Sunday, June 14, 2015

Tossing shells and other inedibles on the floor, in Ancient Rome and today

A dinner party for the elite in ancient Rome was often as much about politics and social climbing as about food and drink: who was and wasn't on the guest list, who sat next to who, who sat where, what foods were served, and so on. The food was often carefully chosen to illustrate the prosperity of the host, or perhaps his or her connections (e.g., "Gaius and Livia Maximus must know some powerful people to obtain ostrich eggs this time of year"). As always, good table manners were important, as Ilaria Gozzini Giacosa recounts in A Taste of Ancient Rome: "Etiquette required that small amounts of food be taken each time and that one should always remain clean. Ovid admonished: 'Take the food with your fingers, this is the usual way to eat; but do not soil your face with your dirty hand'" But there were exceptions to these guidelines when it came to the inedible parts of the meal. Apparently the host didn't provide little bowls for olive pits, nor dedicated bowls for bivalve shells, nor was it common to discreetly pile animal bones at the edge of your plate. Instead, a diner simply tossed inedible parts of the meal onto the floor, which slaves would periodically clear.

Over the years, archaeologists have found several mosaics showing what a mid-banquet floor might have looked like, with some even adding a little mouse (perhaps the highly desired edible dormouse, but more likely a common house mouse). The image below (from Wikimedia Commons) is a photo of a portion of the mosaic from its current location in the Vatican Museum. Note the splendid detail work on the pieces humble subjects and the inclusion of shadows. 

This particular mosaic was uncovered in 1833 in the vineyard of Achilli Wolves near the Porta Ardeatina in Rome. It was probably created during the time of the Emperor Hadrian (who ruled from 117 to 138) and decorated the entry room (triclinum) of a luxurious villa.  

Detail of asàrotos òikos mosaic (unswept room) from Gregoriano Profano Museum in the Vatican, catalog 10132. Photo from Wikimedia Commons.


Today's Unswept Rooms
These days, if we went to the right location, one could find material to make a modern day unswept room mosaic. We might go to a bar or tavern where you can throw peanut shells on the ground, or a large sporting event where many people just drop their trash to the ground (peanut shells, empty cups, and hot dog wrappers).  Not having any skill at making mosaics, I turned to the internet and found a tool at Picture to People. Using a photo from the Creative Commons collection at Flickr, the tool and gave me the result below.  Not quite as interesting as the Roman mosaic.


Original photo from Flickr user tyl_r


I spent a lot of time (too much, probably) searching for good photos of messy floors with appropriate licenses. This wasn't an easy task because debris on the floor of a bar or baseball stadium is not at all photogenic and also hard to photograph well (especially a dark bar), and a few good photos had licenses that weren't compatible with my desired use.  But while searching, I ran across two amusing items.

The first is a sign reminding guests that peanut shell tossing is encouraged from the Long Bar at Raffles Hotel in notoriously neat Singapore.  A photo from Flickr user willposh shows the sign, which reads in part:  "Quite possibly the one place in Singapore where littering is actually encouraged...at the Long Bar at Raffles, feel free to brush your peanut shells onto the floor."

The second is a woman remembering an embarrassing lunch with her birth mother at a restaurant that had the word "roadhouse" in its name. Her birth mother was convinced that it was another "roadhouse" that she used to visit — despite many facts from the daughter, like that they are on different sides of town, that the prices are far higher, that the decor is less casual.  But that information doesn't sink in and so there is a bit of trouble after the server leaves a basket of unshelled peanuts on the table:
When we returned to our table, there were tons of peanut shells on the floor surrounding her chair!  Worse yet, just as we sat down, she tossed yet another handful down beside her feet!  “What are you doing?” I asked her.  “They gave you an empty basket to put those in!”  (I think my face must have been about three different shades of red by then.)

As it turned out, she was still not convinced that this new restaurant was not the old steakhouse where people were encouraged to toss peanut shells on the floor.  I told her to look around and see how clean the floor was under everyone else’s table.

Photo credits

Random link from the archive: Wine from Manhattan

Sunday, May 17, 2015

Old and New Approaches to Take-Out Containers

Painting of the Pantheon from the National Gallery of Art (USA)An Old Approach
In ancient Rome, it was common for guests at a banquet or dinner to bring their own container – usually a napkin – and carry something home.  This worked well for everyone, as there were no storage facilities for cooked food and it allowed the host's generosity to be remembered the next day.

