One of the best parts of homemade bread is cutting a slice while the loaf is still warm. Today, I made a sandwich with it.
Now I’ve had sourdough before, but what I’ve gotten from the grocery store and even high-end bakeries is tough. The crust — especially from bakeries — is hard enough to cut your gums if you chew too fast, and the insides are so … resilient … that by the time I’ve finished chewing, my jaw is tired. Gods help you if you have something squishy inside a sandwich made with commercial sourdough — like tuna salad, for instance. It’s like putting tuna salad between two boards. By the time you’ve gnawed through the boards, all of the tuna salad is on the plate, or all over your hands. On top of that, the bread is usually so sour that it really doesn’t taste very good — like it’s been sprayed with vinegar.
Marta’s sourdough has a crisp crust, which comes from putting water on it while it bakes (same trick, different recipe, produces bagels and pretzels). But it isn’t dangerous to bite into. And the chewy part is, indeed, chewier than her normal bread, but only a bit more — you could actually make a tuna salad sandwich with it, and not need a fork and chainsaw. There’s a touch of vinegar in the taste, as there should be, but the prevalent flavor is dough, not sour.
It got me to thinking.
Because, you see, exactly the same thing happened with beer in the Colorado microbreweries I used to frequent, before I moved to northern California. In the beginning, the microbreweries made good beer. No, they made damn fine beer. Better than anything I could make, so I stopped brewing beer. But then something happened. I think all the breweries started trying to differentiate their products, and somehow, this turned into a race to produce the hoppiest beers, meaning (in practice) the bitterest beers, as measured in IBUs, or International Bitterness Units. So the early signature microbrews, with an IBU of maybe 20 on the 100-point scale, started to give way to brews with an IBU of 90. This could be qualified subjectively as, “So bitter, it will give you lockjaw.”
I remember that wines went the same way, for a while. Merlots — which are named after the variety of grape they are made from — normally have a pretty high tannin content compared to other red wine grapes, which gives something called “oak” to the wine. This is doubtless because oak wood is also very high in tannins, so much so that (as I recall from the novel My Side of the Mountain, which I read when I was very young), you can soak a rabbit hide in water pooled in an old oak stump to tan the hide into leather. When you drink an oaky wine, it manifests as a “dry” sensation in your mouth, like your mouth is turning to leather. Shortly after Merlots became popular as a gateway wine for newcomers to the red wine scene, it seemed to turn into a free-for-all about who could produce the oakiest Merlot. There are now some Merlots out there that are so oaky, your tongue will cleave to the roof of your mouth and you will be unable to speak for a week. It’s almost a practical joke.
Which then takes me back to graduate school. One of the popular dining-out places — as a graduate student, we ate out all the time, because (basically) no one’s living arrangement allowed for cooking — was a little Chinese restaurant in a strip-mall next to the big Huntington Mall near Stony Brook. They did have excellent food, but the students and professors got into a kind of informal competition regarding the capsaicin content of the food. Or, in other words, how “hot” can you take it? Of course, like any good competition, there has to be a scale, which turns out to be the Scoville Scale. The Jalapeño pepper, the mainstay of “hot” when I was growing up, has a Scoville score of a mere 1000-4000. There’s a pepper called a “Carolina Reaper” with a score of 2.2 million, according to Wikipedia. Much higher than that, and they start comparing it to chemicals with the letters “toxin” in the name. I don’t know where some of those meals came in on the Scoville Scale, but I’d guess well north of 100,000. They say of such meals that you should eat the food with marbles — that way, when you are sitting on the toilet the next day, the marbles will splash the water and cool the afterburn.
What is it about people?
I’m declaring the “snarf rule.” If it’s a good (or great) wine, or beer, or food, you should be able to snarf it. Guzzle the wine. Chug the beer. Stuff your face with the food after working all day in the yard and skipping lunch, and then give forth an appreciative belch.
I’m not saying you should actually do this, or even that you should want to. But you should be able to.
If the thought fills you with a kind of horror, and the sense that maybe you need to check the fine print on your medical insurance policy, then the wine, or the beer, or the food is perhaps not nearly as good as you are trying to pretend it is.
Come to think of it, this is probably not a bad rule for a lot of life….