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A historian of bread on the history of bread "There is no good, no bad, only bread"

bimbo bread packages

cover artwork for episode In matters of personal taste there are no absolutes. I like this, you like that. But does that also mean that there is no good, no bad? That is a surprisingly complex question, especially when it comes to as fundamental a food as bread. William Rubel is a freelance historian of food who seems to take a delight in pricking the pretensions of people like me, who think that some kinds of bread are better than others. “Why can’t we like what we like?” he asked in a defence of supermarket packaged bread. To which I say, “Like it if you like, but don’t tell me it is good.” He also says that there is no historical tradition of using a leaven among Anglophone bakers, which somehow diminishes the efforts of English-speaking bakers to “revive” the use of sourdough leavens and long fermentation. And that revival denigrates supermarket bread.

Well, yes. At least as far as my own tastes go. But I wanted to understand this historian’s view of bread, and was glad that William Rubel accepted my invitation to be a guest on the podcast.

Notes

  1. William Rubel’s Bread: A Global History is available from Amazon. His website contains some good stuff, although it hasn’t been updated in a while
  2. Our exchange started with William’s response to an item someone shared with his Facebook group. That’s where he said “I find the flat out demonization of the Chorleywood process hard to accept. Why can’t we like what we like?”
  3. On my own website – this one, right here – I was more than happy to explain Why I don’t like the Chorleywood Bread Process.
  4. Searching for information on the world’s biggest baker, I was very pleased to learn that Bimbo has replaced hardtack at least for some sailors.
  5. The banner photo of Bimbo bread is by Oatsy40 on Flickr.

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16 Comments

  1. So, J, are you going to grind fresh flour for my focaccia? I’d love to taste the difference between that loaf and the old standby of 45 or 9/10 protein lousy flour that makes such a good focaccia and pizza.
    However, the ball of dough I put away each Sunday (pizza night) that rests in the fridge for a week, sour-ing, is really the start of killer pizza dough.
    We’ll have to try this out one day.

    • I have yet to get a mill, and that’s because I have yet to find reliable sources of wheat seeds that interest me. I know others are doing it, but I am always behind the curve.

  2. Frere Guillaume, Come on, be honest. You almost said it outright. There is good and bad bread, well make and poorly made, judged on completely objective standards. Poorly risen, overfermented, too much salt, whatever. You even said at the end that milling yourself fresh wheat is better. So even though our image of the past is nothing more than the sum of our discontent with the present, and many people get it wrong, I think everyone can agree that it’s not all sourdough, crusty open holed texture vs. Wonderbread. Did you not say it out of fear of libel suit? But go ahead, say it now, there’s great square loaf squishy white bread and there’s awful white bread too. There are even terrible “artisnal loaves!”

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