Boredom Baking

April 9, 2020

Written by Art Petrosemolo

Sometimes stories (and blogs) just happen from ideas that pop into your head from recent experiences, reading news articles or hearing comments from friends. That’s just what happened to me this past week and it turned into a rush to the finish research and writing weekend to talk about what I have coined as “boredom baking.”

Let me explain. As you know, I have lots of old order Amish and Mennonite friends and they bake all the time. I love fresh-baked, white bread layered with chunky peanut butter and red raspberry jelly. My Amish friends know this so I’ll gets texts or calls from them with messages like, “Hey Art, there’s a loaf of bread waiting for you on my counter.” And I am off like a shot to pick it up.

As the stay-at-home guidelines started to kick in mid-March, to try and stop the spread of this Coronavirus, my Plain Community baking friends started to talk about some shortages of baking supplies like flour, yeast and sugar. I also read a few short articles about working mothers who were now home with their kids and had started to bake fresh bread, cakes and cookies for their family.

I thought this might be a great story for Lancaster Farming if I could find enough people to talk to who were getting back to what my editor called “pandemic baking.” I thought that sounded too sinister so I re-named it “boredom baking.”

Starting out with my Amish housewife friend and terrific baker Rose Stoltzfus from New Holland and then reaching out to colleagues and new friends from the baking world who I already had written about, I did my research using the phone.

I spoke to Dawn Nolt who does the recipes for Nature’s Yoke Eggs, Amy Witmer the blue ribbon pie baker and Linda Zeigler the historic baking expert and I started to gather some information.

My friends directed me to their friends and a note on the Lancaster Farming Facebook page brought in some people from upstate and Maryland. So, in a about 24 hours I had talked to seven people and amassed about eight good images and by the end of Sunday had filed a 1400 word story on this back to baking movement.

First, as expected, working women are bored and stay-at-home moms are dealing with having their kids home from school. So, looking to keep busy and help their families through this stressful time, bread machines have come out of the pantry, family recipes are dusted off, cookbooks are scoured for new ways to bake bread or make cookies and the Google searches are being used and even some You Tube “how to” videos.

Do you know if you type baking into a Google search, as of this weekend, there were 600,000 references? That number probably is even higher today.

I learned that moms got back into it fast and started with white bread and some bakers had experimented with whole wheat, rye and even bread made with almond flour. I found out that some women were even making bagels and other treats they had never tried before.

What I found interesting is there are no novice bakers (or at least just a few) in Lancaster County. Every woman I talked to learned to bake from their mom at an early, pre-teen, age so it wasn’t learning to bake as much as it was dusting off baking skills.

I was amazed to find that everyone I spoke to has a favorite flour. Most in the Plain Community use Occident, unbleached flour for breads, as do many in the English community. However, English moms seem to lean toward King Arthur flour for their cakes and pastries.

King Arthur flour in Norwich, VT, has been making flour since the 1700s. I lived right up the road from their site when I worked at Dartmouth College in the 1980s. When I was in New Hampshire recently to research a story on the maple sugar harvest, I visited King Arthur, which is now a go-to site with a store, restaurant and baking school. I purchased several bags of their all purpose flour and brought it home as presents for my Amish baking friends (and it yielded dividends of loaves of fresh bread pretty quickly).

During my weekend research I learned that Amish bakers buy their flour in 25 lb. bags and can bake four to six loaves weekly. They eat one that day, save one for the next day and freeze the remaining loaves for later that week as fresh baked bread does not have the preservatives as does store-bought bread and has a relatively (few days) short shelf life.

I learned that if you need yeast and think you’ll find it cheap online, think again. There are two-pound bags of yeast online for $50. Come on folks!

And a baker I talked to from Maryland got so disgusted that she could not find flour at the supermarket, she ordered a 20-pound bag online for $20 that came with a $20 delivery cost.

We’ll remember this period in American history for the rest of our lives including the disruptions, the stay-at-home quarantines, and watching the pretty scary news reports daily. But there also can be smiles from this time including the growth of the boredom baking army… are you baking a little more today?

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