Whether you’re trying to fill up your car or the plates on your family’s dinner table, it just costs more to live these days. Last year, the jump in the cost of food was the steepest increase we’d seen in 36 years and there are no signs of that trend reversing itself in any meaningful way any time soon. So as food prices continue to climb, many of us are rediscovering the things that our parents and grandparents did to help their money go further like having a home garden, canning, and cooking more at home. Some people are taking these ideas even further like a woman I recently met who lives “off the grid” on a large tract of land she owns here in the mountains. She doesn’t have electricity or indoor plumbing and would be lost without her chain saw the way some people would be lost without their iPhones and lap tops. Although I’ve never asked, I’m quite certain she is handy with a gun and could easily find food for her table anywhere on her property. I’m not willing to go quite that far, but I am on a quest to find more ways to stretch our ever-shrinking dollar. Like most people I know, this economy is forcing us to rethink how we live our lives and since I love cooking as much as I do saving money, I decided to try my hand at making bread. I knew it was bound to be less expensive than what I buy in the store, I just wasn’t sure how much time it would really take and if the results would be worth the effort. Little did I know that the simple act of baking bread at home would have other, more intangible benefits.
As I gathered the flour, yeast, and other basics that I needed I couldn’t help but think about my grandmother and how she would have approached this. I have plenty of experience making cranberry bread and banana bread, but I have never made the kind of bread that you would find on her table – the kind that fills your house with the homey aroma of yeast and is best eaten warm with a slathering of butter and homemade preserves. Much like her life, the bread my grandmother made was simple and hearty and baking it was just something she did as part of her every day existence, like stewing a rabbit that my grandfather had shot that morning to have for dinner. She didn’t follow any written recipe, and had done it so many times she probably could do it with her eyes closed. My grandparents lived during a time when quilts were still hand stitched from cloth collected from here and there, and the vegetables they ate during the winter months were home grown and put up during the summer. They made do with what they had and were self-sufficient. They also didn’t have indoor plumbing, the medical care we have today or the conveniences and options that make our busy lives more do-able so I’m not pining away with a romantic notion of the “good old days”. But I do believe there are certain “old school” skills, like canning and making bread that can help us be less dependent and help us do more with our money, especially during this down economy.
Today’s adventure in baking netted us two beautiful loaves of simple country white bread and the results met with positive reviews. All in all it was a good first effort and with some tweaking, this particular recipe will find a permanent home in my recipe box of tried and true favorites. In the days ahead I will, no doubt, start experimenting with different grains and textures to create other kinds of bread. When I started this, my original intent was to save some money and eat well. In the end, what I got was something even better because today’s adventure lead me to discovering the simple pleasure that comes from baking bread at home. The rhythm of kneading the dough, the smell of the yeast, the soft smooth texture of the dough and the way it swells to meet the baking pan, and of course the pay off of eating something deliciously homemade all came together in a process that does more than satisfies an appetite…. It centers the soul, even in this stressed-out world in which we live. What could be better than that.