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And Onwards I Trudge up that Learning Curve

Last night I finished canning my tomatoes.  I put up 14 quarts, for a total of 21.  That should more than do me for the winter! I sure hope I like how it turned out.  I am a bit nervous about having put all that vinegar and salt in it.  I really wanted to do some more research into canning tomatoes to determine if that was really necessary.  One friend said she doesn’t add anything but she uses heirloom tomatoes which are more acidic.  If I was growing my own tomatoes, I would probably be more inclined to just can them with nothing else.  But these were bought at market, and not organic, so I don’t really know much about them other than that they are local, field grown tomatoes.

This pretty much wraps up my canning for the season.  I had wanted to try a few other things but simply never found time.  For example, I wanted to make some lacto-fermented dilly beans.  My roommate had plenty of beans but could I find time to get out to her field and pick them?  Unfortunately, no.  Unfortunately harvest season coincides with the launch of the new academic year, and I have encountered the frustration of trying to get ready for winter while being swamped with work for the last three years in a row.  I don’t know if it will ever get better, provided that I stay in academia.  Which is the plan.  I’ll have to find a better way.

Hopefully once I’m into a steady job I’ll be able to get into a better rhythm.  My intent is to get back into growing more of my own food just as soon as I have a home where I know I’ll be staying more than one season.  I miss my little garden.

This week I learned something interesting about making bread.  I think I mentioned that my last batch didn’t work out very well.  I had some starter that I split into several portions.  I used one portion to make two loaves, following the directions in my book to the letter.  The author advocates weighing out ingredients instead of measuring.  I started doing that a couple of months ago and found that the bread indeed turned out better.  So I tried to replicate my previous success.

When I made up the batch, it ended up being extremely wet.  The dough was so wet that I could barely shape it, and after proofing, it simply melted into a pancake as I tried to transfer it to the pizza stone in the oven for cooking.  The result tasted ok, but was anemic looking and flat.  My hands and counter were a mess, covered in sticky dough.  I was confused: I had followed the measurements perfectly, using the minimum amount of water, and ended up with a mess.

A couple of days later I tried again.  This time I decided I would make the dough by feel.  I measured out the flour, starter and salt, then added about half the water it called for.  That was too dry, so I added a bit more.  Each time I worked the dough until it was well mixed, then added more water as it continued to feel dry.  Just as it started to feel very good, I noticed that I had used the last of the water I had measured out.  Interesting!  I used the exact same amount of water, with the same flour and the same starter, and ended up with a completely different dough.  How is this possible?

My only thought is that working the water into the dough slowly allowed the flour to react more thoroughly with it and absorb it better.  The end result was a loaf that was fluffier and had a nicer crust, and overall looked much better.  It still didn’t have the fabulous crumb that the batch I made in July had.  Perhaps that has something to do with ambient temperature, or perhaps it’s in my technique.  I don’t know!  I’ve been making the same bread recipe for 10 months now and still am far from perfecting it.  What a challenge!

I have decided that I am going to start making bread weekly, rather than making large batches every couple of months and then freezing them.  This way I will save on freezer space, and also I will continue to hone my bread making skills.  This weekend my sister-in-law is visiting and she is a bread maker extraordinaire!  She is the one who gave me my starter for Christmas, and recommended the book that I follow.  So she knows exactly what I’ve been trying and will hopefully have some good insight to help move me along.  One of these days I want to try making some different recipes, but for now I will stick with basic sourdough. I simply can’t believe how much there is to learn about this one simple recipe!


5 Responses

  1. when I first started making bread in England, it always seemed to turn out well. But when i tried it over here using the same recepie it was crap. Two things, i think went wrong: I had previously always made bread around the same season, and the climate and pressure in engalnd was quiet different than it is here. I talked to a friend of mine here who is a chef, and bread making DOES seem to have a lot to do with ambient termperature, weather, heat from your hand and how much, or little you work the dough…. probably what makes baking bread so magical (and frustrating)

  2. After some thinking, I was also coming to the conclusion that the weather has a lot to do with it. I guess I was getting hung up what friend – who is also a chef – told me: follow the recipe from that book and it will work every time. But if that were the case, why would he (the author) give a range of volumes for the water? Duh! Obviously we need to adjust and thus make the dough by feel. It really is an art and I love it. And, in sharp contrast to most of the things I create in the kitchen, my bread is pretty tasty, even when it isn’t the perfect shape or height.

  3. I really admire your bread-making and efforts to grow cultures and so on. I know someone here who is doing the same; we were sitting in a cafe together earlier, and she got a text from her husband saying that her glass lid had blown off one of them, which made us laugh. Anyway, she said, “there’s got to be an easier way,” and, if you ever want something really foolproof (i.e. even I can do it!), quick, and delicious, try this recipe.

    Auntie Mary’s super soda bread

    This superior soda bread takes no kneading, no proving, no skill and no time, except the baking part. It eats well enough on its own, and it toasts very well indeed.

    2 x 284ml pots buttermilk
    420g wholemeal flour
    3-4 tbsp sunflower seeds
    2 tbsp sesame seeds
    2 tbsp linseed
    150g oats
    1 tsp muscovado sugar
    1 tsp salt
    1 tsp bicarbonate of soda

    Preheat the oven to 190C/375F/gas mark 5. Put one pot of buttermilk into a bowl. Add two-thirds of the wholemeal flour, and all the seeds. Now add the second pot of buttermilk, the remaining flour, the oats, sugar, salt and bicarb. Mix well. Grease a baking tin with butter. Scrape the mixture into the tin. Smooth the top and drop the tin on the table top a few times to make sure the mixture settles. Bake for an hour. Turn off the oven, turn out bread and leave it in the oven for a further 10 minutes.

  4. Sorry, I should also have said, it works every time! It really does. But, oddly, like the person above, I’ve never found that it is the same every time. It’s a different consistency and texture. All I know is that it’s totally delicious toasted and with butter. Heaven!

  5. Hi Barbara – Thanks so much for this recipe! I sounds delicious and I will definitely give it a try, perhaps this weekend. Will let you know how it turns out!

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