As businesses folded or downsized during the Great Recession and the American Dream became even more elusive, people were forced to take stock of how they were living their lives. Perhaps one of the upsides to the global financial meltdown was the wave of creativity that arose during the aftermath.
Many folks in search of a more sustainable lifestyle chose not to return to a corporate setting to follow their passions in the gentler arts. An outgrowth of baby boomers and young folk alike making a conscious choice to downsize, or live more simply, is the handcrafted food movement. The desire for healthier eating has also played a significant role in the sheer number of foods being grown and/or produced at home. In the past few years, cities like Benicia have legalized backyard chicken coops and beekeeping, and it’s hard to walk a block in Benicia without seeing planting beds full of vegetables.
As the billion-dollar specialty food industry continues to thrive and consumers become more informed about the industrialization of food, the rise in handcrafted items continues to evolve. Examples include specialty food trucks—here in Benicia we have several, including Got Plate Lunch at the farmers market—and olive curing, cheese making, pickling, micro distilling and specialty sausage making.
Another example of the edible craft movement is baking handcrafted bread at home. Techniques have certainly evolved from the bread making I used to try in my kitchen 25 years ago, which was then eclipsed by bread making machines that have now fallen to the wayside of the baking industry. Today’s artisan breads are mouthwateringly rustic, dark crusty loaves made popular in part by Ken Forkish with his book “Flour, Water, Yeast, Salt,” referred by devotees as the bread making bible. Published in 2012, the book focuses on the fundamentals of bread making by hand, with an emphasis of producing loaves that have abundant flavor and texture. In 2013 the book garnered the James Beard award and International Association of Culinary Professionals award.
In addition to Forkish’s method, artisan bread making resources are abundant, including websites, books, videos and blogs such as forum.breadtopia.com. The bread making revolution means that these delectable loaves, some made over three days, brought what used to be the exclusive purview of professional bakeries and restaurants into home kitchens across the country. One of Forkish’s recipes calls for mixing the dough, refrigerating, then dividing and shaping into round loaves. The loaves are put into proofing baskets to proof again in the refrigerator, and then baked in a preheated Dutch oven. The result is a rustic, rich brown loaf to savor in your own home. But there’s more to it—it’s about the experience of creating something wonderful every step of the way, without the help of machinery. It’s about tapping into a 30,000-year history of bread making, experimenting with texture, color and flavor, and sharing the bounty with family and friends. Ultimately, artisan baking grew out of the slow food movement, and some of the specialty loaves are not quick to make. But the end product, for those who are willing, is worth the effort.