In A Taste of Ancient Rome, Ilaria Gozzini Giacosa includes an epigram from Martial (ca. 38 CE–103 CE) that pokes fun at his friend Caecilianus's habit of filling his napkin to the breaking point: 
XXXVII WHATEVER is served you sweep off from this or that part of the table : the teats of a sow's udder and a rib of pork, and a heathcock meant for two, half a mullet, and a bass whole, and the side of a lamprey, and the leg of a fowl, and a pigeon dripping with its white sauce. These dainties, when they have been hidden in your sodden napkin, are handed over to your boy to carry home : we recline at table, an idle crowd. If you have any decency, restore our dinner ; I did not invite you, Caecilianus, to a meal to-morrow.    (source: Archive.org)
Photograph of first century bowl from the Metropolitan Museum of Art
Ancient Romans didn’t have plastic yet and paper was an expensive good, so reusable napkins were a discreet way to be ready for leftovers. Although a sturdier container might be more useful – and almost all upper-class Roman would have a slave or two at the party to help carry things to and from the home – a solid container has a tackier feel, a more direct expectation of bonus food.


A New Approach 
More than two millennia later, disposable take out containers are taken for granted, an most people don’t think twice about the resources needed to make, deliver and dispose of them.  Some restaurateurs and entrepreneurs are trying to change that.  The East Bay Express recently ran a piece by Food Editor Luke Tsai on several attempts to reduce restaurant waste by swapping disposable take-out containers for reusable ones.

One restaurant profiled in the article is following what you could call the 'captured container,' meaning that the container is only useable at one institution.  In this article, the example is West Berkeley's Standard Fare, which offers a high quality ceramic container for take-away.  It's only returnable at Standard fare (and you'll incur a hefty $45 fee if you break one or don't return it in a reasonable time).  You will see a variation on this approach at Mission Heirloom (Berkeley) and the Local Butcher Shop (Berkeley), where they only accept the containers that came from their shop.  

The second approach is a more widespread offering – what you might call the 'networked container' – is the GO Box, a waste reduction project started in Portland in 2011. It's fairly simple, nearly as simple as one could imagine.  Vendors sign up for a supply of boxes.  Customers sign up for a membership (and pay an annual fee) and then are allowed to 'check out' the boxes at member restaurants using a physical or virtual token. When the box is dropped off at a depository (which might not be the place where it was picked up), a new token is received.

A Bay Area branch of GO Box has launched, with a handful of sites in San Francisco's Dogpatch (e.g., Jolt N Bolt, The New Spot) and South of Market (e.g., Rincon Market, Thai to Go) districts.  Over in the East Bay, you’ll find GO Box in Oakland's City Center at places like Awaken Café and Tia Maria.

GO Box costs customers $19 per year in Portland and $29 per year in the Bay Area.  This, in my opinion, is a major shortcoming, as it requires a year-long financial commitment to a relatively small network of restaurants.  What if you lose interest in the restaurants in the network?   It would work better if the restaurants footed the operating costs, but that might not be practical because of start-up expenses, even though GO Box claims that the service can be cheaper for restaurants than standard single-use or compostable packaging.

GO Box is designed to comply with health regulations that don't allow customer-provided containers (i.e., fresh take-out orders).  For leftovers after a restaurant meal, the rules don't apply and there is a simpler and cost-free approach that I strive to use when I go out to eat (and manage to do so about 75% of the time):  bring my own containers for leftovers.  At the end of each course, I transfer the remainders to the container and set them aside (tip:  if the dish is rice and something, put the something on the bottom and the rice on the top; this way you can simply tip the container onto a plate and it's ready for reheating).  


Image Credits
  • Interior of the Pantheon, Rome (c. 1734) by Giovanni Paolo Panini. Downloaded from the National Gallery of Art (USA) website.  Yes, the people in the painting aren't from ancient Rome, but I wasn't able to find any good paintings of ancient Roman scenes that aren't mythological or historical (e.g., the death of Caesar, the triumph of X on the battlefield of Y). 
  • First century bowl from South Gaulish area of the Roman Empire (early Imperial period, ca. 90 CE).  Downloaded from the Metropolitan Museum of Art website.

Random link from the archive: Organic demand up






Sunday, April 19, 2015

Are Media Outlets Writing More about Insects as Food (Entomophagy)?

