The Fresh Loaf

News & Information for Amateur Bakers and Artisan Bread Enthusiasts

Greetings from Wintery New York State

MaryinHammondsport's picture
MaryinHammondsport

Greetings from Wintery New York State

Hi:

I’ve been reading TFL for about a month now, and have participated a little bit, but haven’t yet introduced myself. Here goes!

I’m a 71 year-old woman who has partially lost the use of fine motor skills in both hands and feet, so the two loves of my recent life -- needlework and gardening -- are pretty much out. I’ve baked all my life, so I decided that upgrading my skills and learning all I can in this area will keep me off the streets.

So much of my thinking, recently, has been about a lady named Pauline Washburn, who lived a couple of miles down the road from us when I was growing up. This was in Western New York State in the Finger Lakes with Rochester a couple of hours away, so when my parents went in to the city I went home from school with the Washburn kids, and stayed the night. I remember Mrs. Washburn’s baking -- 6 loaves at a time. Probably all white bread (I’m not sure of that) but definitely full of rich fresh milk and eggs, and each loaf almost the perfect twin to the next. I suspect she baked 3 or 4 times a week or so; she had a huge family and I know some people also bought bread from her -- my mother did. The thing that boggles me is that she did this on a wood kitchen range. She had lots of practice, but regulating the heat in one of those is a real art. And of course, she mixed and kneaded by hand, and proofed in a drafty kitchen. I remember she had a special cupboard near the stove for proofing.

I’m all for the technical side of baking; I’ve recently been using baker’s percentages and find they are very helpful. I love reading about baking, and am collecting books. I’m a new recipe hound. But at the same time, I look back at Mrs. Washburn, with the wet laundry hanging in the kitchen in the winter, orphan lambs underfoot or in boxes behind the stove because that’s what you have to do to save them, the egg gathering, vegetable gardening, canning and preserving, churning, washing and ironing, cleaning, cooking, mending, and all the rest on top of the baking, and I shake my head. I get myself into a frazzle if my oven temperature isn’t just right and worry about how to calculate the percentages in the whole loaf when using a sourdough starter. Then I think of Pauline, and say to myself, “Mary, just bake the darned stuff! If it turns out, fine. If not, it’ll still be edible.”

Seriously, I do think this is a great site and a terrific community. I want to thank, first, Floyd for creating it, and everyone else for all the great ideas they bring and the willingness to make someone else’s problems their own. I probably won’t contribute much often, because that’s not my style, but I am reading every word.

Best to everyone,

Mary in Hammondsport
(Back in the Finger Lakes after many miles and many years)

AnnieT's picture
AnnieT

Mary, welcome to TFL! This is the place to read, learn and inwardly digest (I think it was our minister who said that) as well as to share your successes and problems with the group. No question too simple for the friendly Loafers. I am a year behind you in age and only recently became obsessed with bread. I try to give most of it away (doctor's orders) but still get a thrill with each loaf. Happy baking - Spring can't be too far away, A.

dan_olo's picture
dan_olo

Hi Mary.  I'm new here too and you're right, this is a fantastic site.  It was great to read your story, thanks for sharing!

kayemme's picture
kayemme

I feel the same way about most things, that it's fun to have all the technical stuff but when it comes right down to it, just "bake it off."

a story:

After starting the starter and feeding it and coddling it all day, I thought I'd give it a whirl! Really see what it can do!

So sort of half following the directions (only a stupid idea because now I don't really know how I pulled this off) I mixed I think a cup of flour and a half cup of water with a cup of starter and a hefty pinch of salt - I think.


I let it rise for 2 hours, but it didn't get very big, so I let it sit in the oven overnight. This morning it had more than doubled, so I turned it onto the bench, lightly floured (very very lightly floured) and gave it a knead or two.

I shaped it into a ball and placed it in my 8" cast iron skillet that had been dusted with corn meal. I let it rise in the oven for 3 hours, but it only rose maybe 50%. Disappointed, I took it out of the oven, sprayed it and thought "Aw, hell.. I'll just bake it off and see what happens."

Because I wasn't really into it, I wasn't paying attention to the directions and heated the oven to 400 instead of 450. I let it heat up for a half hour, then slashed the top and put it in. I checked it after 5 minutes, sprayed it with water and noticed it hadn't a lot of oven spring then realized the 50d difference. I turned the oven up to 450. Wow! The loaf sprung right into action, doubling almost immediately. I was shocked. The kitchen started to smell... good! Like *really* good.

And when I took it out.. this is what I got! A+! Golden Ticket! Blue Ribbon! Shiny Star! This is better sourdough than I've had in years - the only loaf I can immediately think that would rival it was served at a place our friend Joe took us to in San Francisco - and it was a pretty nice place. I wish I could remember the name of that place cuz they had a Lobster Pot Pie that rocked immensely - and at the time, lobster was one of my least favorite things to eat.


The crust is chewy and crackly and thin - delightfully thin. The crumb is buttery (without ANY butter) and soft with big, glossy, airy holes. I couldn't be more ecstatic.

 

i wanted to share this story with you because it fits the tone of just doing something off the cuff. Initially, I expected to be disappointed with the result, but still would eat it or make it into breadcrumbs or something... but i was surprised at what a bounty came from just going with it... and lucky us!

 

thanks again for your story. I'm looking forward to more of your posts.

 

mkelly27's picture
mkelly27

Both of you fine ladies get my utmost respect for your return to the love of bread baking after all of these years.

  Please admonish me if I am making an incorrect assumption, but both of you are of sufficient experience to remember when home baking was the rule rather than the exception.  Then a number of years later, no one would be caught dead baking their own bread.  How does our return to home baking fit in with your experiences.  Is it truly "everything old is new again?"

