Friday Bread Basket 10/14/22
Lay off Anna, already, damnit
Welcome to the Wordloaf Friday Bread Basket, a weekly roundup of links and items relating to bread, baking, and grain.
Anadama is a classic New England bread that doesn’t get made much anymore, even in its home territory. The cornmeal-molasses bread originated on Massachusetts’ other cape, Cape Ann, in the fishing village of Rockport. Readers of Wordloaf might know that I love anadama bread, and have a formula of my own here already. While anadama’s origins in Rockport are not in dispute, I’m less certain about how it got its unusual name, despite the story that continues to circulate, as in this recent piece from The Takeout:
…as legend goes, there was a Rockport fisherman, Joe, “and his lazy wife, Anna,” who either couldn’t cook well or simply wasn’t interested in kitchen labor.
“You’ve got to remember, they didn’t have a lot to eat,” Abbott says. What settlers and early Americans in New England did have in abundance was cornmeal, a staple of Indigenous diets, and molasses, a byproduct of rum distillation…
“They would have hogsheads [large barrels] of molasses, and the very lowest part of the hogshead had really thick molasses—that was cheaper, the really deep, thick stuff,” Abbott says. People would keep a pot of this cut-rate molasses on a woodstove, and “they’d just keep throwing things into it.”
“It was always corn mush and molasses,” she explains. “That was a thing people ate. If they didn’t have anything else to eat, they’d eat that.”
Fisherman Joe, the legend goes, had eaten his lifetime fill of it. In a fit of anger one night, he took the cooking into his own hands, adding yeast and flour to the mix, all the while muttering “Anna, damn her” as it baked.
I’ve never heard an alternate take on how anadama got its name, but the misogyny built right into it makes me highly skeptical of the standard one. I say it is just as likely that Fisherman Joe was the lazy one with no cooking skills, who decided to take credit for his overworked wife’s invention, forever relegating her to a cliché. (Or maybe they had an affectionate relationship and he actually said something to the effect of, “Anna, dammit, this bread is so freaking good, please make this every week for me, my love.”)
I loved this Eater story from Kevin Vaughn on the Argentine evolution of the foods that the nation’s many Italian immigrants brought with them in the late nineteenth century:
On the weekends, like many other women in town, Doña Tonita prepares mote, a pre-Hispanic stew of meat, hominy, and beans, originally enjoyed during community harvests. Today, the dish is a staple at Saturday family lunches. But, “during the week, people around town eat what everyone eats,” she explains. “Milanesa, ñoquis, noodles, stuffed pasta.”
The Italian cognates for Doña Tonita’s diet — canelones like cannelloni, ravioles like ravioli, ñoquis like gnocchi — might lead you to believe these are mimetic Italian dishes. But the flavors are layered on top of Belén’s many historic foodways. Just give her bolognesa a whiff. Like her fried empanadas, the sauce smells of paprika, or pimentón, made with red peppers that are grown, dried, and ground into a powder at the start of every year in the valleys surrounding Belén. At another restaurant down the street, servers balance plates of potato ñoquis and jigote, a local potato and beef casserole. Although distinct in origin, the dishes are united under obligatory mountains of cheese, the jigote covered with sheets of mozzarella, the ñoquis drowned in a creamy four-cheese sauce.
Go read the whole thing. It is super interesting, and it made me want to book a flight to Buenos Aires stat to try all these dishes myself.
Room for dessert
Genevieve Yam wrote a bleak story for Bon Appetit this week about how pastry chefs are having a hard time finding or keeping jobs these days, since theirs is the first and easiest to get cut when restaurants tighten their apron strings:
“When budget cuts are made and you have to cut labor, it’s one of the first departments to go,” says Kim Conroy, the former pastry chef of the two-Michelin-starred restaurant Lazy Bear in San Francisco. “In many cases the pastry team has [been] widely viewed as nonessential.”
Caroline Schiff, who runs the pastry program at Gage & Tollner in Brooklyn, says that restaurants have always operated on such a tight margin that it’s not unusual for pastry teams to be let go as a way to save money. And when cash-strapped restaurants reopened after pandemic-forced closures, she noticed that many of them “didn’t hire back their pastry chefs and their pastry teams.” Brenda Villacorta, the owner of Sucré Table in Tampa, shares a similar sentiment: “We’re always put on the back burner,” she says. “Now, many places are getting rid of pastry chefs.”
I am as guilty as the next person of overeating during dinner and having no appetite left when the dessert menus get passed around, but after reading this, I’m going to make more room for dessert. (Though as the story makes plain, this isn’t necessarily going to fix things, since many restaurants fill their menus with generic desserts that don’t even require having an actual pastry chef on staff.)
That’s it for this week’s bread basket. I hope you all have a peaceful weekend, see you on Monday.