Bread a culinary workhorse around world

Except for the Orient, which features rice as a staple with any meal, there are few societies that do not boast some kind of bread as their staple.

Even in Latin America, a tortilla is basic.  Even if it doesn’t look much like bread, at least as we know it. I’ve found that most cultures produce wonderful bread as a routine matter.

Whether in good times or bad,  most societies have fallen back on bread as their staple. In bad times the bread was made darker and more hearty to fill the average stomach.  And in good times, bakeries began bleaching the flour as a way of allowing people to withdraw from what was seen as “poor man’s bread”.

The problem has been that, although white bread became a sign of prosperity, it became less and less nutritious.

In many Third World countries the only food that is still subsidized by the government is bread.  During the French Revolution, sometimes called the bread revolution, the rioting began when the public could no longer afford to buy bread.  It was Marie Antoinette who, when told the peasantry could not afford bread, said, “If they can’t buy bread, let them eat cake.”  It was enough to get her beheaded well ahead of the rest of the aristocracy.

In Europe, bread baking is an art.  Bakers must study their craft in school before they’re allowed to bake a product for sale. When I attended baking school in Paris, there were certain kinds of bread the instructors refused to demonstrate because the recipes were kept a secret.

People in many societies insist that bread be fresh baked, a fact attested to by the presence of a bakery on virtually every street corner.

If you have couple slices left for the second day use them in this easy and filling soup.

Poor man’s soup

serves 4

4     tablespoons olive oil

1     medium onion, finely chopped

6    cups water

1/2  cup tomato paste

1/2  teaspoon oregano

salt and pepper to taste

3    cups dry Italian or French bread, cut into 1-inch cubes

salt and pepper to taste

-Saute the onion in the heated olive oil for a couple of minutes.  Add the water, the oregano, the tomato paste, the salt and the pepper.  Bring to a boil.

-Cover and simmer for 10 minutes.  Turn off the heat and stir in the bread cubes.  Cover and allow the soup to rest for 15 minutes.

-Stir with a fork, mashing the bread against the side of the pot.  When reheating use only low heat to avoid burning the ingredients.

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