Going with the Grain: A Wandering Bread Lover Takes a Bite Out of Lifeby Susan Seligson
"My lifelong love affair with bread has less to do with crust, crumb, and the vagaries of sourdough cultures and more to do with bread as a reflection of people's varied beliefs, daily lives, and blood memories... Bread tells the most essential human stories." So begins Susan Seligson's personal and often humorous journey to discover the secrets of the baker's trade and the place bread has in the lives of those who consume it. Part travelogue, part cultural history, with a handful of recipes thrown in for good measure, it is an exploration of the customs, traditions, and rituals around the creating and eating of this most basic and enduring form of sustenance.
Bread is the stuff of life. Governments have been overthrown and religious rituals created because of it. Fry bread, matzo, ksra, nan, baguette: all are as resonant of their specific culture as any artifact. In Going with the Grain, Seligson wanders the streets of the Casbah in Fes, Morocco, to unlock the secrets of the thousand-year-old communal bakeries there. In Saratoga Springs, New York, she finds a bread maker so committed to making the ultimate loaf, he built a unique sixty-ton hearth and uses only certified biodynamically grown wheat. Seligson knelt in the Jordanian desert beside a woman turning flat breads over glowing embers and plumbed the mysteries of Wonder Bread in an aseptic American factory. As satisfying as a slice of good bread with butter, Going with the Grain is for the armchair traveler and armchair baker alike.
Children’s author and journalist Seligson (Amos Camps Out, 1992, etc.) is one of those writers who insist on giving themselves equal billing with their subjects, so there are many jarring asides. In Jordan, ostensibly to learn how Bedouins make their traditional flat bread, she exults that Omar, the hotel manager, likes her. In Ireland, staying at the famous Ballymaloe House, she fears that noted chef Myrtle might not like her (because Seligson is being snippy to some fellow Americans), but not to worry—once back home, she receives a sweet note saying how much Myrtle enjoyed meeting her. The author begins her travels in Fez, Morocco, where she is taken to visit the various bakeries in the teeming market place, observes families bringing their loaves to be baked each day in a communal oven, and learns that there are no female bakers, though women prepare the dough. In Saratoga Springs, New York, she visits with Michael London, who sells for $18 the five-pound pain au levain he bakes in a specially designed imported oven housed in an equally special bake house. She visits the "world’s largest bakery" in Biddeford, Maine, where Wonder Bread is produced and learns how to make soda bread in Ireland, matzo in Brooklyn, roti in India, and biscuits in Alabama. She also meets with scientists who are developing a bread that can survive combat conditions and still deliver a morale-boosting fresh taste to troops hunkered down in foxholes. Her least satisfactory encounter is with bakers in New Mexican pueblos who regard her as a trespasser. She concludes with an obligatory baguette in Paris. As theauthor describes the preparation and ingredients of the various breads, she adds a smattering of local history and bread lore to round out her personal impressions and experiences.
Energetic and certainly lively, but the jokey personal comments soon wear thin.
The Boston Globe Freewheeling, always entertaining...an invitation into worlds that might otherwise be off-limits.
The Christain Science Monitor Seligson is a deliciously entertaining guide. Her palpable enthusiasm translates into stories spiced with rich detail and witty commentary.
- Simon & Schuster
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- Product dimensions:
- 5.58(w) x 8.66(h) x 0.85(d)
Read an Excerpt
To award-winning journalist and tireless traveler Susan Seligson, bread -- whether it's a crusty baguette, a round of pita, or a flat of matzo -- is nothing less than the currency of a culture, a reflection of people's beliefs, their daily lives, and blood memories. Passionately curious, Seligson has an eye for finding meaning in everyday rituals. In Going with the Grain, she stalks pillowy round loaves on their way to and from the communal bakeries of Morocco's ancient city of Fès, witnesses the painstaking creation of what may be the world's most expensive artisanal pain au levain, and tours the gleaming, sterile steel innards of a mammoth Wonder Bread factory.
In prose shaped with conviction and leavened by wit, Seligson introduces us to the food engineer of the U.S. Army bread project working in the laboratory to create a palatable bread with a shelf life of three years and the Alabama octogenarian for whose biscuits devotees happily drive an hour each way for breakfast. From the tents of Jordan's Wadž Musá to the schmurah matzo factories of Brooklyn, from the kitchens of New Delhi to the granaries of the lush Irish countryside, Seligson braids her adventures with fascinating historical detail and lively personal reflections about this most fundamental of foods. Whether bread appears in its simplest form, a mixture of flour and water baked on a blazing hot surface, or as the product of modern scientific ingenuity, its importance is best expressed by the Arabic word aysh. It is also the word for "life."
Meet the Author
Susan Seligson has written for The New York Times Magazine, The Atlantic Monthly, Redbook, and Outside, among other publications. With her husband, cartoonist Howie Schneider, she is coauthor of four children's books, including the award-winning Amos: The Story of an Old Dog and His Couch. She lives in North Truro, Massachusetts
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
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Seligson is a genuinely funny, inciteful, passionate and compassionate writer. Her humor and style make this a delightful book to read. And you feel so good that you're learning so much about a subject that you didn't know you cared that much about and having a ball doing it. That's because Seligson is clearly having as much fun writing the book as you are reading it. It's one of the best travelogues I've ever read
GOING WITH THE GRAIN is an entertaining and often hilarious romp through places both exotic and not, with full consideration of the role that bread and bread- making plays on those cultures as well as the way it relates to the cultural values of those places. Ms. Seligson's gift is that she never lets the subject get deadly serious, all the while never allowing the reader to lose sight of the seriousness of the rituals surrounding the "staff of life" in disparate cultures. I recommend this book highly. Rise to the occasion and part with the dough to buy this book.