Wednesday, February 6, 2013

Bread-The Magickal Loaf

(originally posted for the Pagan Blog Project 2013,W B-1)

Bread is made from harvested grains (wheat, rye, barley, corn)that have been processed into flour, combined with liquid (usually water or milk), and a leavening agent such as salt, yeast or baking soda or baking powder. There are infinite varieties of bread. Many recipes call for the addition of ingredients such as oil, eggs, and herbs or other flavorings. Leavening agents such as yeast cause the bread to go through a chemical change where air is introduced into the mixture through the process of fermentation and the dough rises and increases in bulk. The characteristics of good leaven bread are a symmetrical loaf which has a golden brown crust and moderately soft interior and an unmistakable earthy aroma.

Unleavened breads were commonly known to our ancestors, particularly tribal people who could not spend precious time waiting for the bread to rise. Basic flatbread was quickly made from flour, water, salt and a bit of oil, kneaded until smooth and elastic, and rolled or patted thin( e.g., the matzos of the Hebrews). This type of bread was used in lieu of utensils to scoop food from a vessel. It was particularly handy when used to eat from a common bowl in a community setting. The bread supplied much needed calories and carbohydrates to those living on an otherwise sparse diet under difficult conditions. That’s why it’s been said that “bread is the staff of life”; without bread, many would have perished on a long journey or during a cold winter when other provisions had dwindled.

Although mixing the ingredients for bread is fairly simple, bread making is an art. A knowledgeable, experienced bread maker can devise numerous varieties of bread from a single basic recipe by combining different flours and the addition of ingredients such as sprouted grains, olive oil, herbs, spices, grated cheese and diced, cured meats. It is difficult for us to imagine that in many countries other than the United States, meat is not an entree, but is instead combined with a gravy or sauce and used as a condiment for bread. This is the case in parts of the world where meat is in short supply or excessively expensive. Varieties of Mediterranean and African dishes are made this way, and are quite delicious.
We know that the majority of Pagan pantheons were situated in parts of the world where agriculture was of prime importance; the primary crops grown in those places were grains and grasses such as wheat, barley, corn, rye and rice. Local gods and goddesses were often associated with these crops. The word cereal was derived from the name of the goddess Ceres, which in Latin translates
“of the grain”. Deities associated with the ancient Grain Mysteries, such as Ceres and Demeter, also have an Underworld aspect due to the seed lying beneath the soil awaiting awakening into ‘rebirth’.  Because of this, grain, which is believe to possess energies is associated with transformation, is often portrayed in religious art as a symbol for regeneration.  Decorating with sheaves of grain such as wheat or stalks of corn in the home or on an altar during harvest festivals bespeaks the hope for continued abundant life, particularly at Samhain, when it symbolizes the reincarnation of the soul.

We are familiar, too with the use of bread during the rite of communion with the feminine Divine half of Immanent Deity. Bread, with its association to birth, is used as an incarnation of the Mother Goddess, from whose body all things are created. Any type of baked good can be used as a sacramental; bread, however, is more in keeping with the original tradition. (A personal note to this, as departure to the previous statement, a baked good containing a fruit filling is especially nice to symbolize both God and Goddess in a single sacramental if you are pressed for time or finances. I have used both Fig Newtown cookies and rugula .)

The following is a quickly made ‘emergency ‘loaf which is delicious eaten warm with honey. Because it’s very moist, it doesn’t keep well, so it’s best eaten immediately or the next day as toast. It also makes good last minute ‘communion bread’. The recipe comes from Rose Elliot’s Complete Vegetarian Cookbook, Diamond Books (London), 1995.

8 oz plain wholemeal (whole wheat) flour
4 level teaspoons of baking powder
5 fluid ozs plus 2 Tbs milk

Sift the flour and baking powder together, pour in the milk, and mix into a soft dough. Turn out onto a floured surface and knead for a minute or two until smooth. Shape into a round on a floured baking sheet and brush with a little milk, which will give it a nice brown crust and bake in a 425 F oven for 20 to 30 minutes. (It will sound hollow when done. Don’t over-bake it. I have used half whole wheat and half unbleached white flour and rolled it in whole oats and had good results. I’ve also added dill, a little rosemary, or sunflower seeds to the dry ingredients before adding the milk for interest.) You can also pinch off bits of the dough and make rolls, if you’d like.

1 comment:

  1. I'll have to try this recipe sometime. I'm a big fan of "quick" breads.


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