It should come as no surprise to anyone who has met me, or read my blog, or who follows me on Facebook, that I like a good cookbook. I find them inspirational as well as educational. When it comes to the latest cookbooks, I’m very particular about who and what I read. But when it comes to older cookbooks, the older the better. I’m always on the lookout for older tomes that contain recipes to be reworked in the modern style. Old bookstores are always a fun way to lose yourself on a lunch hour.
It’s amazing what some people will leave lying around in bus stops.
I live near a small city called Efrat. They have rather interesting method of sharing books, which I’ve seen done in other places. At least two of the bus stops have bookshelves where residents are free to pick up and drop off used books. It’s haphazard, but if you have enough time and patience, you can find some interesting gems tucked away.
Waiting for the Bus
Last week I found myself waiting for a bus into Jerusalem from Efrat. The cold, rainy weather and bus delay made my wait longer than usual, so I took the time to peruse the shelves for books. I managed to find a couple of Encyclopedia Brown books for my son, a John LeCarre novel, and a few other interesting-looking titles.
After going over the shelves and through the boxes for the fifth time (the bus was very late), my eyes scanned one book that I mistakenly thought was called The Complete Book of Beads. Beads? No, wait. Breads. BREADS?
I grabbed the rather large book from the shelf and flipped through it. It was, in fact, the first edition of what was the de facto bread-making bible from the 1970s. And here it was in my hand. I quickly stuffed the cookbook into my bag, eager to bring it home and glean the knowledge in it.
Let me tell you, dear readers, this is my kind of cookbook. No glossy inserts, just page after page of recipes for breads people haven’t heard of in a generation. The use of lard is prevalent, as is his emphasis on hand-kneading, but proportions and ingredients don’t change much with time. Save for lard. Thankfully.
The chapters are broken down by preparation methods. There are recipes for sourdough, multi-grain, bread with fruit, and more. The author seems to favor breads from Scandinavia, as well as the American Midwest, the latter being where he comes from.
The Recipe for Challah
Of course there’s a recipe for challah (page 344) in the cookbook. While he mangles the explanation of taking challah (he calls it “the act of Challah” and explains that it is burnt as an offering), the recipe seems bone fide. It even includes a pinch of saffron in it, which makes me think about challahs from when I was a kid. The challahs of my memory have a rich, golden color inside. He also gave instructions for a three-braided loaf.
I like the prevalence of corn in many of the recipes found in the cookbook. Mostly because I like corn. His recipe for bannock calls for making them in two one-pound coffee cans, which I found nostalgic. Who doesn’t have a memory of a huge can of Chock Full o’ Nuts coffee in their grandparents’ pantry?
Where Wayne Gisslen’s Professional Baking (7th edition) is the preeminent volume for professional bakers, covering everything from bread to desserts, The Complete Book of Breads focuses solely on bread in all of its glorious forms.
One recipe I have never attempted at home was for croissants. Clayton breaks it down in such a way that it might make it onto my to-do list this year. It isn’t different, he has a way of explaining it that makes it easier for me to visualize.
Since the original cookbook was published, the kitchen has gone through several phases of modernization. New equipment, updated techniques, and less lard define the 21st century kitchen. While I’m sure the latest edition of the cookbook is well worth the cost, I’m going to try modifying some of the most interesting recipes in the cookbook and see what I can come up with.
Sadly, Bernard Clayton passed away in 2011. But he has left us a treasure trove of recipes for the most humble of foods, a loaf of bread. Thank you to the anonymous donor of this book; my cookbook library and I appreciate it deeply.
Are there any recipes you would like to see me try? Let me know on my Facebook Page or Instagram.
I would like to take this opportunity to plug my sister’s little free library in my home community. Many a Shabbat has been spent engrossed in a novel liberated from her shelves. Which reminds me, I have to bring a box over…