I love to cook. And I really really love to cook when I’m using my Cole Forge Stove. I’ve never been big on baking, but that changed when I started making sourdough bread. With a little experimentation, I realized that I could spend 15 minutes in the kitchen and end up with a loaf that was magnitudes better than anything I could find at my local grocery store.
To understand why homemade sourdough is so much better than store-bought sliced bread, allow me to give you a little bread history lesson.
People have been making bread for thousands of years and it is only in the last 100 years that we started messing it up. All of a sudden, we abandoned the time-tested recipes of our ancestors and instead we began using bleached white flour, devoid of the important nutrients that make bread so nutritious. The addition of stabilizers and preservatives allowed this “bread” to sit on shelves for weeks without molding. And engineered quick-rise yeasts allowed large factories to spit out thousands of loaves an hour. At the time, all of these changes seemed like advancements, but in retrospect, our bread lost both its nutrition and its soul.
On top of that, agricultural “advancements” began happening as well. Huge swaths of forest and grasslands (and small, diversified family farms) were cleared and planted as corn, soybean, and wheat monocultures, with only one species for hundreds of square miles. Large corporations created fossil-fuel-based fertilizers and they were sprayed across the landscape. “Productivity” increased. Nature abhors a monoculture and soon insect, critter, and “pest” populations boomed in response to this abundance and these same large corporations devised new pesticides and chemicals to beat nature back into submission.
Perhaps you’re familiar with one of the most common chemicals that ends up on our wheat: glyphosate, which goes by the brand name Roundup. Glyphosate is a brutally effective pesticide and it’s also used to desiccate wheat a few days before harvest, which means that a lot of it ends up in our food. There are plenty of great resources on the internet that go into great detail on the harmful effects of glyphosate, but it is really nasty stuff. I personally think it’s the root of a lot of chronic illnesses humans are currently suffering from and I’m quite confident that most people that have recently discovered they are gluten-intolerant are actually glyphosate-intolerant.
Thus, I’ve learned a lot from my study of sourdough bread - both about baking and also about agriculture. It’s really satisfying to create a crusty, chewy, steamy loaf of sourdough with your own two hands and such a simple collection of ingredients. All you need is flour, water, and salt. There’s no kneading, no special ingredients, no dough-shaping shenanigans. It’s an honest recipe with an exceptionally delicious result.
Sometimes the old way of doing things is just better. It’s better for your health, it has better flavor, and most importantly, it will make you happier!
Unlike commercially produced bread, sourdough uses natural yeasts and enzymes and a long fermentation process to slowly leaven the bread over the course of half a day or more. This breaks down the complex carbohydrates in flour and makes more of the nutrients in the wheat accessible to us. I like to think of these natural yeasts as doing part of the digestion process for us so our stomachs don’t have to do quite so much work.
Using organic flour means that you won’t be eating poison with each bite and you certainly won’t be adding any preservatives because your family will devour it before it even has a chance to cool.
I guess I forgot to mention that this stuff is absolutely, ridiculously delicious! It makes me wonder how we ever started eating the cardboard stuff from the store back when it was first introduced. Talk about a huge sacrifice! I guess the corn syrup and salt they put in there is enough to trick us into buying it.
One of the cool things about sourdough is that the starter will slowly adapt to whatever natural yeasts exist in your environment. That’s why sourdough bread from San Francisco tastes different from Vermont sourdough. It’s a real, live culture and the complexities in flavor that arise from that are fascinating and delicious.
It’s true that eating a sourdough-butter sandwich will make your stomach happy, but that’s not what I’m talking about here.
When you take the time to bake a loaf of bread for the people you love, they will notice. They won’t scarf it down in front of the TV and they certainly won’t let any go to waste. They’ll thank you! And they’ll value it for what it is: nourishment and love, not just a few bucks spent at the local Walmart Supercenter. That, in turn, will bring you happiness and the wheel will continue to turn when you share the recipe and a little bit of your starter.
We have come to expect instant gratification in our modern lives, but sometimes taking the time to do something right is a more fulfilling course of action.
To some degree, I see sourdough baking as a great analogue for my wood stoves. We used to have ‘heating our homes’ and ‘cooking our food’ fairly well figured out, but “advances” have ruined our environment and our health. There’s a better way right in front of our faces and it’s easy to make the switch.
Similarly, my sourdough bread recipe mirrors the design of my stoves. It’s simple, it’s an improvement on a concept that’s been around for a long time, and it puts a smile on your face the second you see it. I love what sourdough bread represents and I want all of my customers to have the satisfaction of smelling fresh baked bread early in the morning as they pull a loaf out of their wood-fired oven. Click here to give it a shot!