As I follow the news on insects as food (entomophagy), I have been wondering if the pace of articles has been increasing because it seems that every time I turn around there is another article about cricket flour or a new book about eating bugs.  To answer my question, I visited the U.C. Berkeley library to use the Lexis/Nexis news databases to run some searches*.

I ran three searches spanning from 1999 through 2014 in U.S. news sources (note: the "w/" means "within five words"):
  • (eat OR eating) w/5 bug
  • (eat OR eating) w/5 insect
  • entomophagy

For each search, I removed the non-U.S. articles that got through the U.S.-only filter, removed irrelevant articles (the w/5 insect search got a lot of hits about bats eating insects) and pulled out calendar listings (items like "Community calendar....Jane Doe reads from her new book 'Eating Bugs' at Midtown Books"). After all of the filtering, I was left with 60 articles for entomophagy, 45 for "(eat OR eating) w/5 bug", and 32 for "(eat OR eating) w/5 insect."  The number of articles in each year are shown in the chart below.
Chart of number of articles about insects as food (entomophagy)

For entomophagy (blue bars), there was a bit of activity between 2006-2008, then a quiet period, with much more activity in the last three years.   The other two searches (red and green bars) had little activity through 2011, but many more articles in 2012, 2013, and 2014.  And so, it looks like my sense that there is more coverage of insects as food in the last few years is correct.

As 2015 goes on, I hope to do a follow-up to see how insects as food has been trending in the media this year.  A search on "cricket flour" might also be worthwhile, since this ingredient is gaining in popularity.


* If you know of best practice guides for this kind of search -- perhaps from a school of journalism or media studies -- please let me know in the comments.


Random link from the archive:  "Yoga is the latest diversion of New York society," claims major newspaper

Sunday, February 22, 2015

Ketchup has Crushed Catsup Since 1980

Preface: For various reasons, the images in this post (which are 'embeds' from Google's Ngram Viewer) are not going to look quite right -- there will be spillover across the right boundary and spacing will be quirky. To see higher quality versions of the charts, click on the chart and it will appear all by itself. If I could figure out how to download the results of an Ngram search, the charts and spacing would be less unruly, but I only see links about downloading Ngram data sets.

Close readers of my last post might have noticed the use of both catsup and ketchup in official and commercial contexts: for example, a key federal regulation is called "catsup", and early Heinz labels used both ketchup and catsup. Perhaps someday I'll look for linguistic studies that explain the evolution and prominence of the two spellings, but for now I thought it would be fun to run the terms through the Ngram Viewer tool at Google Books to see how the frequency of occurrence in books has changed over time.

Ngram Viewer shows the frequency of use for one or more words or phrases in the Google Books collection. Various filters are available, including limits on what is searched (e.g., look only at books published in the U.S., or only at books published in Great Britain), and various operations are available for the search results (e.g., subtracting one from another).

Let's start with a simple comparison: catsup vs. ketchup in the complete Google Books library.  Between 1800 and 1890, the most popular spelling flips between the two. From 1890 to about 1960, catsup is more frequent. In the 1970s, the two terms have nearly identical frequency. In about 1980, however, ketchup really took off and writers soured on the use of catsup. Of course, a big caveat is needed: these charts are generated from books in the Google library, and I'm not exactly sure what that library contains. (Is it every book that can be purchased or downloaded from the Google Play store? Or only what can be seen in free books, snippet view books or books with preview? I haven't found a clear description in the docs.) (Link to chart on the Google Ngram page)




Ngrams' math tools provide a less noisy chart: the next figure shows the fraction of ketchup and catsup incidences that are ketchup (i.e., ketchup / (ketchup + catsup) ). Except for a few decades in the early 1800s, catsup is used more frequently than ketchup until the early 1970s, and there is a good bit of variation. From 1940 to the present the ketchup fraction has been rising, with the sharpest increases after 1980. (Link to chart on the Google Ngram page)




Finally, let's take a side trip to the broader history of ketchup, decline of non-tomato varieties and the dominance of tomatoes as the primary ingredient. Before 1900, there were a sizable fraction of mushroom and walnut ketchup/catsup references, but eventually they dropped to a low level.  in the 20th century, tomato ketchup/catsup spike and become dominant.  Of course, in the 20th century and beyond, when an author writes ketchup or catsup without modification, it is probably assumed that the word refers to the tomato-based condiment.   (Link to chart on the Google Ngram page)





Random link from the archive: Cracking the Coconut (Oil) for Pie Crust


Sunday, February 08, 2015

A theory that explains a seemingly unnecessary word on ketchup labels

The other day, I noticed something odd on a bottle of ketchup. Because of my eating habits at home and at restaurants, I don't see a lot of ketchup bottles, and so when I bought a bottle of Safeway brand ketchup so that I could make the delicious “Spicy Chipotle Toltec Barbeque Glaze” from Mark Miller's Coyote's Pantry (Ten Speed Press), I was surprised to see that the label said "Tomato Ketchup."  Not just “Ketchup”, but “Tomato Ketchup.”  This seemed strange to me, because in this time and place, is there any other kind of ketchup?

