Readers’ letters to the editors with stories of beloved pets, cold-hardy chickens, and baking bread.
I enjoy reading my Grit magazines and love the animal stories. We’ve always had dogs growing up, and it’s funny how I still remember their names and some of their habits. They have added so much to our lives.
In October 2015, my husband and I retired and moved to the country in rural Tennessee. We took along with us some cats and two elderly dogs, which have passed on now. We started raising chickens and growing crops. About a year ago, we went into town to buy some hens, and an elderly woman there asked if we would be interested in a free puppy. I was shown the little black and white rat terrier, which I picked up and carried home with me. My husband was against it at first, but now they are best friends.
Hollar is small, but very alert. He’s alerted us to visitors, delivery people, and two snakes so far. Hollar also likes to chase squirrels, chipmunks, and armadillos.
This year, we wanted to get a companion for Hollar, because he was acting too human and wearing us out. I checked on local rescue and shelter websites, looking for a similar or slightly larger female terrier mix dog, and low and behold, on Facebook, a friend of a friend was giving away, free to a good home, just such a dog.
We named her Hoot. We now have Hoot and Hollar. We love to play tug of war with ropes, fetch balls, and explore the fields and woods. They both have added so much to our lives. They provide company, affection, protection, and entertainment. I can’t imagine my life without them.
Carol and Bob Tanner
Maury County, Tennessee
I read with pleasure Victoria Redhed Miller’s sourdough bread article in the January/February 2018 issue. I love seeing prominent material that demystifies the simple process of sourdough baking and encourages more people to explore for themselves the simple, flexible folk art of what our family likes to call “real bread” (i.e., traditional-process bread). I thought Ms. Miller did a wonderful job of outlining the practical as well as gustatory advantages of homemade sourdough while making the process feel accessible.
I would just like to humbly offer a couple of suggestions, if I might.
First, Victoria mentions in her basic sourdough method kneading the bread dough (intermittently) for about half an hour (the bulk of the actual hands-on time). In fact, sourdough (or for that matter, most slow-rising wheat breads) actually require very little kneading (witness the many recipes to be found for time-saving, so-called “no-knead” bread). Lengthy working of the dough is typically not only unnecessary, but may even result in an inferior crumb (loaf texture). My understanding is that the long ferment develops the gluten strands (thus allowing the bread to hold air better and thus be fully leavened) in a way similar to how kneading does with yeast breads. Of course, kneading sourdough isn’t “wrong,” if one enjoys it and likes the results, but the general reader should be aware, as eliminating it can simplify the process.
Second, Miller writes “being a fermented food, [sourdough bread] is a good source of the probiotics we hear so much about these days.” However, this reflects a common misconception: while the raw dough indeed contains abundant beneficial microbes, the high heat of baking subsequently kills them. So while fermentation does indeed do wonderful things for the digestibility of bread (by breaking down things like phytic acids, for instance), providing us “probiotics” in the final product is not one of them. Fortunately, there are plenty of other foods for that.
Thanks for your work, and I wish you all the best.
The following is the author’s reponse to the previous note.
The total kneading time is 15 minutes, divided into three 5-minute segments. The kind of bread you’re making really has no bearing on the length of the kneading time; the only thing that significantly affects that is what kind of flour you use. In general, the higher the protein in the flour, the longer it has to be kneaded to develop the gluten. The flour I use most often is a medium-protein flour, and I get good results with the 15 minutes of kneading.
Technically it’s true that it isn’t imperative that sourdough (or any other kind of bread dough) be kneaded at all (hence the popularity of no-knead bread), but no one will convince me that kneading doesn’t have a beneficial effect on the texture of the finished bread. The purpose of kneading is to both hydrate the grain and exercise and develop the gluten. The long ferment the reader refers to affects the development of flavor, not the development of gluten. Gluten starts forming the instant the flour comes in contact with water or other liquid, when the two precursor molecules begin linking up for the gluten chains; that’s why no-knead bread “works,” because some gluten is already formed within a few minutes of when the flour is hydrated.
Regarding probiotics: This is yet another thing for which there is more than one school of thought. I personally tend to agree with the reader, that it’s likely the probiotics are deactivated by the heat of the baking process, but I haven’t done any actual research on this. Plenty of people are adamant that a fermented food is a fermented food, and it has probiotics. If that’s true, then my homemade pickles and sauerkraut should be bursting with probiotics, even though the water bath they were processed in was hotter than the internal temperature of a loaf of bread when it’s done baking.
Victoria Redhed Miller
Great article, “Perfect Chickens,” with the illustrations. All the breeds mentioned are wonderful breeds, and I’ve had many of the cold-hardy breeds in your article.
My current and all-time favorite breed, which is unique to North America (according to The Livestock Conservancy) and is often overlooked is the Partridge Chantecler. With the current cold snap — 15 below zero here in the Adirondacks — I’ve found they are tough. With almost no combs or wattles, they are laying like champs and haven’t been affected by the cold. I have no heat in the coop.
They are very friendly and docile. I have two roosters in the coop that are amazingly still buddies. Thanks for an enjoyable issue of Grit. Happy New Year.
Saratoga Springs, New York
That’s true, Mike, those Partridge Chanteclers are danged cold hardy! Whatever your breed, chickens, like dogs, add much to life in the country. For more animal insights, check out all of our animal breed guides.
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