Oats and Honey Bread

For nearly 40 years, I’ve baked homemade loaves of bread, and one of my favorite recipes comes from Beard on Bread (Alfred A. Knopf, New York, New York, 1973).  The title of this wonderful book always makes me smile:  James Beard was born to love bread, and with the transposition of one letter, his name is bread.  His “100 favorite bread recipes,” carefully transcribed in this “everything you need to know about bread-baking” cookbook, confirm this truth.  Maryetta’s Oatmeal Bread, included among the 100 bread recipes, in Mr. Beard’s words “is as good an oatmeal bread as I have ever eaten, and it makes wonderful toast.”  I can personally attest to his judgment having used this recipe, with occasional minor variations, hundreds of times in the past 40 years, as does the well-worn page 106 of Beard on Bread, which is still available in trade paperback [www.randomhouse.com/catalog/display.pperl?isbn=9780679755043].

Over the years, I have used 100% organic thick-cut rolled oats and organic whole wheat flour.   But in the past few months, my local food co-op, the Honest Weight Food Co-op in Albany, N.Y. [www.hwfc.com], has been carrying whole wheat flour in bulk, which is milled in upstate New York by North Country Farms of Watertown (Jefferson County) from wheat grown in upstate New York by Robbins Farm in Sackets Harbor (Jefferson County).  At 52 cents per pound, it is a bargain compared to the 99 cents per pound for the organic whole wheat flour I’ve been using (grown in the breadbasket of the American Midwest but milled in upstate New York by Champlain Valley Milling).  The fact that the wheat was locally grown, in my mind, did not really counterbalance the lack of an “organic” designation, and I continued to use the organic whole wheat flour.  Nonetheless, after some Hamlet-like decision-making, North Country Farms’ whole wheat flour, which is stone-ground, unbleached and not treated with potassium bromate or bleaching agents, won me over: grown locally, milled locally, produced locally (and not hauled cross-country).

With its brown, grainy flecks, this local upstate New York whole wheat flour produced delicious loaves with almost a nutty flavor.  Perhaps with some urging from the public, Robbins Farm will be encouraged to grow its wheat organically.  I, for one, would willingly and happily pay more if it had the organic designation.

The Honest Weight Food Co-op has also begun to sell organic, cold-pressed local sunflower oil produced by Stolor Organics in Cazenovia (Madison County) [www.stolororganics.com] which I used in this recipe.  In addition, in lieu of the molasses called for in the recipe for Maryetta’s Oatmeal Bread, I used Lloyd Spear’s organic raw honey from nearby Schenectady County.  This wonderful raw honey, fairly priced at $25.00 for a 5 pound jar at the food co-op (though my most recent purchase was a 5 pound jar at the Troy Farmers Market [www.troymarket.org/] directly from Mr. Spear at only $21.50) is “produced from cappings and comb honey that are drained and from honey straight from the extractor, complete with all the natural enzymes, pollens, vitamins and complex sugars” according to the label on the jar.  The flavor of honey is much milder than molasses, but worked well as a substitute.  With flour, honey and vegetable oil all sourced in upstate New York, my most recent homemade loaves of oats and honey bread qualify as a product of upstate New York, except for the organic rolled oats which come from the Canadian plains of Saskatchewan.

3 cups rolled oats
4 cups boiling water
7-8 cups whole wheat flour
4 ½ teaspoons or 2 packages active dried yeast
4 tablespoons sunflower seed oil (or other healthy oil)
½ cup of honey

Pour the boiling water over the oats in a large bowl and leave for one hour to cool.
Stir in 2 cups of flour and the yeast.  Place in a warm, draft free spot and allow to rise for one hour.
Stir down, and work in oil, honey and two cups of flour.
Stir in additional remaining flour to make a stiff dough.
Turn out on a floured board and knead, adding extra flour if necessary, to make a smooth, pliable, firm dough- approximately 10 minutes.
Divide the dough into loaves to fit 3 oiled or buttered 9 x 5 x 3 inch loaf tins.
Allow to rise again for one hour until doubled in bulk.
Bake in a preheated 350 degree oven 45-50 minutes.
Cool on racks before slicing. Enjoy (FWB 12/1/10).

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