To the ancient agrarian societies whose lives revolved around the harvest, the year was seen as a great wheel that turned through the seasons, and with the end of October came the death of the Sun God. The shorter days and long cool nights haled the coming of winter, the season of hunger and death. The full moon of October was often called the blood moon because this was the month to kill and salt down livestock, for only the choicest stock was kept to be fed and coddled through the harsh winter.
Autumn marks the end of the long, hot summer days and the start of the harvest season. We notice the initial change in cooling nights and the first cold nip in the morning air. We notice as nature accommodates the changing season. Trees shut off the flow of sap and their leaves begin to change color. Birds head for warmer climates. Animals feast on late summer berries and store up their fat. Squirrels and other small mammals add to the storehouses that will hold them through the winter.
For us it is a month of flavor. Fall fruits ripen and are harvested. Fresh apples, pears and oranges are now at their peak flavors. The first cranberries appear from the bogs of the North. Sunflowers nod their seed-laden heads as pecans, walnuts and almonds are sent to market. While, from across the country, the spring-planted wheat and early fields of buckwheat, millet, oats, and quinoa are abundant and ready for harvest.
To the ancients grain was the staff of life and history is laden with stories of harvest deities, mystical feasts and fertility rites that are centered around the growing of grain. Celebration breads were skillfully made and ornately decorated to mark life's milestones. Days of baking herald the fall celebrations beginning with: Oktoberfest, celebrated by Germanic communities across America. Hallowmas, Irish Halloween, Dia de Los Muertos, Mexico's day of remembrance and All Souls Day, for the art of baking is as old as the first civilization.
This fall take time to celebrate the harvest by baking your own loaf of bread. Every time an art is learned and practiced, such as bread making, it is inherited and infused with new life. Through this ancient art one can reconnect to history and tune into the changing seasons. Acknowledging the seasons is a simple way to harmonize with the world and to recognize that we are a part of it.
The time-honor tradition of baking for the holidays goes back to antiquity. There is something very rewarding in baking up a special dish for family and friends. Choose a recipe and updated it by adapting to local ingredients and let your spirit lift with joy and thankfulness for the bounty of this season being mindful that the nights are growing longer; the darkness growing colder as the dying year gives way to winter. Update recipes and bake for your family offering an ancient art to a new generation. Give thanks for the abundance in your life by giving a loaf of fresh bread to a friend along with the recipe and pass along a linage that weaves back to the beginning of time.
Basic Bread Recipe
(makes one two pound loaf)
1 1/4 cup warm water
4 1/2 teaspoons yeast (or 1 packet)
1 1/2 tsp sugar
2 teaspoons salt
5 cups bread flour
4 tablespoons of warm milk
3 tbsp of olive oil
Lightly grease a 2 pound bread pan. Set aside.
In a small bowl add 1/2 cup water and sugar.
Sprinkle yeast over the top and whisk. Set aside to proof. (10 minutes)
When yeast has proofed, or gotten bubbly, you are going to incorporate the flour and the yeast by mixing them.
Begin by shifting the flour and salt together in a large bowl. Make a well in the center and slowly add yeast mixture. Mix by stirring the flour at the edges into the middle until you have formed a batter. Add remaining water and mix in more flour incorporating from the edge of the bowl.
Leave in a warm place to sponge. This will take 20 minutes as batter becomes filled with bubbles and rises.
Coat your hands in oil. Place dough on lightly floured work surface and knead. Add more flour if dough is sticky or water if dough is stiff. Kneading mean to work the edges of the dough into the center by pressing down with the ball of your hand. The dough will become smooth and elastic after about 10 minutes.
Place dough in oiled bowl and cover with oiled plastic wrap. Allow to rise until dough has doubled (about 2 hours).
Punch down dough and turn onto floured surface. Roll ends under to form a loaf shape. Put dough in bread pan and cover. Set aside to rise for 30 minutes.
Gently slice top of loaf down center with a sharp knife. Let sit for ten minutes while oven preheats.
Bake 450 for 15 minutes. Turn oven down to 400 and bake for 25 more minutes.
Let cool on wire rack for 10 minutes
Tips for working with yeast
Yeast needs warmth to rise. The ideal temperature for water or milk being added to yeast is 110 degrees Fahrenheit. Allow yeast to proof before adding to flour. When yeast proofs it becomes active and swells or blooms as it devours the sugar and develops bubbles. It is these bubbles that give your loaf its consistency.
If you think your yeast may be too old to use then do an active test to see how active it is before adding to your recipe. Just add 21/4 teaspoons of yeast and 1 teaspoon of sugar to 1/2 of warm water. Whisk then set aside in a warm place and allow yeast to proof. If the yeast is still active the contents of the cup should swell to the top of the one cup mark.
Tips for working dough.
When working with dough you must add water until the right texture is reached. The amount of water needed to reach the ideal consistency is always an unknown because it is the flour that determines how much water is needed. Every variable such a the type of flour, where the flour was grown and even the weather conditions during its development can contribute to the flour's ability to hold water.
If dough is too dry to mix, then slowly add water until desired texture has been reached. If dough is too wet, add flour while kneading until dough is firm, smooth and elastic.