Sunday, July 1, 2012

At Home on the Range


The great-grandmother of Elizabeth Gilbert (Eat Pray Love) was a writer herself and published this cookbook in 1947.  A great, great read- Potter's rat-a-tat-tat delivery, confident tone and wicked sense of humor are immensely enjoyable.  I excerpt here the chapter on bread -- reading the book was worth the last sentence alone. (This is the level of wit and writerliness that I wish the Pioneer Woman - another recently perused new cookbook - would achieve).

And breadmaking is so much fun. I can't believe that writing deathless music or painting a really fine picture can give any greater feeling of artistic creation that gazing on a golden loaf for which you are completely responsible.

BREAD is easy, too; just as easy as 2 times 2 equals 4, and, in fact, those are the only numbers to remember all through the operation. Ready, now? Get out a big bowl and put in it 2 crumbled yeast cakes and add 4 cups of lukewarm liquid. This can be water, cooled scalded milk, or half-and-half. Stir in 4 tablespoons of melted shortening (lard or butter), 4 tablespoons of sugar, 4 teaspoons of salt, and 4 cups of sifted flour and then see how little more flour you can add and still have a workable dough. Two cups may do it, and shouldn't need more than 4. Dust a breadboard or cloth with flour - always sifted, please. Dump the dough on the board and dust with 1/2 cup of flour.

Now relax. Sit down, light a cigarette, write a letter or make your own plans for the next 15 minutes while the dough 'tightens up; as we bakers say. I generally improve this shining quarter-hour by washing the mixing bowl, and like the fisherman's suspenders in Kipling's "How the Whale Got His Throat" which you are implored to remember, you'll see why later, 'oh, best beloved.'

Is your cigarette finished? Let's go. This is fun. Start to knead by punching the dough away from you, and pull it toward you and press down. Give it a quarter-turn and repeat the preceding act for 10 minutes or a little longer. Add just enough flour to keep the dough from sticking to your hands or the board, and before you know it, you'll have a satin-smooth elastic mass which, believe it or not, is your bread. Put into your clean mixing bowl - you see now why you washed it - 4 tablespoons (remember the magic number 4) of shortening or oil. Place the dough in the bowl and turn it till every part of the surface is covered with the grease. Then cover the bowl with a damp towel or napkin and leave it in a warm spot for 4 hours. It should double its size or a little more.

For a whole morning or afternoon go your ways, for what you have hidden in practically foolproof. If you wihs, take a peek in about 2 hours just to see if things are progressing, but don't seem disappointed if they seem slow. Like the watched pot boiling, dough seems to get active just when you've given up hope. Now for more fun. When your dough has doubled in size, attack it right in the bowl. Pretend it's your worst enemy and give it a great punch right in the solar plexus to deflate its ego. Give it a couple more good lefts and rights and remove it from the bowl to the floured breadboard and cut into quarters. There, madam, are four loaves of bread. Let them stand for a few minutes for another tightening. Shape them up and they are ready for the pans. Grease 4 pans 5 by 10 inches (glass or metal) and then place a loaf in each pan. Grease the top of each loaf and then put the pans back in the same warm spot for at least another 2 hours during which time they will more than double their original size. Again, don't worry about them falling for they won't, honestly. And they are better too high than too low. Have your oven ready at a good 375 and put in the bread. Bake it 15 minutes and then turn the heat down to 350. Bake the loaves for 1/2 hour longer, and here again too much is better than too little. When done, loaves don't need any help to get them out of their pans. Now get really excited. Take out your loaves, turn them out on a cake rack or clean towel, then- sniff, throw out your chest, and pat yourself on the back. And if you can resist cutting off a big warm piece and spreading it thickly with butter you're not the girl I think.

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