Peasant Palate: Knead Long And Prosper

The science people, they are always wondering: why don’t the French die?

The cheese they eat. The meat. The butter. The cream. The wine, and drinking it, all the live-long day. Why don’t their arteries fill with filth, causing them to keel over, gasping, ushered into death via coronary heart disease, like normal Americans?

There are many answers to this question. The first concerns the “Big Gulp.” Americans seem to believe that bigger is better. You think we would have learned by now, with our military. Though for more than 60 years the American military has been by far the biggest bully on the block, it hasn’t managed to prevail in any armed conflict since the close of World War II, with the exception of that little dustup in Grenada . . . and even there it was nearly run off the island by a handful of Cuban engineers. Oh, and Panama. Where the “bands of brothers” buzzed blithely around leveling hospitals, in pursuit of their own CIA agent, and incidentally abrogating the treaty that returned the Panama Canal to the people of the country in which it is located.

Anyway. Americans like their food, like their military, big. Big portions. Big steaks. Big drinks. But, just as our big military is killing us, so too are our big meals. When Americans eat, they eat too much. Which is bad for you. And Americans snack. All the time. Which is also bad for you.

The French do neither. The concept of the “Big Gulp” is unknown in that country, except in the hideous fast-food joints which Americans have imperialistically forced upon them, and which French patriots destroy whenever they get the opportunity. The French do not snack, and the portions they consume, when at table, are moderate.

Then there is alcohol. Americans drink to get drunk. While howling maniacally at television screens flashing images of oddbodies in strange get-ups fondling, pursuing, and quarreling over spheres, while congregating in establishments devoted to the pro-longed, reckless con-sumption of intoxi-cants. The French drink only as an adjunct to eating. And, when they drink, they usually drink red wine, which of all alcohol possesses the greatest health benefits.

Too, America and its food is poisoned with filth. Too many Americans have never met a pesticide or a herbicide they do not like, and so we have drenched ourselves, our soil, and everything we eat with these poisons. Our potatoes alone commonly retain the residue of more than 50 pesticides. In France, and especially outside the few cities, the food consumed is largely free of such toxic foolishness.

Also, the French have sex. During America’s interminable crucifixion of a president who dared to receive sexual pleasure in the Oval Office, it was telling that the percentage of Americans who believed that for this harmless frivolity he should be impeached and removed from office, was precisely the same as the percentage of Americans who had not indulged in a sexual act for more than a year—30%. It was that same percentage of Americans—30%—who persisted in believing that that grunting Neanderthal of a blunder-beast, George W. Bush, was “doing a good job,” even when he took to killing and consuming kittens on live television.

And, the French exercise. Although that’s not what they call it. The concept of a “gym” is not only unknown there—at least outside those few areas Americanized—but it is regarded as peculiar, frivolous, wasteful, and pretty damn stupid. No, what they do is walk. Everywhere.

The French also take to the streets now and again. Americans, even when our Cro-Magnon commanders have identified the latest foreigners they intend to kill, turn out into the streets fewer people than hit the cobblestones in France when a favored bakery is unjustly shuttered. For the French don’t wait for wars to let the government know it is transgressing their wishes. A few years back, when some numbskull of a Chirac thought he would try to backdoor prosti-tution laws by ar-resting a couple of coquettes on “health” charges, by the next morning 200,000 Parisians were in the streets, while at the gates of the city the truck drivers had blocked all the roads in or out, sitting behind the wheels of their purposefully jackknifed rigs, contentedly smoking Gauloises and reading Liberation.

In France, people “exercise” even in the preparation of their food. While in America, people are currently all agog with the fad of “no-knead bread.” You dump the ingredients in a bowl, then ignore the thing while you sit down at a computer for 18 hours, futilely trying to make money at that rigged roulette-wheel known as the stock market, then get up and—presto!—your bread has somehow kneaded itself, and is ready for baking. And Americans think that’s “progress.” American “progress.” It will transform this planet into a cinder.

