An Associated Press story tells us the aroma of bread baking in the oven is a hazard to the environment and that big bread factories will need to spend millions to put up converters to save us from mass extermination. Comment is reserved for the time being, but I will tell how, once upon a time, we almost killed 126 Boy Scouts.
We, three couples and a boy, using three 20-foot canoes, were making a leisurely passage down Maine's happy Allagash River, and we had come to Eagle Lake, where we tented at Ziggler's Campground.
The Boy Scouts liked the place and were underfoot by the score. We had come down the lake that day from the Tramway, on the west side, and had paused at Russell Brook to take enough trouts for a chowder. As previous Boy Scout activities had cleaned up all firewood within shouting distance of the camping area, Flint and I took the axes and went up over the hill looking for fuel.
We found a yellow birch that had died standing and was now dry, and brought enough back. We could see that the others had set up the tents, stowed gear, inflated the mattresses, and made ready for starting the chowder.
The next day dawned desultory, and we decided not to start down river into impending rain. The Boy Scouts made the same decision. It didn't rain after all, and with a good supply of dry hard wood ready, the girls decided to bake some bread, fry some doughnuts, replenish the cookies, and rivet an apple pie.
We had the essentials, and we had a reflector oven. And, most important, we had firewood and three willing and able cooks. In a trice we rearranged the stone fireplace to accommodate the reflector and the hot-fat pot. Then we gentlemen got out the cribbage board and the boy went to the brook with a fly rod. Camping out is good exercise.
It was the bread that brought out the Boy Scouts. They were lolling about, wishing for something to do, when the first whiff of baking bread invigorated and alerted them to something more elaborate than the canned baked beans suggested in the manual under ``Survival.''
Years ago, I was foresighted enough to ask Bill Pelletier how he would go about making a single loaf of bread in a reflector oven. Bill was boss cook at the fabulous dining resort known in other days as Chesuncook Dam Boomhouse. BIll would feed river drivers in season and at other times would arrange corporate banquets for the company directors with surprise tortes and flowers on the tables.
Bill's recipe for a single loaf of tenting-out bread has a way of tightening up like three-bag cement during the night, but fresh out of the pan under a salubrious sunset, you won't complain. Thus:
On your supply box, or whatever the campground has for a table, lay out a clean cotton dishcloth and flour it. Now you have a workbench. Put a yeast cake or a tablespoon of dry yeast into a half-cup of warm water and let it stand about five minutes. Into a cup of warm water put some lard the size of an egg, a tablespoon of salt, and a tablespoon of sugar. After the yeast has had its five-minute stand, mix all ingredients together, add flour, and let the moisture take up all the flour it can. You don't need any bread mixer - fingers are good.
We used to have a woods cook at Black Pond who didn't like the feel of bread dough on his hands, so he'd mix and knead with his mittens on. The old-time woods cooks (Bill Pelletier was one) used to call this ``casting bread,'' because you cast the liquid into the flour barrel, took up the flour, and then ``cast'' the dough onto the breadboard. Let this wad of dough be rather hard before you cast it on your cloth. Knead well. Having kneaded thoroughly, put the dough under a clean towel and let rise to twice its size. Temperature is important to yeast, so on a camping trip you may need to put the dough closer to the fire while it's rising. Knead and let set three times.
Now shape a loaf and put it in a greased tin. Let rise in the tin and then place in the preheated reflector oven. (This simple bread will bake at home, too!) This bread, ideal for campfires, is tolerant of heat. At home, start it at 350 degrees and cut back to 250 degrees, in all for 45 minutes. Remember to wipe the top with lard or margarine, to make a joyful crust.
On that particular day at Ziggler's Campground, the Boy Scouts and their Scout masters began to draw about immediately after the disagreeable effluvia rose from our reflector oven and assaulted the adjacent environment from all directions. A Scout master, with an opener in his hand for opening baked beans, said, ``They're baking bread!''
And all about stood Scouts with their hungry, reverent, courteous, trustworthy, cheerful, thrifty, clean, and brave tongues hanging down like so many neckties. They took off the next morning while we were finishing breakfast, and not one of them showed any ill effects of being exposed to the invidious aroma of hot bread baking boisterously in a reflector oven.
Let us not forget that when these factories that now bake bread with its criminal emissions first wrapped fresh bread in wax paper, the public was reluctant because bread in the stores didn't smell. Being unable to release the smell of bread because of the wrappers, the bakers printed their labels with ink artificially made to smell like freshly baked bread. Then the public knew what it was buying.