When I looked into this again at various grocery stores, I saw that "Tomato Ketchup" isn’t uncommon: the two biggest ketchup brands (Heinz and Hunt’s) also are labeled “Tomato Ketchup.”


A Regulatory Requirement?
At first I thought the “tomato ketchup” label might be a regulatory issue, and so I looked into the Code of Federal Regulations (CFR) using the highly useable eCFR tool from the U.S. Government Publishing Office.  Fortunately, a search for "ketchup" across the thousands of pages of the CFR results in just a few hits (and, interestingly, the top hit is “catsup” ).

Title 21, §155.194* is called "Catsup", and specifies that tomatoes are a required ingredient:
(1) Definition. Catsup, ketchup, or catchup is the food prepared from one or any combination of two or more of the following optional tomato ingredients:
   (i) Tomato concentrate as defined in §155.191(a)(1), except that lemon juice, concentrated lemon juice, or safe and suitable organic acids may be used in quantities no greater than necessary to adjust the pH, and in compliance with §155.191(b).
   (ii) The liquid derived from mature tomatoes of the red or reddish varieties Lycopersicum esculentum P. Mill.
   (iii) The liquid obtained from the residue from preparing such tomatoes for canning, consisting of peelings and cores with or without such tomatoes or pieces thereof.
   (iv) The liquid obtained from the residue from partial extraction of juice from such tomatoes.
However, there is no requirement that the word tomato appear on the label, as §155.194(a)(3)(i) indicates: 
(3) Labeling. (i) The name of the food is “Catsup,” “Ketchup,” or “Catchup.”
Today’s Labels
I made a quick survey of labels at Amazon – where a search on “ketchup” brings forth over 1,000 results, many of which are other condiments – and found that the majority of tomato-based ketchup products do not call themselves “tomato ketchup.”  These include many fairly recent reformulations from health-food-type brands (e.g., organic, unsweetened, HFCS-free), small-batch artisanal brands, and some low price varieties.  And, not surprisingly, there are some daring products in the Amazon catalog, like "Tru-POP ketchup popcorn seasoning", and "Tracklements Sweet Mustard Ketchup" (which would be a blasphemous product at some hot dog stands, where the idea of blending mustard and ketchup is unthinkable).

Historical Origins
My theory about the word “tomato” on the big-brand ketchup labels is that it originates from the time when there was a variety of ketchup flavors, and so "tomato" was an important indicator.  Before the 20th century, there were many kinds of ketchup because the term (and its spelling variations) referred to a savory, usually fermented, sauce that could be made from many bases. Some of the popular bases were mushrooms, walnuts, oysters, grapes, and of course, tomatoes**. In the United States those non-tomato flavors are completely gone. Factors such as high tariffs on British imports, decreases in domestic tomato prices, and lower manufacturing costs drove away the other ketchups.

Andrew F. Smith’s Pure Ketchup*** recounts some of Heinz’s long history.  Heinz’s first tomato ketchup was introduced in 1876 and was labeled “catsup” (PDF) without a tomato modifier but with a picture of a tomato on the label.  An offering from 1883 (see illustration below) was similar.  In 1890, the company introduced the famous keystone label, neck band, screw cap, and octagonal bottle shape for their tomato ketchup.  In that era, they offered a few different tomato ketchups (in order of quality): "Keystone or Octagon Ketchup", "standard brand", "Duquesne brand tomato catsup," and one called "Home made catsup." Smith writes that the price difference was significant: Keystone was about $0.60 per gallon, while Duquesne was about $0.25 per gallon.  That the top and bottom brands don't have tomato in the product name somewhat contradicts my conjecture here, but I haven’t seen the full labels – for example, was it "standard brand ketchup" or "standard brand tomato ketchup"? Or was the word tomato prominently displayed somewhere on the label?