_______________________________________________________

Redundancy is your friend, so is redundancy

AnnieT's picture
AnnieT

Have to admit I looked over my shoulder to see who the "fine lady" was - and I'm assuming it was me? I won't admonish you because although I am old enough no home bread baking happened when I was growing up. This was during the war (WW2, not the Crimean!) when the flour was probably healthy but not attractive. I think Qahtan also remembers the National Flour? I don't remember my mother ever baking bread. Scones and griddle cakes but nothing with yeast. I have told before how the baker would deliver bread in a horse drawn cart; the loaves were big and crusty "pan" loaves. My earliest bread making was Bernard Clayton's Cuban Bread, the one with 2 packets of yeast so it rose like crazy after being placed in a cold oven. I even taught friends to make it. This latest obsession began after a friend sent me a copy of the New York Times No Knead Bread article. Many bread books and scales and a thermometer and a dough hook and bannetons later I am having so much fun. So thrilled to have found TFL and know that some kind soul will calm me down and set me straight when I have a problem - like the couple of duds recently. Just took a lovely sourdough boule from the oven - if I could be sure every loaf would be this good I might think about entering one in the County Fair. Too bad you can't cut it to be sure the crumb is as it should be, A.

mkelly27's picture
mkelly27

How very interesting.  My wife was born in Wales, and her father is right about your speed as far as years gone by.  He looks at me funny when I describe my bread hobby.  It was always delivered, except when he was sent to the country during the war. (I know, not the Crimean! lol) I just finished reading an older book called "The Blessing of Bread" it seems to have been written in the British Isles in the '70's.  It gave a real good historical perspective on bread across the water so to speak.  Nice to meet you.

_______________________________________________________

Redundancy is your friend, so is redundancy

AnnieT's picture
AnnieT

mkelly, sorry, I should have explained that I grew up in England - hence the baker's cart! A.

MaryinHammondsport's picture
MaryinHammondsport

Thanks for the welcome, Annie, Dan, Kayemme, and mkelly. Kayemme gave me a good chuckle with her story about the bread adventure where so much went wrong and yet the bread was fine. It's a terrific object lesson, and great looking bread.

MKelly, you aren't making a false assumption at all. My earliest memories go back to immediately before Pearl Harbor. At that time, a lot of people were still suffering from the Depression, and especially in rural areas, bread baking was a way of life. I doubt, however, if my paternal grandmother, who lived in the city, had baked for 20 years or so. My maternal grandmother was still baking a lot when she lived with us in the late l940s. My Mom didn't bake bread, but she made a mean pie crust. She bought bread, from the lady down the road, because Mother had her hands full tending a garden, canning and preserving, milking 14 goats, raising chickens and ducks, etc. She then went back to teaching in about 1950, and most of that went by the board.

On the other hand, somewhere in the 60s, she bought herself a bread-making machine by Priscilla Ware, so it must have been on her mind. (I still have it.) It's a bucket with a snap-on lid and a crank that turns the dough hook. It is supposed to be held in a ring that suction cups to a table, but the few times we have used it, it has been a two-person job; one person holding the thing in place and the other turning the crank. I'll take my Kitchen Aid.

I know that the 'alternate lifestyle" folks got heavily into bread-making in the l960s, but I'm the wrong generation for that, even though I was known for killer clover-leaf rolls when I was in high school and baked regular bread occasionally after that. I even tried sourdough in the late 1960s.

However -- I think the current interest in bread is somethng entirely different, at least for many folks. For them (actually, I should say for us, because I count myself in the group) it's become a hobby or a craft, and an emotional outlet. It wasn't that before; it was survival. Not that I think breadmaking as a craft is anything to scoff at--it beats a lot of hobby/obsessions and besides the results are edible. It's such instant gratification, and additionally, there is always something new to learn.

I agree, "there is no new thing under the sun"; I just think that most of us are baking for a different set of reasons, now. That said, I have neighbors here who still bake every week, because they grew up doing it and find it economical and practical. Thinking of one of them; she would be quite amused at all my experiments; baking for her is not a hobby, it's putting food on the table cheaply and efficiently.

So I guess my answer to your question that I never went away from baking for long, but I never had to do it, either. That's a big difference.

Mary in Hammondsport

 

 

mkelly27's picture
mkelly27

Mary, thank you for the reply in reflection of your bread experiences.  I grew up in the Pocono Mts. outside of Scranton and I remember my grandmother scolding my mother for not baking her own breads  (circa 1965 or so)  My mother told her it was better to buy it than make it, ala "Wonderbread advertising".  These days I am part hobbyist and part pragmatist as my wife and I always have excellent fresh bread on the counter. I usually bake 6-8 loaves/weekly and am very generous in supporting our friends and co-workers with their bread habits.  Strangely enough the only recipe I haven't given much attention till now is simple white burger and hot dog rolls.  I tend to shy away from bread recipes with a lot of ingredients.  K.I.S.S.

 

nice to meet you, Mike 

_______________________________________________________

Redundancy is your friend, so is redundancy

Marni's picture
Marni

Hi,

Thank you for the help you gave me with my new sourdough starter. I'm also new to the site.  That was the first post I made on this site and I was - am- grateful for all responses.

I enjoyed your memories so much, we all have histories and I really enjoyed picturiing that kitchen with all its activity.  I have four children and think I work hard taking care of everything and then I read about Mrs.Washburn and realize how easy I have it- dishwashers, electric ovens and as you said- the KItchenAid!  I'd love to see your mother's bread maker!

Thanks so much for sharing,

Marni