“If thou tastest a crust of bread, thou tastest all the stars and all the heavens.”
Although I’d been baking bread for decades, it wasn’t until I moved permanently to Frogmore Farm that home baked bread completely displaced store-bought from my diet. The reason for that shift was rather pragmatic. I was broke and with a five pound bag of King Arthur Bread Flour, which cost about as much as a good loaf of bread, one could produce four loaves and have a bit of flour left over.
Every few days my cottage was filled with the wondrous aroma of baking bread – few things smell as appetizing. I enjoyed some wonderful whole grain loaves, and baked specialty loaves for Frogmore's visitors. And it was far more than just my diet and wallet that were enriched.
You see, there is something especially rewarding about baking bread, something somehow relational. You can feel the dough developing in your hands, responding to the warmth and strength of your touch, and you can smell the yeastiness that makes the dough very much a thing alive. Those who garden, raise livestock, or bake bread have a perspective of their sustenance that cannot be replicated by the transactions of any market, however fine the purveyor may be.
In the Fall of 2011 I watched a program on PBS I’d seen many times before, but this time with renewed interest. It was the episode of “Cooking With Master Chefs” in which Julia Child bakes sourdough bread with Nancy Silverton, chef-owner of La Brea Bakery. My interest in bread baking had its genesis with Julia and PBS back in 1974. That first loaf failed (badly!) but my interest did not. In this program, recorded during the 1990s, Silverton demonstrated her recipe for sourdough starter beginning with fresh grapes, flour, and water.
Well, I didn’t have any grapes, but the Wild Persimmon tree (Diospyros virginiana) just outside my door is prolific and from August until late winter the ground beneath it is littered with ripe Wild Persimmons. There was little to lose but a cup or two of flour and some water from our well, so I just had to experiment. And, it worked! The resulting sourdough starter is extremely active if not especially sour.
I baked a rustic sourdough loaf this morning. Rustic, of course, means it's got its flaws - imperfections you'll readily see as it is pictured here with some of this year’s Wild Persimmons. With every slice of this sourdough I am reminded that in it I taste “all the stars and all the heavens.” And in it I taste Frogmore Farm. The yeasts which make my bread rise and the bacteria that give it that very gentle tang weren’t imported from San Francisco, or Germany, or anywhere else. They’re a living part of this place, and they permit me to connect in an essential and meaningful way with the cosmos, with Julia Child, with Frogmore Farm, and especially with myself.
You can watch Julia Child and Nancy Silverton bake together here.
You read Nancy Silverton’s recipe here.
You can probably find a Wild Persimmon Tree near you (if you live in North America) and if not, wild Muscadines are still available for those of us in Florida.
But you can only taste my Sourdough at Frogmore Farm!
It's not what you look at that matters, it's what you see. Henry David Thoreau