How did you start baking bread?
Bread baking used to be at the heart of a family's kitchen, so 50 years ago, a thread on this question would have been plenty boring -- just reams and reams of "My mom taught me." But in the middle of the last century, bread baking moved out of the home and into the factory, only recently returning to a few domiciles here and there. So I thought it might be worth starting a thread.
Anyway, here's my story. In graduate school, I was flirting with vegetarianism for two reasons. First, meat was expensive and I had precious little cash. But second, it seemed to be the moral and healthy thing to do. I later went back to eating fish and poultry, but at the time, I thought I was in it for the long-haul, hard-core. So I busily devoured all the vegetarian cookbooks I could find. Naturally, (pun intended), I found Laurel's Kitchen. She makes a big deal in the book about making whole wheat bread, a task that I'd not considered before. Imagine, roughly $1.00 for five loaves of tasty, wholesome bread! What could be better?
So, I proofed the active dry yeast, mixed all the ingredients together, and kneaded, and kneaded and kneaded. And waited for the dough to rise. And waited. And waited. And waited. Finally, I lost hope and baked my doorstop.
I imagine that the culprit was the cheap whole wheat flour I'd bought at the Food Lion. Winston-Salem, NC (home of RJR Tobacco) is not known as a health food mecca, and I'd not be surprised if that flour had been sitting on that shelf since the previous summer. I didn't know that, however, so I just assumed bread baking was beyond my abilities.
Flash forward 12 years to a vacation in Vermont. A friend of mine had made some in-freaking-credible chocolate cookies for a contra dance I'd attended a month before, and when I asked where he'd gotten the recipe, he said from the King Arthur Flour Baker's Companion. Being a Southern boy transplanted to New England, I'd not heard of King Arthur Flour. White Lily and Pillsbury were the extent of my flour knowledge. So when I saw that very book in the gift shop of the Cabot Creamery, I figured, "What the heck?" and picked it up. I never intended to bake bread.
That was October 2005. But by January 2006, I'd convinced myself after having read the bread-baking chapter that this bread baking thing might not really be too hard. My oven gave birth to a brick a week later, but I was determined, and my next effort was loftier. (Part of my problem was that I was determined to make at least a 50% whole wheat loaf.) Once I was able to make a decent yeasted sandwich loaf, I decided that the sourdough section didn't look too hard either. And so, in Feburary ... well, that's how I got started anyways. Now I've got a pantry with about 120 lbs of whole wheat, rye and corn, a dozen bread baking books, a grinder, a spaghetti jar of instant yeast in the fridge, and two sourdough starters (Arthur the whole-wheat starter and Rhonda Rye), plus a whole host of other gadgets.
So, how about you?