Monday, September 5, 2011

Our Loaf of Bread and the Hungarian Connection

Originally published July 26, 1984

Brown bread, served hot and steaming with baked beans is typically New England. Germans and Austrians specialize in black bread, rye breads or bread flavored with caraway seeds and poppy seeds. The Scandinavians also have a large array of dark breads, crisp breads, etc., and the Turks produce a soft brown aromatic bread that must be eaten fresh. Cornbread, still a southern specialty, long dominated American bread boxes because wheat was a luxury.

Wheat bread began its march to leadership when an American, Oliver Evans, pioneered in grinding flour with “bolting” (sifting) devices instead of with ancient millstones. Evans’ water-driven flour mill, the country’s first “automated” factory, was established in 1787. The Evans process was covered by federal patents after 1790 and by 1837, 1,200 automatic mills, using Evans’ patent or infringing on it, were producing some two million barrels of flour a year in states west of the Alleghenies.

While corn, rye and whole wheat doughs will rise only slightly, white bread made of bolted flour can be light and airy, if somewhat deficient in B vitamins and fiber. The Hungarian Count Steven Szechenyi produced such a fine, aristocratic white flour in the 1870’s  that it captured a wide market, and in 1879 the governor of Minnesota had Hungarian engineers come to Minneapolis to put up rolling mills on which Messrs. Crosby and Washburn established the General Mills Company.

Some Americans survived nicely on cornbread, or on sourdough bread, now associated with the prospectors of California, Alaska and the Yukon. Made of fermented dough, sourdough bread actually goes back to 4000 B.C. and may be the oldest of breads. Columbus had a sourdough started aboard ship when he reached the New World. The gold seekers carried starters (self-perpetuating yeast mixtures combining flour, sugar and water) in starter pots strapped to their backs; they were prepared to make bread anywhere they stopped to make a claim. When they pulled up stakes and moved on, the sourdough starters and starter pots moved on with them.

Here are some breads that you will find are fun to make and which everyone will enjoy.

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