1883 Heinz "Catsup" label, from Our Archives

1890 Keystone Ketchup, from the Heinz History Center (a museum about Western PA history and an affiliate of the Smithsonian Institution)
A selection of historical ketchup/catsup bottles at the Heinz History Center. Photo from Grace Piper's Flickr collection.


When store shelves were stocked with commercial ketchups that were not tomato-based, Heinz might have wanted to be clear about their product's flavor base.  But even though the other varieties have disappeared, Heinz labels their premier ketchup as "tomato ketchup."  I was unable to find a chronological collection of Heinz ketchup labels, so I don't know exactly when they switched to the current tomato-based labeling.

Thanks to the internet, it's not hard to find mushroom ketchup. One example is from Geo Watkins at Amazon, which “was the secret success of many Victorian cooks with steak and kidney pies and puddings, roast meats, sauces and soups.” The sauce might also make an appearance on the shelves of stores that specialize in foods from the British Isles, and I wouldn't be too surprised if ultra-British pubs in the U.S. also stock the sauce for use on chips, pies, and so on.

 
Notes 
* The full hierarchy of the regulation:  Title 21: Food and Drugs, PART 155—CANNED VEGETABLES, Subpart B—Requirements for Specific Standardized Canned Vegetables, §155.194   Catsup.  Deep in the archives of government, there might be an interesting story behind the use of "catsup" in the regulation.
** A plenitude of 19th-century recipes can be found on Google Books, like a Mushroom ketchup recipe from the Massachusetts Horticultural Society (1893), or a variety of recipes in the The Household Encyclopedia or Family Dictionary, or Everything Connected with Housekeeping and Domestic Medicine (1859, London)  
*** Smith's book is a scholarly study of the history of ketchup and touches on such subjects as early recipes for ketchup/catsup, the pure food movement of the early 20th century, brand development, and much more.

 

Image Credits



Random link from the archives: Spiders doing a mating dance in the garden

Saturday, January 24, 2015

Micro-round-up on news about insects as food (entomophagy)

One of my favorite posts at Mental Masala looks at the history and psychology of "insects as food" in European and closely-related cultures and U.S., Canada, and Australia. (A quick summary:  These cultures have a long history of associating insects with disease and filth, which makes them unappetizing.  In addition, not many large insects that are good for eating are endemic to the temperate climates.)

Though Americans in general aren't too excited about eating insects (entomophagy), people who write and talk about food -- journalists, bloggers, radio show producers -- are certainly excited by the idea and so quite a bit of writing about insects as foods appears across the media landscape.  Generally, the pieces are enthusiastic and forward looking, and I have spotted three basic themes:  1) an entrepreneur has a new insect-containing product (like protein bars made containing cricket flour), 2) insects can feed the world (sustainable, easy to raise, nutritious, etc.), 3)  attempts to make insects more palatable to Western eaters. (Note that I wrote one piece about the attraction of insects to editors and writers in 2012.)

I have been haphazardly keeping a collection of articles for many months now, and thought a round up and commentary would be worthwhile (if for no other purpose than to help me organize them).

General
"Lovely Grub: Are Insects the Future of Food?" by Emily Anthes is one of the best overviews of recent developments and future prospects for insects as food that I have seen. She covers the areas of sustainability and eater psychology, of course, but then takes the article into the often ignored areas of food safety and regulatory approval.  mosaic (10/14/14)

New Products that Contain Insects (and Related Initiatives)
A short profile of two companies that are using crickets in their products: Bitty Foods and Exo.  Crickets have an relatively high level of protein, about 13 grams of protein per 100 grams of crickets vs. 25 grams of protein per 100 grams of chicken or beef, but can be farmed on less land with lower greenhouse gas emissions.  Bitty sells baking blends that contain cricket meal, as well as cookies that use the insect-fortified flour.  Exo uses cricket flour as way to stand out in the crowded energy bar field.  A bar has about 300 calories and contains the equivalent of 40 crickets.  The Salt at NPR (8/15/14)

The airline JetBlue and the food company incubator AccelFoods formed a partnership to offer some edgy snacks on certain flights, including cricket protein bars, at Quartz (10/9/14)

Designers from Sweden's Belatchew Arkitekter propose insect farms called "Buzz Buildings" for major intersections to provide sustainable protein production. CITYLAB at The Atlantic.  (6/13/14)

Massachusetts' contribution to the United States of Sustainable Food is an insects as food company.  Six Foods is producing "Chirps," chips that include cricket flour for a protein and sustainability boost. The company is also connected to the cricket farm in Ohio that is the subject of the New Yorker’s “Big Cricket” (see below).  Grist.   (9/8/14)

