COLUMN: Best breads made at home

When I was growing up, the milkman delivered warm breakfast rolls first thing in the morning.

We bought pan or plain loaves from the baker. The pan loaf was uniformly browned from contact on all sides with the pan in which it was baked and brown on top from oven heat. I have no recollection whether it had any flavour at all. The plain loaf had leathery crusts top and bottom, and soft white dough between. The top and bottom crusts were almost black and tasted bitter.

My father, who was a director of a large bakery chain, shared my lack of enthusiasm for the breads his company produced, and one day, to my astonishment, he baked what he called a cottage loaf: a delicious hemisphere with tender crust and substantial inner crumb that disappeared quickly.

Unfortunately, he only did it once, to be able to tell his colleagues that he could make better bread than the product they sold.

The next time I remember tasting good bread was on a student skiing holiday in Austria, when the gasthof served crisp-crusted breakfast rolls with good butter along with our morning coffee.

I began to look out for specialty loaves from then on. Scots did not have much of a tradition of fine baking and ate a lot of sweet ‘stodge’ with their late afternoon high teas, bought from bakery chains like the one my father worked for.

None of it tasted very good until post-war rationing was over and ingredients like real cream reappeared to replace the stuff we rudely referred to as “shaving cream” in the fancy cakes that looked so pretty, but didn’t taste so good.

It wasn’t until a Nanaimo neighbour gave me a good, basic recipe that I started making bread for my family. I kept it up for years, until I began to get more involved in community affairs and began buying commercial bread again.

When my husband retired, he revealed a secret desire to bring back homemade bread. Mindful of my father’s tantalizing experiment, I told him, “You can’t just make it once, you know. If you take this on, you have to keep it up.”

It’s getting on for 20 years and we still have homemade bread, the recipe refined a bit over the years.

I feel sorry for the growing number of people who cannot eat good bread due to gluten intolerance. I’ve heard that modern methods of fast-rising the dough may be to blame.

Why is it we have so many people developing serious allergies today? Milk, bread, peanut butter, where will it end?

Marjorie Stewart is board chairwoman of the Foodshare Society and president of the multi-stakeholder co-op, Heritage Foodservice. She can be reached at: marjorieandalstewart@shaw.ca.