Probably the most valued bread in all of France is Hearth Bread. Country people have baked these sturdy loaves for a thousand years. They still bake them, and that is one of the reasons why they live longer and better than Americans. Because Hearth Bread is the antithesis of “no-knead” bread. Hearth Bread requires a minimum of 30 minutes of kneading. By hand. When you have made this bread, you have earned it. As chopping wood warms a body two ways—in the chopping and in the burning—so too does Hearth Bread reward the body in two ways, in the making and in the eating.

Here is the recipe:

1 package active dry yeast
1 cup warm water (110 degrees F)
1 teaspoon sugar
.75 teaspoon salt
1 tablespoon butter, melted and cooled
3 cups unbleached flour
3 tablespoons cornmeal
.5 cup water
1 teaspoon cornstarch

In a large bowl blend the yeast with the warm water. Let stand until bubbly, about 5 minutes. Mix in sugar, salt, butter, and 2 cups of the flour. Beat vigorously, with your hands, for about 5 minutes, or until the dough is very elastic. Stir in another half-cup of the flour. Spread another half-cup of the flour on a board. Turn out the dough and knead until extremely springy, usually about 30 minutes. Add more flour as needed.

Please feel free to take breaks. Smoke a Gauloise or two. For not even a Frenchman can knead continuously for 30 minutes.

Put the kneaded dough into a butter-greased bowl. Turn the dough over to grease the top. Cover and let rise in a warm place until doubled, about an hour.

Remove dough from bowl and punch it down. Then shape into a smooth round loaf. Sprinkle the cornmeal in a circle, about six inches in diameter, near the end of a rimless baking sheet. Set the dough on the cornmeal, cover, and let rise in your warm spot until doubled. Another 30-45 minutes.

Finally, place an ungreased baking sheet in an oven preheated to 375 degrees. As the sheet is heating, use a flour-dusted razor blade to make 2 cuts across the top of the loaf, about 1 inch deep. When the sheet is hot, gently slide the loaf onto it.

Meanwhile, smoothly blend .5 cup water with the cornstarch. Bring to a boil over high heat, stirring. Turn off heat. Brush the cornstarch mix over the loaf after it has baked for 10 minutes. Repeat after an additional ten minutes. The loaf should bake for roughly 1 hour total, or until richly browned.

Serve with cheese, fruit, and good red wine.

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6 Responses to “Peasant Palate: Knead Long And Prosper”


  1. 1 possum August 31, 2010 at 7:13 am

    Great bread recipe. In days long past I baked all the bread we ate. Maybe the time has come to return to those more simple days. The acts of kneading and baking bread are good for the soul as well as the body.

    • 2 bluenred August 31, 2010 at 8:23 am

      Good for you, Mr. Breadmaker. ;) I imagine you’re kinda busy now, to be doing much baking. I find breadmaking satisfying, too. It’s like gathering and chopping wood in that way.

      • 3 possum September 1, 2010 at 4:36 am

        Busy is right. I was thinking on the way to work this morning how very busy life will be until November elections are finished. Life is wonderful. Not much better than working hard for a political campaign. But busy, busy, busy. Maybe around Thanksgiving we can bake up some fine bread. :)

        • 4 bluenred September 1, 2010 at 7:51 am

          Maybe for Thanksgiving I’ll put up the old French recipe for turkey stuffed with chestnuts. That’s more work even than Hearth Bread. Though the French don’t eat it for Thanksgiving—they don’t have Thanksgiving—but rather on New Year’s Eve.

          I guess that’s not too far off. There is already Christmas stuff in the stores here. Seems premature. Then again, those poor Chilean copper miners won’t be out till Christmas. So having the Christmas stuff in the stores makes it seem like their release will arrive sooner.

          Speaking of Delaware politics, I see where your old buddy Mr. Castle is facing a fairly serious challenge from a teabagger. Who’d have thought we’d see the return of the Know-Nothings, here in our own time? Embarrassing. : (

          I notice this morning that smileys have appeared in my comments. Spooky. So far as I know, I didn’t do that. : 0

  2. 5 Elva August 31, 2010 at 7:38 am

    Love to try this recipe, but I am afraid my arms are too old for all that kneading. I will try when the days are cold and the oven can be on. Then I will share it with my neighbor.


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