Monthly Archives: November 2017

Back to the research grind: Bread bread bread

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Greetings, strangers who happened to wander onto my page!

You’ll notice that this is the first posting in quite awhile. There are lots of good real-life reasons for this, which I am not going to get into here. But now it looks like I will have some time to take up my research into 12th century Sicily again.

My papers on Sicilian food continue to be some of the most-viewed ones on Academia.edu. Rather than letting you dig around for them here on the blog, here are Food in Medieval Sicily, and Food in Medieval Sicily, Revised.

Over the past few years, I have taken up baking my own bread. First it was a way to save money, now it’s because I prefer the taste. I like rustic loaves the best; just water, flour, salt, and yeast. Fresh-baked bread also makes the house smell yummy.

But I couldn’t say I was baking in a medieval manner at all. Commercial yeast didn’t come on the market until the 19th century. But I was at a loss of how to create my own starter. All the recipes just seemed too intimidating.

This dilemma was addressed last winter, when I was given a jar of starter by a friend. I immediately started learning how to use it effectively, through trial and error. I now have three jars of starter; the original white; a rye starter; and most important for my Sicilian research, a semolina starter. I started each of the other two jars by pouring out half my white wheat starter into them, adding rye or semolina flour, and repeatedly using them and feeding them the appropriate flours. The rye starter makes an appealingly tangy rye bread; and the semolina starter makes loaves more akin to the ones I tasted at a luncheon in Selinunte. These were huge yellow loaves baked in a wood-fired oven and were dense and tangy.

So, my next steps will be to research contemporary sourdough semolina bread recipes; and do some all-semolina loaves. I have baked with the semolina starter, but I have been mixing the starter with regular white flour. I have gotten very good loaves with this. But I want to compare and contrast methods and recipes as well as flours. Apparently there were several types of wheat grown in medieval Sicily; soft red winter wheat and durum wheat being two of them. Most flour sold in the US for baking is of the hard white winter wheat variety; soft white wheat flour can be found as pastry flour. Finding a red wheat pastry flour may be a bit of a challenge. I’m on firmer ground with durum wheat flour, as a I can get a good silky fine durum flour and a coarser semolina at my local Amish market.

Stay tuned for hopefully tasty results!