Garlic Bread of the Revolution

(Originally posted on Gods & Radicals)

According to a former lover, I make a garlic bread so good that “it could start a revolution.”  It’s pretty damn good, I’ll admit.  And maybe it could.

Cooking is kinda revolutionary in its own right.  It shouldn’t be–it’s something humans have been doing for thousands of years.  But we’ve all become alienated from a lot of the things humans have done lately, and there’s no better place to start recovering this than the kitchen.

Besides, cooking is pretty close to witchcraft. So, I’m gonna tell you how to make my garlic bread, and give you a little revolutionary history and theory behind some of the ingredients.

First, let’s start with what you’re gonna need. Ingredients don’t have to be organic, ’cause I’m assuming you’re probably as poor as I am and most of the people I know. Organic food, at least in the United States, is so much more expensive than other stuff that it’s just not for ‘the poor.’ We should change that sometime, seriously.  But ’till then, get what you can, okay?

It’ll still turn out awesome.  You’ll need

  • One loaf of thick-crusted bread, preferably sourdough.
  • 1/4 pound unmelted, salted butter (not margarine)
  • An entire head of fresh garlic.
  • some Parsley (must be fresh)
  • Oregano (can be dried).

Got all that?

Now, you’ll also need a really sharp knife (or serrated), an oven set to 350 degrees F (175 C), a small bowl, and some time. Cooking takes time, which you maybe don’t have a lot of because you have to work to survive. We’ll talk about that in a bit.

The most important thing you need to know about this recipe is DO NOT MELT THE BUTTER.  You’re gonna want to soften it, but don’t let it melt until the whole thing is in the oven. And don’t replace any of the ingredients if you want to make ‘my’ garlic bread.  You can really do whatever you want (please do!), but it’s no longer this garlic bread, it’s something different.


Step One: Soften the butter.

This is best done by putting it in a bowl at room temperature beforehand.  It won’t go bad. The goal is to make sure that it’s soft enough to mix but not melted, otherwise the fat and liquid in the butter separate.

Step Two: Peel & Chop the Garlic

You have fresh garlic, right? Not powdered or granulated and definitely not ‘garlic salt,’ right?  Awesome!

Peel at least half a bulb of garlic, between 5-10 cloves. You can use a fork to crush each clove slightly which makes it peel easier.  Then, take all your peeled garlic and chop it finely.  Use a heavy knife with a decent blade.

Put all that garlic in the bowl with the butter.

Step Three: Rinse and Chop the Parsley

You want about 1/8 to 1/4 cup of chopped parsley. It’s a crucial ingredient for this, not a garnish, not just for color.  Run a handful under cold water, squeeze it out, and then chop it as finely as you feel like doing so.  The smaller the pieces, the more distributed the flavor, but also the more likely the whole thing will turn green.

Add the parsley to the bowl of garlic and butter.

Step Four: Add Oregano, mix, and wait a bit

Add a large pinch or more of oregano and then stir the whole thing until it’s soft and well mixed.  I usually use a fork for this, as it cuts the butter a little bit, so if it’s not quite soft enough you can use brute force to mix it.  Don’t get impatient and try to soften the butter by other means (microwave, magic, blowtorch)–melting ruins the whole thing.

Now, wait a bit.  You can totally do other stuff while waiting, like make a salad or pasta or read the rest of this essay. You want the fat in the butter to have a little time to absorb the flavors from everything else.

While you’re waiting, let’s talk about two of the ingredients, the Bread and the Butter.  If you’re impatient, Steps Five, Six, and Seven are a bit further down.

Peasant Bread’s an Art

If you got a thick crusted bread like I suggested, you probably bought an ‘artisan’ bread. “Artisan” bread became sort of a ‘thing’ in the United States about ten years ago.  They’re thick-crusted breads, usually with only three or four ingredients, and take on characters of taste because of the way they’re baked and the age of the yeast.

‘Artisan’ bread is really just peasant bread, though. It’s a lot more similar to what bread was like several hundred years ago than what it is now, all soft and squishy, pre-sliced and wrapped in petrol-plastic.

The pure white bland stuff we usually have now requires heavy refining of the flour and removal of all the fibrous parts of the grains.  Removing so much of the plant also removes most of the micronutrients available, which is one of the (but not the only) reasons why factory-produced flour is now enriched.

