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Fresh Herbs and Homemade Bread Warm the Heart and Soul

Fresh herbs from the garden give warm winter foods zest and spice.

Fortunately for me and my close relations, my wife is an artisanal bread baker. Every couple of weeks or so she is overcome by an urge to create sumptuous loaves that leave the house and the neighborhood scented with the familial smell of fresh baked goods. She is always generous with her creations and our family and friends often get treated to warm bread wrapped tightly in a paper sack right out of the oven.

Her knead, I mean need to bake comes over her usually on weekends. Some weekend mornings my son and I are treated to fresh baked 'cathead' biscuits. Other mornings it is homemade whole grain 'gut buster' waffles, one of which will keep a grown man going for six hours. Other mornings we wake up to homemade cinnamon buns dripping with melted sugar and butter.  

Some weeks my little baker makes sourdough bread. The yeast cultures my wife uses are of a wild strain that she captured five years ago. It is a good one that produces tasty aromatic breads. Several folks have asked her to share her starter, which she has done gladly. I always know that a treat is in my future when I see her take the starter out of the refrigerator and set it out on the counter overnight so that it might wake up. 

Did you know that sourdough starter was one of the most important and highly treasured items American pioneers carried? Wives in Conestoga wagons headed west with containers of sourdough yeast safely stored in crocks. Miners in Alaska kept their starter wrapped in oilcloth and tucked under the arms to keep it from freezing. Ship cooks valued their starters for use making fried breads. Without the sourdough yeast starters, pioneer life would have been even more trying than it already was. 

One of the best smells in the world is that of the freshly baked sourdough loaf mingled with fresh herbs recently gathered from the garden. My favorite combination is rosemary and sourdough. Used as a garnish during the presentation of the bread at the table or mixed with butter or olive oil for use as a spread or dip, rosemary seems to warm an olfactory dulled by cold.

Rosemary is yummy chopped up and sprinkled into olive oil for use as a dip during Italian meals. Other herbs that are great for mixing with olive oil or butter are thyme, parsley and basil. Spaghetti sauce made with tomatoes picked in the summer garden and fresh Italian bread dipped in rosemary olive oil is one of my favorite winter meals. 

Rosemarinus officianalis, a drought tolerant evergreen semi-shrub that originated in the Mediterranean region, is supposed to improve memory. In fact, rosemary is a symbol for endurance and long memory. In the old country, it is tradition to plant one of these long-lived and useful plants on the wedding day. Brides once wore wreaths of rosemary during their betrothal. Its ties with marriage ceremonies are so close that it began to be thought of as a love charm and a fair maiden would use it to lure the young man upon whom her eye was cast into her arms. Maybe that's why my wife uses it so often. Hmmm. Obviously it works on me!

I asked my better half her thoughts on bread and herbs and here is her response:

"Herb butters are amazing! You can make them using homemade butter (by using room temp whipping cream and a mixer) or with softened butter. I also make pesto bread in the summer when basil is abundant. I simply take a favorite bread recipe and roll it up sort of like a cinnamon roll. Other herbal breads include cheddar/dill bread and kolaches with a savory cheese/herb filling. I've never seen a bread that is not complimented by an herb in it or herbal spread on it!"

My wife loves to make bread as much as I like to eat it.

Fresh herbs and fresh bread are a wonderful holiday combination.

Scarlet Buckley December 12, 2011 at 02:01 AM
Great article! Ther's not a lot growing right now, but we've still got some hardy herbs. Fascinating bit about the sourdough starter.

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