Friday Bread Basket 5/19/23
Welcome to the Wordloaf Friday Bread Basket, a weekly roundup of links and items relating to bread, baking, and grain. As you can see, I’ve made little progress with my brioche recipe. I think I need to set this one aside, for awhile, I’m losing perspective on how to fix it. That’s fine, since I am out of eggs and am taking a little trip to the Twin Cities later today.
Cumin in Tucumán
I loved this Life & Thyme piece on sfija and the Arab influence on the cuisine in Northwestern Argentina from Kevin Vaughn. As with most of Kevin’s work, it is a rich exploration of lesser-known food pathways in South America, and beautifully photographed too:
In San Miguel de Tucumán, the big capital city of Argentina’s smallest province, sfija is also typed on menus or scribbled onto chalkboards as empanada árabe,whereas the porteños of Buenos Aires call it fatay. Either’s common ancestors likely knew it as fatayer or fayaer depending on what dialect of the Levant they spoke. It’s a triangle-shaped savory pastry stuffed with minced meat, and depending on who makes it, flavored with crushed cumin seeds and firm squeezes of lemon. It’s kind of like a folded-up lehmeyun—another dish known by a bevy of orthographic aliases. “I think that’s Armenian,” Antonio responds, glancing at me curiously from the rearview mirror (he’s right). “Here, we call that an open sfija.”
The sfija arrived in the Andean Northwest region of Argentina at the turn of the 20th century by way of present-day Syria and Lebanon. The Ottomans didn’t allow migration, and the refugees who managed to escape as the empire crumbled brought little more than their language.
Jess Eng wrote a story for GastroObscura about the Colonial American recipe for “fairy butter,” a spread for sweet breads apparently inspired by the colorful jelly fungus Naematelia aurantia:
Long before the butter boards and butter candles of today, tantalizing butter desserts that resembled delicate golden threads were a favorite in Colonial America. Known as “fairy butter,” this pale yellow confection accompanied sweet breads such as scones, gingerbread, and towering cakes that cookbooks fancifully described as havens for gossamer-winged fairies.
Fairy butter required only four ingredients: egg yolks, orange- or rose-water, sugar, and freshly churned butter, meaning that cooks could whip up this impressive treat in a pinch. Many Americans found such recipes in English cookbooks, including those by Richard Briggs and Charles King published in the mid-18th century. It was also a favorite recipe of Dolley Madison, First Lady of the United States from 1809 to 1817, who paired it with gingerbread and served it to guests during White House teas….
Fairy butter is more than just a fanciful name. It may have been inspired by the colorful jelly fungi long held to be the condiment of choice for magical creatures, giving rise to the names “fairy butter,” “witch’s butter,” and even “troll’s butter.” One type of jelly fungus, given the scientific name Tremella auranta by German-American mycologist Lewis David de Schweinitzbright, has a bright orange hue and a shape not unlike that of a small brain. Jelly fungi spore on everything from dead tree branches in forests to damp mine walls, both known stomping grounds of many magical creatures.
There’s a lot to dig into here, but I found this Small Food Bakery page on a newly-developed bread wheat from the UK, ‘YQ‘ Orc Wakelyns Population Wheat fascinating. “Population” crops are grown from a mixture of different strains in the same plot, which can make them more sustainable and resilient. And this particular wheat can be grown in and around trees, a practice know as “agroforestry”:
My colleague Laura & I first travelled to Wakelyns Agroforestry to meet Martin for the first time only 2 ½ years ago following an introduction from Josiah Meldrum (Hodmedods). This visit initiated a butterfly effect back here in Nottingham, changing our thinking about food systems and influencing our work at the bakery in ways we couldn’t have imagined. It has changed our bread; the decisions we make in purchasing ingredients; helped us articulate a philosophical framework around the bakery; and perhaps most significantly inspired me to convene an ambitious meeting called UK Grain Lab in both 2017 and 2018. Martin has had such a positive influence on so many people from many backgrounds - that influence extends to all of the team here and also into the new community that formed around UK Grain Lab…
As bakers, we went to Martin looking for a sustainable wheat, having read a snippet about agroforestry online and thinking that growing the alley cropping system could be the answer. We got so much more than we bargained for, the outputs from Wakelyns were certainly as diverse and productive as the agricultural system being proposed! The YQ, a heterogeneous ‘Population’ he created & grew amongst trees at Wakelyns defied the status quo on every level. On that first visit, Martin calmly and patiently explained to us the politics and science of plant breeding and seeds, the national recommended list, how plant pathogens behaved, the genetics of old and new varieties of wheat, his work with mixtures, and then of course the population wheat and many philosophical and practical musings on diversity and resilience. I list all of these things because we are not academics, farmers or scientists, and one thing that Martin was brilliant at, was explaining complex ideas to the many and varied curious visitors that turned up at his door.
Obviously, grain like this is only useful to bread bakers if it can be made into beautiful loaves, and it certainly appears that it can.
That’s it for this week’s bread basket. I hope you all have a peaceful weekend, see you all on Monday.