A loaf of bread, a jug of wine and thou beside me, singing in the wilderness’ – The Rubiat
Our summer house is built on farm land that had lots of old apple trees that we have never pruned or picked. Occasionally, when we have a warm enough fall, the fallen apples ferment, and their delicious scent attracts creatures like rabbits, groundhogs and deer. They all have a jolly time getting tipsy as they gobble up this potent gift of nature and later of course, spread the apple seeds in their scat. This was Mother Nature’s whole purpose in the exercise. She also provided the single celled fungi called yeast that get the fermentation going. The yeast cells are so small they are suspended in the air like dust landing on whatever is in the vicinity. In the case of the ripe apples, they were ready, willing and able to consume the sweet juices and in the process produced alcohol and carbon dioxide gas [CO2].
In very ancient times in the various cradles of civilizations, early humans must have found that they too enjoyed the taste and alcoholic effects of fermenting fruit. It turns out that grapes were a fruit of choice, not just for taste but because the air born yeast stuck to their skins ready to start fermentation process as soon as the ripe fruit burst open. As humans are wont to do, they soon were thwarting nature’s original intentions by crushing the fruit and producing wine from the fermented juice. It’s interesting that many vintners still use the strains of yeast that are naturally provided.
So, as yeast cells in the air provide the wine, so too they play a most important role in providing leavened bread. Our hunter, gatherer ancestors collected seeds to eat and store for lean times and, as early as 9000 BC there is evidence that wild grain seeds were being ground to produce flour. It was easy to mix flour with water and pour it on a hot rock to cook. This unleavened bread soon became a staple in their diet and one can imagine that on occasion a slurry of flour in water must have been left standing for a few day and it began to bubble. That’s because a different strain of yeast that was able to break down the starch in the flour to make sugar and was happily feeding while producing alcohol and CO2 gas. The bubbles got caught in the flour-water slurry making it rise and soon enough some one had learned how to produced loaves of light texturedbread something like we know it today but tasting sour. During the gold rush in the Yukon, the prospectors relied on natural yeasts to produce their sourdough bread. In fact it was 1880 before bread yeast was introduced and sold commercially!
Have you ever noticed that if you smell bread baking when you enter a house, a strong sense of well-being comes over you? That’s because the alcohol - produced by the yeast -. is being vaporized in the hot oven and you’re breathing it in.
Thanks to Nature’s gifts – life is good …and getting better? Rie