The Insect Economy
Big Cricket Farms, a new venture in the Rust Belt city of Youngstown, Ohio is trying to figure out how to raise crickets on a large scale so they can used in foods for people.  The 'mini-livestock' doesn't need much:  80-90 F ambient temperature, about 90% relative humidity, water, and a diet based on grain and vegetables.  At the time of the article, Big Cricket Farms was raising almost six million crickets, with a potential population of twenty-million (which would provide about six tons of protein powder each month).  The New Yorker (9/16/14)

After taking a bite, contributor Elettra Wiedemann discovered that some of the delicious cookies she sampled at a food conference contained crickets (from Bitty Foods). Her curiosity takes over and she digs into the subject.  One of her resources is Kevin Bachhuber of Big Cricket Farms. Bachhuber says that aversion to insects as food is part of the "depersonalization of our food supply," and most of the meat we buy doesn't look at all like an animal. [ed. note: This is true to some extent, but countered by the prevalence of cricket flour as a leading ingredient.  Another counter might be the popularity of ribs and chicken wings, which have plenty of bone and clearly comes from an animal.]  Munchies at Vice (8/14/14)

Demand for insects for human consumption in Thailand has created a boom for the insect farmers.  Over 20,000 farms are registered with the government, primarily small family farms, with combined revenues in the multimillion-dollar range.  Some farmers are finding crickets less risky than rice farming: rice provides just one harvest a year while crickets provide six, and cricket farming is less reliant on the weather. Insect farmers share with and learn from a local  cooperative and experts from Khon Kaen University.  Exports to Europe and North America are starting to grow, mostly for cricket powder, though the best sellers are novelty items.  AP at Huffington Post (8/25/14)

Raising Insects to be Animal Feed
Ed. note:  This sector of the insect innovation industry has a lot of sustainability potential. Fish farming isn’t going away, so imagine if instead of draining the oceans of forage fish so they can be ground into fish meal for aquaculture, we could supply fish farms with some sort of insect-based food, with the insects raised in a sustainable way. (One of my pieces at Ethicurean has more details about forage fish and aquaculture.)

EnviroFlight is trying to raise black soldier fly as a sustainable source of animal feed (especially for aquaculture).  The fly larvae increase in weight by a factor of 5,000 in a few weeks, and they can be fed "pre-consumer" waste, e.g., cast-offs from food manufacturing facilities like chicken-nugget breading or spent brewing grains.   I first discovered this on KQED's Quest TV program, but unfortunately I haven't found the video on-line, only a short write-up of the piece at QUEST. And that's too bad, because the section showing the mating house with Barry White playing to set the mood was amusing. (04/1/14)

The PROteINSECT project is a team of researchers from around the world that is investigating whether fly larvae could be a suitable component of pig, poultry and fish feed. Larvae are high in protein and can be grown on waste products like food scraps or animal manure. The project is looking at methods of raising insects, their nutritional characteristics, and safety (e.g., heavy-metal residues, veterinary medicine residue, allergenicity).    Munchies at Vice. (9/15/14)

Raising black soldier fly larvae on fruit and vegetable scraps as a source of animal feed. The Regina Leader-Post (12/3/14)

Behavior Modification
SexyFood makes eating weird edible bugs, like rhino beetles and black scorpions, a desirable luxury "experience."  Co.Exist (11/3/14)

Insects as the Food of the Future
Stephen Colbert on a United Nations report about insects as food (warning: autoplay on some browsers) (5/15/13)

Grist on the same U.N. report (5/15/13)


Random link from the archive: Recipe: Ersatz South Indian rice with yogurt















Sunday, November 23, 2014

A War Bread in a Modern Cookbook: Oat Bread

WW1 poster: Little Americans. Do your bit.
As I mentioned in a previous post, I have been baking a "war bread" for quite a while.  My long-time favorite one-day bread is the oat bread in Deborah Madison's Vegetarian Cooking for Everyone. The original recipe is simple, delicious and nutritious, being a single-day bread that is enriched with rolled oats and oat bran.  By weight, the dry ingredients are 53% white flour, 20% whole wheat flour, 26% rolled oats and oat bran, a composition that would probably be considered "war bread." 

