Gluten

gluten
"The sermon, repeated each visit, is delivered olfactorily, in glory and excelsis, a cloud of nearly overwhelming sweetness, brimming with righteousness and salvation."

I heard this week that the Potomac (Maryland) Nationals, a minor league franchise of the National League's Washington Nationals, hosts periodic peanut-free baseball nights, so those allergic to peanuts but addicted to live baseball can exercise their addiction while respecting their allergy. Allergies can sometimes seem like a laughing matter until you discover that you've contracted one. I, over the last few years, seem to have become allergic to Rose The Skittish Spinster Cat. I consider my newly-acquired affliction ironic. My daughter has a gluten allergy severe enough to remind her with headaches whenever she decides to go ahead and eat the wheat bread before her. She tries to stay with the spelt stuff, which can be decent when properly prepared.

I am an unapologetic member of the local Gluten Appreciation Society. We meet each Saturday morning in a nondescript small industrial park in Golden, Colorado, the home of the snarkily-named Grateful Bread Company, a wholesale purveyor of high-end breads that opens for retail sales only on Saturday mornings.
It's one of those not quite so well kept secrets that those in the know know about. The number of those in the know seems to be constantly growing. Show up nearer noon than ten, and you'll find the shelves trending toward barren again. The line, which sometimes snakes for nearly an hour down a sizable adjacent parking lot, is filled with the sort of people who will willingly stand on line in bright sun or blistering cold to satisfy their love for decent bread.

I call this assemblage The Gluten Appreciation Society because it seems untainted by the current obsessions centered on promoting what some product isn't. The label Gluten Free hardly hints at what replaces the old reliable. Close scrutiny of the label often seems to reveal a swarm of chemical names that quickly overwhelm the sort of brain I possess, one able to grok flour, water, yeast, and salt, but little of anything with an overwhelming percentage of consonants in their names; and a heavy over-use of 'y's, 'x's, and 'z's. I'm suspicious of the sort of freedom that touts what it's not more than what it is, in the same way that I'm suspicious of any figure-ground puzzle. I figure chicanery's afoot when I spot a label touting what isn't inside.

This Society seems comprised of a broad cross-section of the standard populous here. Young and old, slow-fooders and the more traditional kind. People in the market for real. Those seeking solace in decent caramel nut rolls and those, like me, aching for a real ciabatta and a fabulous sliced sourdough sandwich loaf. Grateful Bread employs a decades-old biga as its primary leavening agent, a feature that produces fine airy loaves with crispy, chewy crusts. Saturday lunch would not be much without some slices of fine fresh bread on the table. We're rarely not there first thing.

I grieve for those who, due to some rampant allergy, cannot experience the staff of life in all of its intended glory. I do not consider gluten allergies to be some delusion characteristic of an absence of character. I think it more curse than blessing, for I would most certainly consider it a curse hovering over my existence. When The Muse and I enter a new town for an extended stay, finding a source of real bread becomes my initial obsession. Not too many years ago, any town somehow related to the production of wheat tended to prove the least likely to feature a real bread bakery. Gratefully, with operations like The Grateful Bread Company, this shortcoming has increasingly proven to have been a thing of the past rather than of the present. Even in the Walla Walla Valley, The Walla Walla Bread Company produces baguette which can easily stand beside any bread baked anywhere in France.

For me, food desert means bread desert. Plunk me down in some suburban subdivision a thousand miles from a real bakery and I might whither and die. When we left DC, my primary concern was with finding a suitable bread bakery along the Front Range. We found a few wannabes, experiments still early enough in their development that they could almost pass muster, and in the absence of anything better, they almost succeeded in feeding the hunger which seems to have been born within me. I could only live remotely if I learned how to bake this kind of bread, distinctly European in character, light of crumb and tough of crust, something I could make into bread soup without producing a gummy bisque out of the bread.

Wonder® bread was mostly a wonder that it could be classified as a bread, for it seemed distinctly cake-like to me, absent crust and with far too-delicate crumb. The stuff they sell as artisanal in the supermarket tends toward gummy crumb. Even the Whole Foods alternative seems a naive attempt. The Denver area features only two real bakeries, and only one, Grateful Bread, that consistently produces anything like a variety of styles, each true to the glutenous form. I think of their place, our Saturday morning queue, as my church. The sermon, repeated each visit, is delivered olfactorily, in glory and excelsis, a cloud of nearly overwhelming sweetness, brimming with righteousness and salvation. By the time we've made it to the head of the line, all sins from the prior week seem to have been washed away and we leave cleansed, ready for perhaps some toast for lunch.

©2018 by David A. Schmaltz - all rights reserved









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