The Washington Department of Agriculture has many important jobs, but two in particular rise above the rest: First, hunting down and capturing nests of killer hornets; and second, letting everyone know that it’s National Bread Month.
Yes, you read that right. There’s a whole MONTH for celebrating bread, the most important invention since slicing. And what’s more, there are some distinctly Washingtonian ways to observe the occasion, as our fair state has a particularly robust growing and milling industry. Given that lockdown rules just got tightened up, we’re all going to have a lot of at-home time over the next few weeks — so, good God, what are you waiting for? Time to celebrate carbs!
Alas, Sandwich Day (November 3) has already passed us by, but sandwiches aren’t just for special occasions like weddings and murder mysteries anymore. The American Bakers Association suggests you sandwich up your life with whole grains, pita, and breads, and suggests an autumn-friendly baby-spinach, chicken, and goat cheese arrangement.
But you might want to go with something a little fishier: In 1987, lawmakers held a tasting contest in Olympia to pick an official state sandwich, and Bellingham Rep. Dennis Braddock claimed victory with his Lummi smoked salmon, Walla Walla onions, Pleasant Valley Dairy gouda, and a sauce of wine and mustard. (There was also some controversy when it was revealed that Rep. Brian Ebersole should have been disqualified for using California onions.) If you are unable to get ahold of a state legislator to cook for you, Zagat recommends a salmon sandwich from Market Grill in Pike Place Market (they deliver).
But of course bread can be enjoyed in non-sandwich forms as well, thanks to recent technological developments. If you’re a classy billionaire, you likely have access to charcuterie boards, and the American Bakers Association suggests adding sliced bread and crackers to your spread. Apple, brie, and dijon pair particularly well — and what luck, it’s apple season in Washington. For authentic mustard, you’ll have to travel to the Dijon region of Safeway.
But the best breads are the ones that you pound and roll and stretch with your bare hands, just like the best Steamworks buddies. I personally recommend a simple approach: When the weather turns cold, every Sunday I dump six cups of flour, three cups of water, a tablespoon and a half of yeast and the same amount of salt into a mixer; then I let it stand for an hour, punch it down, grab a handful’s worth and pop it in the oven at 350; the rest goes in the fridge, and I take out a few bits at a time to make small loaves over the next few days. It’s simple, it’s fast, and fresh daily bread makes your home smell amazing.
But that’s just a basic foundational dough — you can certainly get fancier. Washington State University’s Bread Lab (yes, of course, they have a bread lab) has an excellent step-by-step for making the optimal sourdough starter, which can be used for bread or crackers. They’ve also done careful research into making the perfect whole wheat croissant — it’s a challenging recipe for home bakers, but my God the results are stunning. And if you really want to dive into the science, WSU scientists have a fascinating article about why maybe the sliced white stuff you get at the grocery store shouldn’t even be called “bread” at all.
Good gravy, look at the time, can you believe you’ve been reading about bread for the last six hours and haven’t even bothered to get up and eat some? It’s the wheat treat that can’t be beat, so go, go, go, assemble your bread-feast, stuff your face, slather gluten all over your body, and celebrate Bread Month however feels right. As yeast cells know all too well, life is short, so you might as well spend as much of it as you can digesting sugars and expelling gas.