I bake my own bread.
Not all of it, mind you. There are times when I have to make the choice to buy from a bakery, when things are all crazified and I know I’d burn many loaves into charcoal if I tried. But most of the time, I bake my own. I know exactly what’s in it, who’s touched it, and, for the most part, what’s not in it.
Which becomes more important after reading the list of strange ingredients on a loaf of Wonder bread. Have you seen that list? High fructose corn syrup, diglycerides, exthoxylated mono and diglycerides, sodium stearoyl lactylate, calcium iodate, calcium dioxide, datem, calcium sulfate, ammonium sulfate, dicalcium phosphate, diammonium phosphate, calcium propionate.
Know what’s in my bread? water, salt, yeast, flour. Period. Full list of ingredients, right there. And no -ates or -oxides or -glycerides, much less any high fructose anything.
It may not last for six months in the cupboard, but it also doesn’t taste like cardboard and glue, either. Call it a trade-off.
By now, y’all know I’m a bit…obsessive sometimes, right?
I get on a kick, and for some reason, my brain won’t let things go. I have a need to know more about things, to dig into them and find out what makes them all tick. I drove my parents nuts as a kid, partially for that reason. (I was a taker-aparter. Alarm clocks, tape recorders, the mattress’s box-springs…once, even a dead frog. My poor parents deserve sainthood.)
Anyway, this obsessive need to know more about things led me to looking into commercial flour. Since that’s the major ingredient in the bread, and I knew precisely bupkiss about how it was made or where it came from (other than just the generic grow wheat – presto! flour!), I got a little nuts in figuring out how it went from that picture up there to a nice, tidy little bag on my store shelves.
Thanks to wheatflourbook.org, my curiosity was satisfied. The following graphic shows the whole (HUGE) process, start to finish.
All of THAT, just to grind wheatberries into usable flour. Including putting back IN some nutrients lost during the grinding process, which kind of boggled my mind. (Though the unique combination of enrichment bits is how they’re able to patent a particular brand of flour, I’m guessing.) Equally as boggling are the guidelines for what’s acceptable for contaminants in commercial flour: 75 insect fragments and one rodent hair for every 50 grams of flour. I kid you not.
Personally, I’m kind of against the idea of bugs in my bread.
Call me silly. It was almost enough to make me rethink the whole no-carb thing.
Plus, the sheer amount of fuel that’s needed to make a sack of flour kind of made me give a bit of a pause. They steamer ship in wheat? From where? (Likely, China.) Run it through a huge process, then truck it back out in disposable packaging and we buy it and truck it back home to make morally-superior bread from scratch. It kind of took the wind out of my pretentious baker-chick sails.
This is where my brain took the windlessness and went a little crazy. Fair warning.
I thought that maybe I could find a local source for wheatberries and just grind my own. I mean, that way, I could control the number of insect parts (and, hopefully, rodent hairs…though dog hairs are still a distinct possibility…) that went into my flour, I’d be supporting local agriculture, and cutting down how far my bread had to travel to be bread. It’d likely be healthier, too, since there’d be no loss of nutrients from the crazy processing.
To my surprise, there are a TON of home machines available for the home miller. Everything from small, hand-cranked models that make small bits at a time, to huge electrical contraptions that would make enough for a year in a few minutes, to at least one model that you could power by rigging up a bicycle to it. I settled on a mid-grade electric model with good reviews, after spending way, way too much time looking at them.
What if (redux)…?
I’m kind of lucky, here in the Midwest. There are tons of farmers, all over the place, who sell wheat in bulk to home millers, within an hour or so. Everything from soft white wheats to hard red wheats and the whole range inbetween. (They’re all good for various things — some do better in baking, some are better for flaking, etc.)
But since I was already going kind of crazy, and since I do have garden space this year, I thought maybe I could just grow some wheat. I mean, it’s a grain crop. Those are notoriously easy to grow, from what I understand, and if I was going to do this thing, I thought I may as well just do this thing. I spent hours looking for seeds. Found a few sources, in fact. Had some varieties in my shopping cart, when a friend from Facebook alerted me to something fairly shocking:
It is illegal in the USA to grow your own wheat crop, even for your own use.
I’m not kidding. I wish I was. (By the way, that link’s a little bit Chicken Little-esque, but the facts are sound on the case. Growing wheat has been illegal since the 1930′s.)
Turns out that, due to the instable nature of wheat crops, you are simply not allowed to grow your own wheat, since it could destabilize the wheat market if too many people decided to vote with their dollars and not support industrial farming. I quote:
One of the primary purposes of the Act in question was to increase the market price of wheat and to that end to limit the volume thereof that could affect the market. It can hardly be denied that a factor of such volume and variability as home-consumed wheat would have a substantial influence on price and market conditions. This may arise because being in marketable condition such wheat overhangs the market and, if induced by rising prices, tends to flow into the market and check price increases. But if we assume that it is never marketed, it supplies a need of the man who grew it which would otherwise be reflected by purchases in the open market. Home-grown wheat in this sense competes with wheat in commerce. 317 U. S., at 128.
There are cases that I found, as late as 1995, where the Supreme Court has upheld the law banning home-grown wheat. (In fact, that quote is from the 1995 US v. Lopez case, where the guy had to destroy his crop and pay a hefty fine…for wanting to make his own bread.)
There are ways around the law. You can register your crop (and pay a fee), or raise perennial grasses, or go with something other than wheat (like spelt, for instance). But to grow it in your garden is to risk federal prosecution.
I’ll be buying my wheatberries locally, thankyouverymuch.
And to think, this all started with wanting bug-free bread.
Like I’ve said this whole week, producing your own food is a revolutionary act, people. It goes against the whole idea that we need to be disconnected from the process, separated by hundreds of miles, a layer of plastic, and a billion machines..from the very stuff that keeps us alive. When baking your own bread can be a criminal act of an outlaw…we’ve gotten away from the simplest parts of our own lives.
If this year of Finer Fruits is about disconnecting from the Machine and finding that simplicity again, I’m learning that the Machine is a lot stronger than I thought it was. It’s not just about realizing something’s broken, but about fixing it, from the ground up, literally.