I picked up the latest copy of Food and Wine magazine today, sucked in by the recipes for Apricot-Tarragon and Chocolate-Cayenne Cocktail Cookies, and only the best Thanksgiving tips and recipes. I didn't realize that tucked away in this November gem would be an article about a girl after my own heart - she bakes bread and trades it for stuff. Ah, seriously?! I love this. I have been baking homemade bread for about a year now (and by homemade I mean handmade, no bread machine, totally kneaded and baked by hand). In the process I have made and thrown out one sourdough starter, made and kept alive one new sourdough starter, broken a bread stone (yep, it literally cracked in two while baking bread), and given away maybe a dozen loaves. Typically when I bake a batch of bread, it makes 2-4 loaves, which is 1-3 loaves too many for the three people who live in my household. So I often give it away, occasionally stowing away a loaf in the freezer for the bread emergency that can arise, as it is a time-consuming labor of love and takes a backseat to my full-time job at the patisserie. I am still trying to figure out how to get my oven temp up to 500 degrees F (not to mention those new, fabulous bread proofing oven settings) and finally have a proofing basket for those really wet doughs.
Recently, I've been thinking how great it would be to make an exchange - bread for barter. Little did I know that there was someone by the name of Malin Elmlid already doing this in Berlin. The November issue of Food and Wine featured an article about Miss Elmlid's Bread Exchange. She started the Bread Exchange in 2009 and now has 1000 traders. She sticks to the basics: white flour sourdough bread, made and baked by hand. Elmlid began perfecting her sourdough loaf a few years ago, even studying under renowned sourdough bread bakers. The Bread Exchange grew out of her own dispersal of loaves to friends and family, who somewhat naturally, began to give things to her in exchange. Today, Elmlid posts via Twitter or Facebook when she has loaves open for exchange, and her website lists a manifesto of what might make "a good trade": jam, eggs, home-grown herbs, unique things from unique places, a guitar lesson, a good book, a bike repair.
People have been doing this for ages. Food for trade is not a new concept - it is, essentially, how things started. I think it's high time we got back to it. It allows us to learn and benefit from something that other people are better at or have access to. Elmlid says she doesn't do the Bread Exchange to meet new people but to discover new things. And, in my opinion, she is creating lasting relationships in turn. I remember reading about this in Barbara Kingsolver's fantastic book Animal Vegetable Miracle. She and her family commit to eating locally grown and raised foods for a year, knowing that they can't grow and raise it all - so, they exchange some of their produce and fresh eggs for their neighbor's harvest.
So, how 'bout it? My brioche for a bag of flour? A good haircut? The last of the summer's preserves? My bread doesn't compare to Malin Elmlid's (I've yet to study under the greats), but I'm making my way, and I know the value of a good loaf. It doesn't have to be just bread or just food, but I think that's a great place to start. Bread is one of the most elemental foods, eaten and recognized in different forms all over the world. And food is globally known, universally essential, and completely priceless.