Polishing the Recipe with a Poolish
For a while, I used the recipe in Madison's book as written, and although it usually resulted in a decent loaf, it could be undesirably crumbly and dense (characteristics not uncommon for simple breads containing whole grains).  To reduce the brick factor, I added a trick from Emily Buehler's Bread Science book:  beginning with a "preferment," a mixture of flour, water and yeast called a poolish (its relatives include the sponge and the biga).  This mixture rests at room temperature for 8 to 24 hours, building flavor and structure.

As the poolish rests, good things happen:  the flour starts to hydrate, flavor-producing fermentation begins, gluten starts to develop (even as the poolish sits still), enzymes called proteases start breaking down the proteins in the flour, and the acidity level increases (this makes mixing easier). More details on these effects are in the Preferments chapter in Bread Science.  

Ad for Lincoln Oat.Buehler says that a basic dough recipe that doesn't have a pre-ferment can be modified to start with a poolish using the following formula:  combine one-third of the recipe's flour, an equal weight of water (not volume), and a small amount of yeast (~1/8 t.) in a bowl and mix thoroughly (I usually use the mixing bowl from my KitchenAid stand mixer to reduce the number of dirty dishes by one).  It will be quite wet, a little thicker than pancake batter.  Cover the bowl and set aside for 8-24 hours. After this fermentation, the poolish will be bubbly and fragrant. Then, when mixing the dough, reduce the water and flour to account for the amount in the poolish and also use 2/3 the amount of yeast.  For example, the original oat bread recipe had 125 g whole wheat flour, 325 g white flour and 365 g water, so the poolish should consist of 42 g whole wheat flour (1/3 * 125), 108 g white flour (1/3 * 325), and 150 g water (42 + 108).  During the final mix, you add 83 g whole wheat flour (= 125 - 42), 217 g white flour (= 325 - 108) and 215 g water (= 365 - 150). 



Recipe:  Oat Bread
Adapted from Vegetarian Cooking for Everyone, by Deborah Madison, with help from Bread Science by Emily Buehler.

Ingredients

Poolish
110 g Whole-wheat flour
90 g bread or all-purpose white flour
200 g room temperature water
1/8 t. yeast

Dough
Poolish (recipe above)
300 g warm water
2 1/4 t yeast
60 g honey
33 g soft butter or oil
2 t salt
60 g Whole-wheat flour
130 g rolled oats
80 g oat or wheat bran
340 g bread or all-purpose white flour (plus a little more if needed)
Optional:  about 100 g pumpkin seeds or sunflower seeds

Makes two standard loaves

Method
Make the poolish:  combine the ingredients in the mixing bowl you will use for the dough  (e.g., a KitchenAid bowl) and mix with a spoon until thoroughly combined.  Cover and let sit for 12-24 hours.

Make the dough:  If you are using instant yeast (the kind that doesn't need to be dissolved in liquid), you will add it with the first batch of dry ingredients.  If you are using regular active dry yeast, you will mix it into the wet ingredients at the beginning.

To the fermented poolish, add the water, honey, butter or oil, and salt (and non-instant yeast).  Stir to combine.

Add the whole-wheat flour, rolled oats, and bran (and instant yeast).  Using the dough hook, mix on low speed until thoroughly combined.

Add the white flour, and knead for 4 to 5 minutes (using medium setting on a stand mixer).  The dough should be a little sticky, but hold together as a mass.  Add a little more flour if it is really sticking to the walls of the bowl. If adding pumpkin seeds or sunflower seeds, add them to the dough and knead for until combined.

Place the kneaded dough in a lightly oiled bowl and cover.  Let rise for about 1 hour or until doubled.

Grease two standard loaf pans (5" x 9").

Punch down the dough and shape into two loaves.  Place them in the prepared loaf pans.  Cover and let rise for 45-60 minutes.  Place an oven rack in the middle of the oven.  During the last 30 minutes (45 minutes if using a pizza stone or bricks), preheat the oven to 375 F.

Make 2-3 cross-slashes or one longitudinal slash on the loaf just before baking.

Place the loaf pan on the rack.  If using a pizza stone or brick, place the loaf pan directly on the stone.  Bake for about 45 minutes, rotating the pans half-way through.




Image Credits:  Little Americans poster from the U.S. National Archives in the Flickr Commons, ca. 1918, public domain;  Lincoln Oat advertisement from "Garden flower and field seeds 1902" viaInternet Archive Book Images in the Flickr Commons, public domain.

Random link from the archive:  Coffee Storage:  Which Method is Best?