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Saturday, April 11, 2009

Bread Machines

It's only right that my first "real" post on a prepper blog be about food, because that is the first thing one needs to think about when beginning to prepare for hard times.
Not just any food, but the "staff of life", bread. We don't live by bread alone, but it is pretty hard to pack more nutrition into a given space, weight, or budget than can be achieved by storing grains. Whole grains also store well, as long as they are protected from insects, other vermin, and moisture. How best to do this will be covered in a future article.

Chris at Johnson Family Farm has written a few posts about bread-making the old-fashioned way, and that is a skill we all, myself included, need to develop. If you have not yet learned this skill, however, that still shouldn't stop you from making your own bread. Bread machines do a wonderful job of making good bread while not requiring (contrary to what I had originally assumed) special ingredients. All the bread machine does is remove the drudgery, allowing you to concentrate on what goes into making good bread.

When I first bought my bread machine, I wrote this article about it. I have reprinted the article here:

I don't know how I ever got along without a bread machine. I just figured, bread is pretty cheap, and making bread really just sounds like an awful lot of work. I can still buy grains, and if I ever go through a(nother) time of extreme low-budgetness to the point that I can't afford to go to the store more than once a month, and only buy staples even then, I can just make porridge and/or sprout the grains. Of course, I have been making cornbread for decades; I guess I could have also added some other grains to the cornbread to further enrich it.
Well, I can still do those things, but now I can make bread, too! I just found a perfectly good bread machine, complete with owner's manual, for the princely sum of 2 bucks at my favorite thrift store. This allows me to make my own bread, without the necessity of spreading out a large area I don't have in my kitchen, beating, rolling and pounding on dough for hours, getting flour all over everything, scientifically regulating the temperature and humidity, and keeping all sorts of special ingredients that deteriorate at roughly the same speed as a loaf of bread.
That's not how it really is, of course, but it's how it seemed to me. I had actually thought about buying a used bread machine before, but the ones I saw at the thrift didn't come with a manual and besides, I kinda expected those machines needed even more specialized ingredients that would cost more than just buying bread, while turning out something barely edible. It was pretty much a case of, it was worth $2 just for the experience. Also, I've made my own beer, which some call "liquid bread"; how much harder can a loaf of bread be?
Boy, was I surprised! What I found out is that you can just throw in a handful of ground grain, some lukewarm water and a teaspoon of plain old yeast that any grocery store carries, and you will get bread. Probably heavy, dry, bland-tasting bread, but quite edible. I actually tried this, after my first loaf. For the first loaf I looked in the manual at the recipe for "basic bread" which called for water, instant milk powder, 3/4 teaspoon of salt, a couple teaspoons of sugar, butter, flour, and yeast. The recipe said to measure carefully and follow instructions exactly for best results. So I started with about a cup of whole milk, poured a small mound of salt in my cupped palm, about twice that of sugar,a splash of canola oil, a couple good handsful of flour, and a little mound of yeast. Pressed two buttons, and went off and did something else for about 3 1/2 hours. When I returned, I had a loaf of the best bread I have ever tasted!
Man, that was easy! Thus bolstered, I studied a little further and conducted an experiment. While boning up on this stuff I read that milk (powdered or otherwise) only enriches the bread with some extra vitamins without really adding much taste, oil or butter makes it moister but the taste is subtle, thus butter doesn't significantly improve the taste compared to plain veg oil (you can also use bacon fat or whatever), salt enhances the flavor slightly but primarily regulates the yeast action, and sugar, honey, molasses or whatever also doesn't really sweeten the bread. I mean, you can add enough to sweeten it but generally you only add a little, as a snack for the yeast. The yeast can get everything it needs from the grain, but it is just generally happier if you give it a little dessert; and as I learned from brewing beer, happy yeast makes a better-tasting product.
OK, the bottom line of all that is that, as noted before, you really only have to have three ingredients to make edible bread. So I sallied forth to make the absolute poorest bread I could muster. This is a survival exercise, now. You're boondocking in Mexico, have been for 2 1/2 months, and you're down to a few pounds each of wheat, dried beans and rice, plus a yeast culture you keep in a little flour, and perhaps a handful of jerky from a rabbit you caught in a trap a few days ago. You have two weeks yet before your dividend check is due to arrive at your P.O. box just across the border, so ya just gotta subsist on this meager fare until then.
OK: humble bread. First I went to my favorite feedstore, and got a 50 lb sack of wheat. Grain prices are 'way up this year, and it cost me $13.50 so that makes a 1 lb loaf of bread 27 cents if I'm growing my own yeast; about double that otherwise. I ground a pound of this wheat in my cast iron hand-cranked mill, running it through twice which took less than 5 minutes, then dumped it into the bread machine along with a cup of water and a little yeast, and 3.5 hours later I had a loaf of heavy, dark, bland bread. Not bad, just not tasty. It was much better with some butter smeared on, and it was fine for eating with soup, which is what I did with most of it. It would do wonders for a meal of bean-and-rabbit soup.
My next loaf of bread consisted of 1/2 lb of this same hand-ground whole wheat flour, 1/2 lb store bought cheap white flour, some bacon grease, water, a spoonful of honey, salt, and yeast. I also threw in a few spices, including crushed cayenne chile. Now THAT was some good bread!
Then I tried the dough cycle, wherein the machine makes the dough which you take out and do your thing with it. This is good for making biscuits, pretzels, pizza crust, etc.

OK, that was the end of the original article. I hope you enjoyed it.

More info:

Ohio State University Factsheet about selecting a bread machine.

I recommend finding a bread machine at a thrift store like I did. Don't worry if it doesn't include the instruction manual; all that info is available for free on the internet. However, if you would really rather buy a new one, here is a good, basic, inexpensive one:

You will also need a grain mill. Here is the one I have, and it is well worth the money:


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