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The Village Idiot

I got a recipe for beer bread

Jack Deatherage, Jr.

(2/2013) "You said you werenít going to drink beer again." DW stands with her head cocked to one side, her good eye jumping about as agitation builds.

"Iím not drinking beer." I grumble. "Beer is disgusting." I continue to eye the array of bottles on the rack in Gettysburgís remodeled Giant supermarket where a beer garden replaces the old coffee shop, much to DWís disgust. She used to enjoy a hot cuppa on our way home from shopping there.

"Then why are you looking at beer?" Her eye is now spastic in its jittering.

"I got a recipe for beer bread."

She sighs. She used to think I was crazy, as my interests would jump from photography, to fish keeping, to gardening, to leather crafting, toÖ well, whatever caught my attention. Her eventual acceptance that I am crazy makes life simpler. That I tend to rein in my sudden enthusiasms, Iím only a year and some months from turning 60 (gods, how did that happen?), has also made her life easier as Iíve gotten practical in what I take interest in. Gardening has the potential to feed us, someday. Archery (now that Iíve settled into the type of shooting I enjoy) gets me out from under foot as I go off to watch over the IWLA kids a couple times a month during warm weather. Fermenting sugars into alcohol keeps me out of bars. Bread building fills the house with mouth-watering fragrances and tempts us to eat a food best gifted to others, neither of us needing the weight we tend to put on when Iím caught up in a bread making frenzy. (The current frenzy has run for several months and shows no sign of abating.)

"Beer bread? I hate beer. But go ahead." Another long sigh. Turns out she hates beer bread made with dark, full flavored stout too. Nor is she wild over the wine bread I made a few days later.

Ever since my decision to sit among the pagans and listen to their philosophies Iíve been finding the universe opening door upon door upon door to lead me ever farther from the beaten path. What I have recently discovered as I step through these doors are rooms Iíve been in before, only now Iím seeing them from a different perspective.

Yes, beer is disgusting. During the ten-year inebriation, I drank a minimum of 3,600 bottles of beer and thought all but maybe a dozen of them disgusting. As I wasnít chasing their flavor, I didnít see the people around me who were. Now that Iím looking for shortcuts in bread building, (beer is a great shortcut for adding flavor to bread) Iím finding beer aficionados stepping up with suggestions of what they would like to see in bread I build. (And surprise! Iím not so far off the beaten path. There are more than a few local bread builders ahead of me.)

One home brewer (working at Gateway Liquor store outside of Thurmont), after sampling bread I made using a Polish beer heíd suggested, got so enthused he now wants to make beer for my bread! A customer standing at the counter asked if she could taste the bread. Eyes wide, she allowed the bread had to be on her table next Christmas.

"I donít suppose youíd be willing to share this recipe would you?"

I happily turned her frown to a delighted smile when I told her Iíd found the recipe online and would print out a couple copies for her. (Should she not find time to make the bread herself Iíd happily build as much bread as she needs for her seasonal feast. And why not? Her son works in that store, and like everyone else Iíve met there, has begun to suggest other forms/carriers of alcohol I might try in future bread.)

Not long after the Mad One tells me I should consider building bread professionally, Cousin Luke informs me one of his high school friends will be attending our next weekend feasting.

"Jack, he used to have a bakery."

I find myself sitting with a once-upon-a-time baker as he finishes a plate of Paleo chicken with which the Mad One dazzled us. He uses a chunk of ciabatta Iíd built (itís the Mad Oneís bread of choice if I give her a choice) to mop up the sauce. Weíve talked about food and wine, his bakery and why he isnít baking for a living (no money in it). He mentions working part-time for a bakery/pizzeria in Biglerville. Heís cleaned his plate of sauce, the ciabatta no longer flavored with anything but my effort to give it life.

"What do you think of the bread?"

He studies it briefly. Takes a bite, chews and swallows. "This is good bread. Did you refrigerate the dough?"

Iím impressed. I had retarded the ferment overnight in the fridge.

"How can I improve it?"

The universe opens another door.

The baker, younger than I, clean-cut, soft-spoken, apparently a good Xian (possibly even a Christian, though Iíd not go that far on such a short time with him) is about as opposite me as one can get. Yet we share a passion that allows us to consider the other favorably. Heís read most of the bread building books I have and a few I havenít. Heís worked with master bakers in Phillie, toured the bakeries of Europe and has built a wood-fired oven in his backyard. (He seemed pleased that I recognized the design and took to urging me to bring him dough we can ready for the oven as he seldom has time to build bread these days.)

We got to talking about where I might go with this interest in crafting bread. He suggested I consider a commercial venture. I allowed the idea appeals to me, but I donít want to make pig food.

"What you call pig food is bread made from mixes and shaped to look like artisan bread. It has additives to give it shelf life. The few bakeries in your area also use mixes, as far as I can tell from the breads Iíve had of them. What you make is NOT pig food. You need to learn the bakersí percentages and make ten or so loaves at a time so the handling and shaping becomes easy. You have a passion for this. I can teach you the rest."

"What do I do with ten loaves of bread?"

"What do you do with the two or three loaves you make now?"

"HmmmÖ I guess I can find ten people to gift bread to?"

"There you go." He smiles. "It isnít the finished bread weíre concerned with. Itís the making, the building, the constantly striving for better bread. Isnít it?"

Yes. Yes it is. Now, I have to learn to create and keep a sourdough starter.

Adding a bottle of beer is so much easier. Which reminds me! I have three beer doughs ready for the oven and an olive oil bread to start building. And a cake. Honey cake! Gods, the frenzy be upon me!

Read other articles by Jack Deatherage, Jr.