter in the fall when the weather cools. (Leaving him on the counter in summer heat is just asking for his jar to be overtaken by some mold or other, and he deserves better that that.) Buy dynamite baguettes and make panzanella and bread pudding with the occasional left-over bits. Should we run out, break out the breadmaker. If that’s too much bread, make breadcrumbs.
For all the focus around us on seasonal eating, I’ve never really thought about what that meant for some of the “staples” of our table. It seems so obvious when I put it in writing, but it honestly didn’t occur to me before this that my baking might shift with the seasons just as much as the produce I eat.
Lately, I’ve been thinking that The Boy and I should be eating more sandwich-type foods in the summer. (If for no other reason than to help consume all the pickles I keep making. But don’t tell him that.) Given that neither of us actually likes bread-slice-sandwiches, however, for me this means finding a way to make naan or pita… without the 500F oven. First experiment: sometime in the next week I’ll be trying to bake naan on the bbq!