The rise and fall of bread
Recently I was out for dinner with friends and the bread basket duly arrived. It was a cracker: lovely thick slices of sourdough – some studded with olives, others with caramelised garlic. Next to it was a generous slab of butter and a bowl of gorgeous, grassy olive oil.
But here’s the thing – no one touched it. Even the men. Like me, my companions were all famished, but that innocuous wicker basket may as well have been a nuclear reactor, such was the contempt and suspicion that greeted it.
When did bread get such a bad rap?
Probably when the Western world decided that carbohydrates – far from being the life source of civilisation – are, in fact, the devil dusted with flour. Remember when breaking bread was synonymous with love? Now it’s the evil obstacle between us and our skinny jeans; the modern equivalent of Eve’s forbidden apple. But where the apple simply triggered sin, bread is guilty of far worse – apparently, it makes us fat.
I’m fed up with all this high-protein, carb-free nonsense, which is doubtless running rampant this month, after the festive excess. (Poor bakers, they must hate January.)
Sympathies if you’re gluten intolerant, but I love bread, which is why I’m campaigning for its return to our pantries and dinner tables.
Bread (and the occasional bit of jewellery) has marked some of the most memorable moments of my life. There was my 30th birthday, when my boyfriend (now husband), flew me to New York and dragged me across a twilight Central Park for a steaming, mustardy hot dog.
And our Greek Islands holiday, where we’d walk to the bakery each day for a hand-kneaded, blackened loaf. Slathered with honey for breakfast or laden with tomatoes and salt in the late afternoon, that simple country bread fuelled a love affair that, fingers crossed, will last a lifetime.
The morning after the birth of my first child, when, starving after a 26-hour labour, I ate slice after slice of Vegemite toast, gazing in wonder at my daughter.
Even as you read this, I’ll be sinking my teeth into a sausage sandwich, a ritual essential to Sunday morning nippers.
It’s almost sacrilegious, the way we’ve demoted bread from the staff of life to the stuff of scorn; how our ability to resist it somehow makes us cleaner and lighter.
Now, I’m not advocating munching your way through half a loaf of Wonder White sandwiched together with Nutella. Hell, no – I have bikini standards, too. But let’s celebrate bread and honour the alchemy of grain and water that’s nourished us since Neolithic times. I was reminded of this most elemental of rituals on holiday recently, when my children ground wheat and baked bread over an open fire at an ancient iron-age fort in Wales.
Yes, it’s the post-Christmas purge and we’re all steaming chicken breasts and arranging lettuce leaves. But, once that’s over, as inevitably it will be, try this – it’s fabulous. Grab a basic bread recipe. Chuck some red grapes, rosemary sprigs, walnuts, salt and a teaspoon or two of sugar into a bowl. Make your dough, push half the grape mixture into the middle, and squash the remaining half on top. Bake it until… well, it looks like a loaf of bread.
If that’s too difficult, just embrace this old Spanish proverb: “If there’s no bread, cakes are very good.”
Angela Mollard returns to the Nine Network’s Weekend Today on January 16. Email email@example.com.
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