Wheat

Wheat

By
Stefano de Pieri
Contains
37 recipes
Published by
Hardie Grant Books
ISBN
9781740661713
Photographer
Earl Carter

Should you be bothered making bread? Most people claim they do not have time, and yet bread is so primordial I believe people should have a go at making it at least once or twice in their lifetime.

So much bread sold commercially these days is applied chemistry, made with loads of preservatives – substances that prevent mould, that keep it moist, that give it colour and so on. White sliced bread often contains sugar so that it colours when toasted. It toasts to cardboard, anyway. As you can gather, my feelings toward sliced bread are very strongly negative. I am even more annoyed by the fact that large manufacturers are centralising their bread production in the metropolitan centres and then shipping it to regional areas on trucks. Where there used to be bakeries and skilled bakers, there is now a convenience store with crappy bread. Even existing bakeries, by and large, have succumbed to the magic of the pre-mix bag. That is, a bag of flour containing all the elements that will make bread once you add water to it. The art of baking with flour, yeast, salt and water and shaping that into breads with different personalities is becoming a thing of the past.

Yes, there are some good bakeries here and there, but these are the last heroes, the true believers, that in time will be trashed. The large food retailers – people who, to be fair, have done so much for vegetable varieties – have let bread go. Vast aisles, canyons indeed, of ‘white death’ is almost all they have to offer. ‘White death’ is what old-style bakers call the new stuff. On top of that there is a new dietary craze which asserts that bread and wheat products are not good for you. Excluding people with a coeliac condition – which can indeed be very nasty – this new food fashion had cost the British bread industry a whopping 10 per cent drop in sales in early 2004. Bread, confined between the pole of dietary fashion and the pole of crap, is bound not to have a future in most modern countries. It may well become a thing of the past.

Mildura, like most of rural Australia, is surrounded by wheat and sheep country. We grow great wheat that we export to the world and yet right through the vast Mallee we eat lousy bread. There are few bakers, and most use pre-mixed flour. Rural Australia makes vanilla slices out of premade pastry and packet custard. I am ashamed of these practices, and I’d pay an arm and a leg to see a reversal of this shameful state of affairs.

When I found Bill Mayne, who was happy to move to the country to bake for me, I offered him a job and built him a bakery. If there is one product that I have been consistently happy and proud of, it is Bill’s everyday bread. The sight of the golden bread, straight out of the oven, first thing in the morning has sustained me emotionally for the last three years.

I am also proud of my friendship with John Calvert, the owner–operator with Bronwyn of Irrawarra Bread in the Victorian Western District. Affectionately known to me as Johnny Mutton, John always had a food dream. We met as young lads picking grapes at Passing Clouds. Little did we know that he – a young law student – and I – a sort of public servant – would end up producing bread in rural Victoria. Now John and Bronwyn supply bread into Melbourne and many locations along the Great Ocean Road, much to the delight of local residents and holidaymakers.

The baker Bill Mayne has been baking bread for our various establishments for the last three years. The sight of his bread coming out of the oven is one of the most sustaining moments in a profession where regularly one has to ask oneself if it is all worth it. The business of restaurants is very demanding. Enthusiasm and passion are the motivating forces for getting into it. Making a profit, sustaining the enthusiasm and the passion on a daily basis, year after year, is something else. People in our industry change jobs, or they move to another country, or change cooking styles, or they burn out. To remain stimulated and to stay out of the comfort zone is of paramount importance.

For me, to stay put in one physical location has demanded constant change within my organisation, but within that change I have also needed little pockets of certainty, small islands of security. Seeing the grapes ripening, the asparagus going to fern, the preserve kitchen handling the local fruits – oranges just picked on a frosty winter morning, for instance – are some of the most enduring images that give me that simple thing called the joy of life.

I gave up bread – much to my dislike – for more than three months to see what changes would occur to my body. For good measure, I eliminated pasta, rice, coffee, milk, desserts and all alcohol. You could say that I have tried a style of diet that excludes, beside sugar, all wheat-based carbohydrates. I can report that there has been no palpable change in my weight. The only time that my weight has reduced and stayed down, was after exercise – a damn awful lot of it.

I am now convinced, more than ever, that it is moderation in everything coupled with sensible exercising that keeps your body in a comfortable state. Eat your bread, and if you want to know what’s in it, make it yourself. I am not talking about bread mixes in the machine either – goodness knows how many preservatives are in there as well.

Wheat for pasta

Australian durum wheat in Italian-made pasta? Out there in the back of New South Wales, Southern Queensland and parts of South Australia, Australians grow a hard wheat (hence the Latin durum), which makes excellent semolina. Milling this semolina properly – that is, turning wheat to flour with each particle a uniform size – is the second part of the pasta equation. Apparently Australia grows excellent durum wheat and knows how to turn it into proper semolina. Australian-made pasta – supermarket brand names – are now of very, very good quality.

I am reliably informed that the Italians are global procurers of semolina, as there is not enough land left for agricultural purposes in Italy. Australia, Canada and other countries are where they procure vast quantities of wheat which is turned into ‘Italian pasta’, which in turn is sold to the world – probably with some measure of European Economic Community subsidy, so that they can dump it on our supermarket shelves at prices the local manufacturers cannot compete with.

The future for Australian durum wheat – this is my pet dream – is to have the courage to do what we did with wine: take it to the whole world, especially to Asia, where consumers like pasta. It is not a silly dream: wheat is not labour-intensive, nor is milling it. Flour, or semolina, is transported to pasta factories in large tanks. There it is pumped into silos. From there it is channelled into the production line where computers regulate the flow of water and the correct mixing. It is then extruded through machinery, which give the pasta its appropriate shape. From there it is carefully dried and packaged. In the entire journey, not a single human hand has touched either the wheat or the flour. Sad in some ways, terribly efficient on the other.

Featured Recipes in this Chapter

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