Thursday, January 28, 2010

March 28, 2009 - The Breadmaking Day

March 28, 2009 – The Breadmaking Day
Dona Rosa lives in a little turquoise colored brick house by the road that leads to my farm. As I drove by, I could see the neatly swept bare soil, being scratched by free-range hens and the rustic dome shaped wood fired stove. It looked old, with broken pieces, and sloppy. As this is common, many people build their own oven by laying clay brick alternating with a layer of mud in a concentric shape. A small open for the door and a brick size hole is left as a chimmney on the back. It looks just like an igloo on top of a table. A little shed is built to cover the oven from the intemperies.
But these rather odd looking construction device bake wonderful breads and roasts, and build friendships and gather family members on weekends.
Dona Rosa very often stops me on my way home to give me some produce or bread. It started a few months ago when I wanted to buy little chicks. I asked my mother’s nurse to inquire her about selling me some. She would sell them only if the hen came together. I declined. I got young chicks next day from elsewhere to have them later caught by a predator. The hen was really necessary to keep the chicks alive. Oh, well. I would chat with her when I stopped to buy some okra or green onions. A little camadarie here and there, and soon we were giving each other farm gifts: okra, green squash, ripe squash, bread, hot peppers, wild lemons, and on my part, used Clara’s clothes, stuffed animal, soap, hot peppers. Our friendship consolidated with the mandioc starch making day. As her family worked to produce the starch on our farm, I would cook and serve them some hot snacks. We started to exchange long hot peppers for short hot peppers, soap for bread, and so on. Until I decided that I wanted to hire her to teach me baking on a brick oven. She refused to take money for it, so I showed up bringing the ingredients, a big chunk of herb bleach soap bar, new bag of used clothes, and a ready to bake mandioc starch cookie dough. While my daughter played with her four year old grandchild outside, we occupied the little kitchen furnished with wood burning stove on the corner still hot from fixing lunch. As a good teacher, she directed me step-by-step, letting me measure all the ingredients, mixing and hand kneading the dough. It was a two-step process. First, the yeast proofing with sugar, butter, milk and baker’s yeast, this one still possible to find at the grocery store. The increasing substituition for active dry yeast, the old type of yeast are not as common. This yeast yields a better flavor, being tasty even to eat it as is (in small quantities).
As the yeast was proofing, we fired the stove with a piece of paper and wood from coffee bushes. To my surprise, it didn’t take that much wood. She told me that we let it burn with open chimmney and open door until the outside wall is hot and the woods are turned into gray ashes. The test for temperature is done by laying a few dry corn husks and allow five minutes. If it burned in the meantime, the oven is still too hot. It needs to become yellow for the baking temperature. By seen the hole, I asked about a door. She told me “I got a piece of tin”. It was actually a beaten up piece of a large can that closed the hole held by a stick with one end poked on the ground and the other laying against the tin. As the oven reached the ideal temperature and the dough grew four-fold until occupying the whole baking sheet, the lady swept the ashes using a broom, made with green leaves (so it doesn’t burn in the oven).
A muggy day as it was, the dough raised beautifully. I kneaded adding more flour until I got a very stiff dough, nonetheless dry or lifeless. While dona Rosa cranked the pasta maker, I passed the dough through to make it smooth and flat. Then, I rolled it and cut it into small pieces before laying onto the ungreased sheet.
The roll turned out wonderful. I would described it as a mellow. A little chewy, a little crusty, but also a little moist, a little light, and a little dense. I came home with two baking sheets, another one with cookies, and a recipe for a farm version of homemade orange soda. This soda is orange only in color, as it takes carrot juice instead of real oranges. Added to wild lemon juice which looks very similar to tangerine, and water and sugar, the “soda” is ready. “It even tastes like Crush!”. I got to try. We enjoyed the new concoction.
After placing the pans into the oven, dona Rosa made some coffee. She takes some coffee beans after the harvest for herself, roast it, and grind it at home. The strong aroma, full bodied, sweet tasting with sugar, perfectly balanced deep dark coffee was one of the best drink I have had recently.
I left her house with bread, cookies, persimmon, wild lemons, ripe squash, all leftover ingredients, and also with a placed order of organic chicken (properly killed and cleaned) with cooking directions. The farm hens cannot be fried or it will toughens. It is best cooked with a little water. Older hens go to the pressure cooker . I just forgot to ask her how to make okra salad she mentioned a day earlier, and to order homemade roasted coffee. Under my enthusiasm for natural yeast cultivated in a bottle, she said she will get some from her sister. This is an old fashion yeast that makes gives a different texture to the bread. I also mentioned making smoked sausage bacon bread someday. She invited me to go back anytime I wanted to bake something. I am thinking about building the oven myself. Or we are going to have a time of an endless gift exchanging.
I may have forgoten to mention that gift giving is a normal thing in this community. Every time I visit my cousin or a friend, I take them something. It can be fruits, cookies, a bar of soap. Even if something requires some kind of annoyance, such as asking to teach something, money is not taken readily. It is not usual to be paid for something that it is not their main mean of living. Dona Rosa told me she would charge me only for the second order of chicken. The first one would be a gift. I am not even sure if it’s going to have a second order. I heard that old fashioned free range chickens have a firmer meat. I am worried with the gamey smell. Let’s see how much courage I will have to go from preparing to eating and actually enjoying it.

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