"Good bread is the most fundamentally satisfying of all foods;
and good bread with fresh butter, the greatest of feasts."
~ James Beard
Roswitha Huber is one of the strongest women I know. She is a mother of five. A teacher. An author. A bread baker. An inspiration beyond words to me. I met her a few years ago, very randomly and fell in love with her and her way of life. High up in the Austrian alps.
She is very busy these days, teaching people how to bake bread the old traditional way.
I decided to pay her a visit one sunny July day to document her work and life. Just for myself.
Roswitha, where did your passion for breadmaking come from?
"Breadmaking is a handcraft, an art and a sensual experience. I started baking over 20 years ago. Asked a lot of questions, spent a lot of time engaged with it, met people all over the world that also baked bread and suddenly a whole new cosmos opened up behind a loaf of bread. Even though a lot of bread gets thrown out nowadays it is still an esculent that is looked upon with more love by most humans than for example a piece of meat. Bread can go hard and will still taste good. We are just not used any more to eating hard/stale bread."
You are situated in the middle of nowhere; how does this affect your attitude to cooking and the process that you use?
"Yes, I live at the back of beyond! It means that I am quite far from all shops. By foot it takes me about 1 hour to get to a very small grocery store where they sell only essentials. That means that I have to cope with absolute staple foods. For bread - no problem. I only need flour, water and salt. If I fancy to cook or bake a special meal I have to go on a small voyage. So with flour, water and salt you can already do a lot and if you then maybe have eggs, butter and milk at hand it turns into a little feast.
To cook something tasty with simple ingredients is a challenge. To cook with 10 fancy ingredients is something almost anyone can do."
Can you tell us a bit more about the history and philosophy behind Kalchkendlalm?
Until 1956 it was a farm that was inhabited all year round. Then my father in law bought it and it was only lived in and farmed during summer. 20 years ago I founded the "Schule am Berg" (School on the mountain). I invite school classes and adults and bake bread with them in my wood-fired oven. I tell them about how our staple foods have changed over the years and how with it also the farming and agriculture have changed. All my students - young or old, walk home at the end of the day proudly carrying a self made loaf of bread. With some groups I also make butter, milk the cows and goats or we walk through the alpine fields gathering wild herbs and I teach them how to make juice, tea and spreads out of them. I show them how food tastes great and live can be good without many tangible goods.
We are going through something of a ‘foodie revolution’, where authenticity and quality have become important again. What do you think of contemporary cuisine? Do you think tradition is still important in cooking today?
What is tradition? Tradition cannot be conserved through photographing, filming or writing about it. You have to do it - always and again. Then it will be kept alive. If baking in a wood-fired oven is no longer kept as a tradition it will be lost. Nobody will remember how such an oven is fired and how you can bake really good bread with nothing but water, flour and salt. There are so many technical and chemical devices - we get dependent on them and at the same time lose our traditional knowledge. The biggest problem: we have forgotten how to live with the basic foods.
Our common supermarket goods are very far away from quality. A counter movement has of course already started but it is far from a mass reflex yet.
How and with what should your bread be eaten?
Spread with good butter (grassfed, organic) and topped with fresh herbs like chives, parsley, wild garlic, fresh radish and a sprinkle of salt. - The worlds best buttered bread.
For beginners I recommend this recipe:
1000grams Wheat or Spelt wholemeal flour
600ml lukewarm water
1 Packet of fresh yeast (or dried)
If you like you can add sunflowerseeds, flaxseed, pumpkinseed or spices like cumin, coriander, aniseed, fennel...
Put all ingredients in a big bowl and mix with a wooden spoon.
Then either kneed with your hands on a working surface for 10 minutes or use a food processor for this.
Put the dough back in the bowl and cover with a fresh kitchen towel - let it rest until it has doubled in volume.
Preheat your oven to 250°C
kneed the dough once more and let it rest for another 10 minutes.
Put it onto the hot baking tray,
bake 20minutes at 250°C and another 40minutes at 150°C
Take out of oven and try to let it cool down before you gobble it all up :-)
Is she not amazing? Do you not want to immediately move up in with her and enjoy this hard but simple lifestyle complete with nature, goats, chopping wood and fresh water straight from the mountain... I am definitely going to pay her a visit again VERY SOON!