That 70’s Bread Man

More like bread-men – James Beard on the one hand; Edward Espe Brown on the other. This post is mostly about JB. That’s how I think of him – JB.

These two pretty much represent the extremes of 1970’s bread baking – one writing for Middle America, publishing in newspapers and more than a few glossy magazines .

Cuisine and James Beard - the back cover was the back of his head

Cuisine and James Beard – the back cover was the back of his head – and the magazine cost $2!

The other, writing from a Zen Center in California – uber hippie.

Edward Espe Brown

Edward Espe Brown

Beard on Bread beard on bread and The Tassajara Bread Book the-tassajara-bread-book_1 were my go-to guides.

In my efforts to be ‘all-natural’ I made more than a few….. door-stops and….hockey pucks, which I hope gives no offense to door stops and hockey pucks. By this time I had 4 younger brothers, and they all had friends, and no one ever went hungry and no one actually got ill…..

James Beard had a section on whole-meal breads; (not all the hockey puck came from Tassajara, which had and still has a killer three layer corn bread and the bestest and tastiest, easiest  gingerbread, but I digress).

James Beard could be a little cranky about some things:

“One doubtful fashion in bread making today, however, is the tendency to acquire as many different flours and meals as can be found and incorporate them all into a single loaf, without thought for texture, for crumb, or for the other attributes by which a fine loaf is judged…….The irony of the health trend is that many of the course flours and meals found on the market, particularly in health food stores, are often quite dirty and, if anything, a risk to one’s health.” (xii/Introduction)

You see? He was on a fine tear about the jumble loaf, the loaf that begins with an odd mix of every which thing with “HEALTH” as an end product, and not a loaf of bread that you should like to eat, especially after you’ve been through the trouble to make it. The dig against health food stores was just unnecessary.

It’s the end of his Introduction that got me to go back time after time, and eventually buying my own copy:

“You can throw a recipe together, or you can be meticulous and, chances are, both approaches are likely to produce a good bread. It is a mysterious business, this making of bread, and once you are hooked by the miracle of yeast, you’ll be a breadmaker for life.”

Hooked by the miracle,I’ve signed on to the breadmaker life. Still baking, still learning.

Some of the things I still turn to, like the Sally Lunn is more properly a cake. Other, like Cream Biscuits, are, bread-ish. Dill Seed Bread – the bread with cottage cheese and dill seed or weed in it, is SO totally ‘70’s, EVERYONE had a version of it. The first pita bread I ever made, I made from here. Portuguese Sweet Bread, Italian Holiday Bread (which I shaped into a ring and made for Easter), ditto. My youngest brother was a huge fan of the English Muffin Bread.

But the one I made a lot when I need a lot of bread, and continued making when I didn’t have a lot of time and I could freeze it until I needed it was an oatmeal bread. Maryetta’s Oatmeal Bread. This makes three loaves, and after making it once, I just always made sure I had three loaf pans. I have never tried to divide this one. It was never too much. If I could figure out how to fit 6 loaf pans in any oven I’ve ever had, I would probably double it. Three is good, just right, just like in Goldilocks.

Maryetta’s Oatmeal Bread

From James Beard’s Beard On Bread. p. 106. Alfred A. Knopf, NY. 1973.

4 cups boiling water

3 cups rolled oats (traditional, not quick or instant)

7-8 cups AP flour (I often use ½ whole wheat)

2 packets yeast (or 1 big tablespoonful)*

1-2 tablespoons salt**

4 tablespoons melted butter***

½ cup mild molasses

  1. Pour the boiling water over the oatmeal in a large bowl and leave to cool.
  2. Stir in 2 cups of the flour and the yeast (so you don’t want this more than 103 so it will encourage the yeast to grow and not kill it off. This is slightly warmer than blood warm)
  3. Place in a warm, draft free (cat-free) place to rise, uncovered, until doubled in bulk.
  4. Punch down and work in the salt, the melted butter, molasses, and enough flour to make a smooth, pliable, firm dough. 10 or so minutes by hand – you can’t knead too much by hand! Work out those anxieties!
  5. Divide the dough into three equal pieces and form into loaves to fit into 3 buttered 9x5x3 inch loaf pans.
  6. Allow to rise again, uncovered, until doubled in bulk.
  7. Bake in a 350 oven 40-60 minutes, or until the bread sounds hollow when tapped on the bottom (slip the bread out of the pan – use potholders! – and rap away. Knock-Knock. Hollow sounds like a hollow-core door sounds when you knock on it. You’ll hear it. Otherwise you’ll hear a thud thud thud, and then it needs a little more oven time. After you’ve made it a few times, your nose will tell you the done smell, so the rapping becomes a double check.)
  8. Cool thoroughly before slicing (or let cool enough to let the middle finish baking before ripping in – warm bread does not slice well. It also stales up faster, so you might as well eat the whole loaf, good thing there are 2 more for later.)
  9. Makes great toast, should there be any left the next morning.

*I buy yeast in bulk, and I think a packet is 2 ¼ teaspoons….close enough.

** James Beard like LOTS of salt. I like not so much. He recommends the 2 Tablespoons, I like less.

***The original calls for salad oil; I never have that and olive oil is very distinctive and not great with molasses, so I’ve been using melted butter for years.


Filed under Books, Bread, Influencers, Recipe, The 1970's

3 responses to “That 70’s Bread Man

  1. Kitchen-Counter-Culture

    It’s funny, the “salad oil” reminds me so much of the safflower generation– I wonder if that ‘s even still sold? Or was kind of replaced by Canola? More than Beard on Bread, I’ve kind of come to love Beard on Pasta, which is so much more than pasta… is noodles, etc…. Enjoyed reading this. Contrasting Beard and Espe Brown is interesting . I have both from my mother’s collection, and am going to give them both a look in now, inspired by you.

    • Salad oil is still the oil in my mother’s cupboard…As for the bread men, I would bonce back and forth – the whole grains stuff took years of study – and better sources of flour – to master. But I must have done something right – my son thinks bread is tasteless if there isn’t some whole grain flour in it. In the ’80’s I discovered Bernard Clayton and my bread got very French, ooh lala!

  2. Pingback: Oatober | Foodways Pilgrim

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