As I am not baking this week, I thought I should leave you with something to read.
A couple of interesting articles on the plant based milks folks are consuming and their muddled provenance.
Sales of plant based milks are growing swiftly as they offer a healthy alternative for folks with lactose tolerance issues.
A couple of items that I take issue with in these articles. First, the New Yorker article suggests that that the answer to our foods needs and to farming sustainably, will be to have a larger number of smaller farms, ones that are not monoculturally focused and inherently less efficient. I doubt this will be true - a return to small holder farms - are a challenge for production in Africa and India - would result in massive starvation.
The Mother Jones article is critical of the amount of water needed to grow almonds. The amount of water is less an issue than the fact that that water is not priced in a way that reflects its true value. In California, we grow low value crops like alfalfa and rice in what is essentially desert because farmers have been supplied for years with highly subsidized water. (No doubt many of you have read Cadillac Desert, about the history of water and the dry Western states.) This will have to change.
Anyway, I am itching to get back to baking for you and will be doing so next week.
Our industrial agricultural system is an amazing thing, one that we pretty much take for granted. It produces abundant nutritious food for our own population and for export, getting ever more efficient. Less than 5% of our population works on farms, compared with 38% in 1900 and 64% in 1850. Yields per acre have grown steadily too: Kansas winter wheat yields grew from about 25 bushels per acre in 1960 to over 40 in 2010. (Some sources indicate that wheat yields in medieval England were about 5 bushels per acre.).
The supply chain's evolution has matched that of farm's. First, the use of ice to revolutionized the shipping of meat in the late 1800s, and then produce (from California and Florida to the Northeast). Synthetic refrigerants developed in the the '20s and '30s enabled shippers to ship fresh food even longer distances over greater time periods.
The development of the suburbs and the interstate highway system after WWII (Inspired by what Eisenhower had seen of Hitler's autobahns in Germany) drove development of the supermarket format that we largely take for granted. The idea that just about any fresh food should be available at any time of year and in any location is unprecedented. These developments have made food more abundant and less expensive than it has ever been: families spent about 35% of their income on food in 1900; whereas today that figure is about 5%.
And yet. There is room for improvement and /or change. The center aisles of the supermarket consist mainly of highly processed food that uses corn and soy products, sugar and naturally artificial flavorings and colorings. A review of the cereal aisle never fails to bemuse: how many ways can you deliver sugary, highly processed grain based breakfast foods in a way that ensures the growth of type 2 diabetes? Ditto with the aisle full of soft drinks.
How many times have you purchased and apple at the local supermarket - this within 50 miles of one of the great produce growing regions in the globe - and find that it is woody and has little taste? Or eaten a tomato that is round and red -gassed to make it so - and flavorless? It is as if the modern food system has delivered the form of food you need but not the substance.
I wonder if our food system is ready for its next evolution, or disruption. Industrial scale farms need to figure out how to run with lower quantities of fertilizers and pesticides and move beyond mono culture, building, not depleting their soil. Portions of the supply chain need to become "hyper local", so that travel times or some products are drastically reduced. And whereas the delivery of a tomato of any kind - even one without flavor - to your local supermarket was miraculous in 1950, today, we need new miracles around flavor, quality, variety, provenance.
This next evolution of the industrial food system is probably some weird amalgam of organic (Walmart has gone organic), the current setup and farmers' markets.
This Week's Bake
This Saturday I will bake the old favorite - Raisin Walnut Multigrain, which is dense and rich with raisins and nuts. I use 65% White, 25% fresh ground Whole Wheat and 10% Rye and a multi grain soaker with about 10 kinds of seeds and grains. (For those of you with nut issues, I will bake white sourdough.)
This Saturday I plan to bake a whole grain Khorasan (or Kamut - a more rotund name), with 30% fresh ground Kamut, 30% white Kamut and 40% regular white flour (all organic.). I test baked this last weekend and came out quite nicely, with a slight crunch, a rich, nutty taste and a golden color.
Last' week's bake - the White Sonora - had a crumb that was a little tight (You likely noticed that it was somewhat dense.) This is because the dough, in its rise overnight, got a little over proofed, that is, it rose too much. Unlike the yeast you would purchase at the supermarket and use to make bread, sourdough yeast is quite sensitive; It will "run out of gas" pretty quickly if the time, temperatures hydration levels the baker uses are out of sync.
I've been using a commercial mixer for the past few weeks and, to adjust for the considerable rise in temperature caused by the friction it encounters mixing the dough, have reduced the temperature of the water I add to make the dough. But not enough! When I set about to bake this past Saturday morning, the dough had tripled in bulk (it should only double). I will drop the water temperature another 10 degrees this next bake to see if we can get our yeast and bacteria working at the right pace.
Your Canadian Baker