Bread is, at its most basic, flour, water, and yeast.  Flour and water are pretty easy to understand, but the alchemy behind bread is the yeast, particularly with artisan breads. Many ‘artisanal’ breads use what are called ‘starters.’  These are bits of dough set aside and let to age, often with more water or milk added to help the yeast have more food.  The next time bread is made, this ‘starter’ creates the foundation of that loaf, and another small portion is reserved for the next loaf.  This process also cultures the dough, adding certain flavors which are impossible to get without a starter.

To get yeast now, we usually purchase little foil packets of dry yeast granules.  Before, though?

Before the advent of yeast culturing, wild yeast fermentation was used (knowingly or not) to attract yeasts (then thought of as spirits) into the wort. The brewers would often leave their brewing vessel in a special hut, uncovered, and say prayers over the brew. When the brew started to foam, they knew the spirit had entered. This wild yeast fermentation process was hit and miss, as sometimes a bad flavor (or spirit) would get into the ale, and it had to be thrown out.

Around the 15th century, some of the brewing monks started to catch on to the way the angels (yeasts) were working. They found that if they used the same wooden spoon to stir their cooled wort, the same good spirit resulted. This technique was also used by the latter day Vikings, but they used oak staves carved with runes. The reason why these tools worked their miracles was that yeast fermentation cultures would live in the wood. Even when the spoon or rune was dried, the yeast culture could live dormant in the wood until the next use.

The same process worked for both bread and beer.

Yeast will grow naturally in moist, warm enclosed areas where the yeast has something to feed it.  It also survives better in porous organic surfaces than it does on sterile, impermeable surfaces. So our modern obsession with plastic, stainless steel, and other non-porous surfaces mean we need external sources of yeast. Most modern things require a trade-off.

Bread Takes Time

Bread baking requires a lot more  than just buying a packet of yeast, letting the dough set out a few hours, and then baking.  What it requires most of all is time.

We have this idea, inculcated more from Media than from historical sources, that industrialisation has liberated us–particularly women–from the inconvenience, hard work, and time commitment required for household tasks like baking and cooking.

We should, first of all, get rid of the idea that cooking is a woman’s task.  Women were relegated to household work during the birth of Capitalism because they’d lost all other access to their means of production. The so-called “Nuclear Family” is a new idea, and it had more to do with keeping workers in line than it ever did with anything ‘traditional.’

How much time do you have to cook?  If you’re working 40 hours a week, probably not much. The 8-hour workday is never just 8 hours. It requires you to wake up early, feed yourself, commute to work, feed yourself on lunch (which is usually not paid), commute home, and unwind from work.

That leaves 6 hours left, assuming 8 hours of sleep.  But by the end of a shift, most people are pretty exhausted. And if you’ve got kids, you’re not getting much else done.  If you’re single, it’s also hard; you have to do all the work to keep yourself healthy, well-fed, well-rested and sane on your own.

But if you have a partner who can do some of that stuff for you, you might be okay. That’s where ‘housewives’ come in, a person who uses some of their time to help the person working maintain their existence as both human and worker. Cooking dinner, washing clothes, cleaning the home–all of those things you can’t really do for yourself after selling your own labor/energy to an employer (called the means of reproduction) are uncompensated in Capitalism.  From Silvia Federici’s “Wages Against Housework,”

In the same way as god created Eve to give pleasure to Adam, so did capital create the housewife to service the male worker physically, emotionally and sexually – to raise his children, mend his socks, patch up his ego when it is crushed by the work and the social relations (which are relations of loneliness) that capital has reserved for him. It is precisely this peculiar combination of physical, emotional and sexual services that are involved in the role women must perform for capital that creates the specific character of that servant which is the housewife, that makes her work so burdensome and at the same time invisible

For couples of any combination of gender, such tensions remain. In every relationship I’ve been in, the person who is working more (sometimes myself, sometimes the other) relies heavily on the other to keep him alive and sane. For every successful ‘worker,’ there’s someone else propping them up.

Of course, you could always go to a restaurant (you won’t get this garlic bread there, though).  In fact, restaurants sprung up in popularity at the same time as industrialisation as an auxiliary function. Don’t have someone to cook for you? You can pay someone else to do it, trading some of your money in exchange for a little more time.

That’s why you’re buying the bread for this recipe, by the way, and not baking it.  You don’t have the time to bake it yourself, and probably don’t know anyone skilled enough to make it for you.

(Read more here)

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Gods&Radicals is a site of Beautiful Resistance and a daily journal of Pagan anti-capitalist writing.
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