Flour: A labour of pantry love
JENNIFER E CRAWFORD SPECIAL TO SALTWIRE NETWORK
Flour. All alone, it’s inedible. With even one other ingredient and some work, you’re set for a feast. The value of the delicious wonders we create with flour don’t necessarily come from the inexpensive ingredient itself, but from the hands labouring to make it special, since it was a seed. Nothing but water on hand? You’re set for multiple globetrotting unleavened breads. Days on hand? Fire up a sourdough starter. Eggs? You’re just time and work away from pasta. That reliable root, the potato? Combine with flour for a pillowy gnocchi. Who wouldn’t want something pillowy right now? It’s been a tiring, scary week and a nap sounds great. It’s the expertise and the labour that make flour dishes so special, much like literally anything. The aisle at my store was nearly cleared out of this pantry staple yesterday. Staring vacantly into equally vacant shelves, I can’t escape thoughts of how markets tank when the value of our labour is removed. Where does value come from? Where does it go? Who gets to own it? Are they deserving? Can they make anything out of flour? Would they give us flour from their massive stockpile, if we needed it? What did I come here for again? Flour has so much labour involved before we ever dust it across our counters. The people who seeded and grew the grains, protecting and nourishing the plants. The hands that milled it, loaded and delivered it. Those who heroically and, at great personal risk, put it on shelves of stores where we bought it, in the middle of a worldwide pandemic. (Thank you, every grocery store clerk; you are essential, loved, deserve no less than $20 an hour and a huge party when we can gather again.) I’m not here to blithely tell you that now’s a prime time to master new recipes as borders close and the stock markets crumble and we’re laid off and even our 12-step meetings are all cancelled and, damnit, there’s no toilet paper. It’s not in my interest to convince you that productivity during a quarantine is the answer to anything, because that would mean I have to do much more than I am now to not be a hypocrite. My dad used to say, “work, in and of itself, has therapeutic value.” Which I do know to be true sometimes and is why I wanted to share a recipe to work on, if you’re feeling up to it. Learning new skills to nourish myself and my family gave me the fortitude to face the day in my darkest emotional eras. And, eventually, even granted me some equanimity and faith, which is coming in super handy right about now. When I share these skills, it nourishes me, too. There’s a zillion chefs at home right now, sharing their #covidcooking livestreams. Why? Aren’t there already recipes for literally everything online? Yes, but sharing our home foods creates connection, an intimacy and vulnerability being shared at unprecedented levels to match this unprecedented uncertainty. We all need each other to survive. Flour, all by itself, is just an ingredient. Flour, together with even one of its pals (water, eggs, potatoes) is powerful. And when you share your efforts, whether in real life or online? Unstoppable. Being able to nourish yourself and others through even the simplest of recipes creates value that no stock market can ever crash, because a labour of love can never be bankrupt. HOMEMADE MATZO Adapted from Leite’s Culinaria Matzo is an unleavened bread in Jewish cuisine. I find it light and creamy, of all things. Once you’ve made it, it can be loaded up with whatever sweet or savoury toppings you have on hand, crumbled into soup, dipped in chocolate and sprinkles, crushed to make matzo balls, and more. INGREDIENTS • 2 ¼ cup all purpose flour + some for rolling and to adjust dough • ½ tsp kosher salt + some for sprinkling • 1 tbsp olive oil • ½ cup water, plus more to adjust dough METHOD 1. Preheat the oven to 500F and put a baking sheet on the bottom rack. 2. Mix all ingredients together at once. If dough is too dry, add water a few drops at a time. Too wet, add flour by the tablespoon. It should be soft but not sticky. 3. Divide the dough into 8 pieces. Working one at a time, roll it out on a floured surface until it’s nearly thin enough to see through. Trim edges to make a rectangle and pierce the surface with a fork to prevent it from puffing. Sprinkle with salt. 4. Place the rectangle of dough on the sheet in the oven. After about a minute (keep a close eye on it), flip with tongs. When it’s golden and bubbly on both sides (about another 30 seconds), remove from the oven. Repeat with the other pieces of dough. In a sealed container, it will stay fresh for a few days. Jennifer Crawford is from Nova Scotia and is the reigning winner of MasterChef Canada. They're a food & feelings enthusiast and a patter of dogs.