Hanging around in the cloud…

Bread and Soup

The starter sat loosely covered in a plastic tub in a windowsill away from the cook stove.  The tub was good sized, and had once held cottage cheese in “Costco” quantities before it happened.  Tea colored water had risen to the top of the slightly fermented flour and water mixture.  Jeanne added a quarter cup of flour and the same amount of warm water, stirring it in to feed it.  After a few hours in the warm kitchen, the starter bubbled and expanded, and she fed it again.  When the starter had doubled in size, Jeanne  cranked the handle of the grain mill, slowly changing the red wheat berries into fine flour.   She ground six cups, resting for a few minutes between each cup.  Shylock begged to crank so she stood him on a chair and helped him crank until he tired of it, and went back to playing with his blocks in front of the cook stove.

She scooped about half of the starter into a large bowl, and added the fresh flour and warm water slowly, until it formed a large sticky ball.  Then she sprinkled flour on a cutting board, slapping the slightly gooey dough onto it.  She kneaded this mass for fifteen minutes, slowly adding flour onto the board, and letting the dough take it in as she pressed and folded.  Satisfied that the dough was developed, she rounded it up and put it back in the bowl, covered it with a clean moist towel, and set it near the stove to proof.

Unlike working with store bought yeast, the starter worked slowly.  The first proof took four hours, and Jeanne periodically used a spray bottle to re-moisten the towel.   She punched it down, pulled it out of the bowl, and shaped it into three long loaves, wrapping each in special cotton cloths imbued with flour.  She kept these french bread cloths in a precious zip lock bag under the rolling pin in the second drawer down.  Before, that drawer had held parchment paper, plastic wrap, foil, and wax paper.  Now, carefully recycled foil pieces, plastic bags, and bits of plastic wrap hid in the back of the drawer, only used when cloth or a container couldn’t be used.  Arly had a knack of flattening wrinkled foil with her fingernail, painstakingly smoothing it back out, but all of them were very careful with these things because they knew nobody would have any for barter again.

Choosing a good sized stock pot from the array of pots and pans that hung from the kitchen ceiling, Jeanne dropped a big venison hip bone into the pot, filled it with water, and set it on the surface of the cook stove to simmer.  After an hour or so, she added a little precious sea salt, pearl barley, dried peas (not designated for seed), and a bay leaf.

The loaves slowly expanded inside their wrappings while Jeanne started the soup and stoked the stove to bring the oven temperature up.   She removed the racks and leaned them against the wall behind the wood stove, keeping an eye on Shylock even though he knew they were hot.   She ground a little cracked corn in the mill into a coarse meal, then sprinkled a third of the meal onto a wide wooden paddle.  Carefully she unwrapped a loaf and placed it on the paddle.  She slashed three diagonals on the top with a serrated knife, opened the oven, and slid the loaf onto the oven floor.  Quickly she repeated the process for the other two until all three sat evenly spaced on the floor of the oven.  She took a half a cup of water and threw it on the side of the hot oven wall, where it made a lovely hiss and spattering sound as she hastily shut the oven door to keep the heat and humidity inside.

The old white cook stove had no window to see into the oven, so she set a kitchen timer for fifteen minutes to remind her to throw more water in.  When the loaves had become a beautiful brown, she scooped them out one by one with the paddle and set them on racks on the counter to cool.  The whole house smelled of wonderful sourdough desem bread, and the aroma pulled Brian in from whatever he’d been doing outside.   He peeked into the soup pot, and added a couple of handfuls of home made noodles, dried zucchini, dried carrots, and some home canned Lima beans grown on a trellis in the greenhouse.  He took a wooden spoon and tasted the broth.  A smile spread under his beard and shaggy mustache, revealing slightly crooked teeth.  He added another pinch of salt, crunched up some hot peppers to substitute for black pepper.  Digging around in the big bottom cupboard he popped back up with an onion.  He set a skillet on the top of the stove to heat up while he diced it, then went into the front room to get a bulb of garlic from the braids that hung behind the flat screen TV.

The onions got happy with a little lard in the skillet, and soon had the minced garlic for company.  Finally, the whole joyous mixture went into the soup, and Brian added some dried thyme, sage, and basil, then chopped and added half a head of cabbage before putting the lid back on for a final half hour of simmering.


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