Didja notice the sunlight lately? It’s getting that “golden days of autumn” colour to it. That makes me start thinking about fall and winter — and there’s still so much to come in from the gardens, so much to preserve (can, freeze, pickle, dry, etc.) so that we can eat until next harvest!

One of my favourite rye breads is Lac La Hache Bakery’s sourdough rye. Being the old hippie that I am, I decided that if they could make it, I could make it, too. To be honest, a friend once asked them about the sourdough culture they use, and it must have been a bad day for whoever answered the phone because they gave her a really sharp answer to the effect of, “Why should we give away our precious secrets?” When I heard that I kinda got a little hot myself, you know? That started me thinking about that bread and how it is made.

Given that sourdough bread dates back to the days of the ancient Egyptians, I feel like most of the secrets have been in the public domain for a few thousand years. I have nothing against a craft-person making a living, but being mean about it doesn’t help your image in the marketplace. I do have to thank them for it, though; because the one part that was stumping me got sorted and now I can make lots of sourdough rye bread that tastes just like theirs — but I don’t have to fight all the other hungry hippies down at the health food store to get a fresh loaf on delivery day.

This recipe has some sugar and a little oil in it. If you really want to be old-school you can leave it out. You could even leave out the salt, but why torture yourself?

So let’s start with some bread theory. (Oh, get over it. Theory is good for you.) This bread is a batter breadThat means it is a fairly wet mixture. Rye grain has less gluten than wheat, but it holds a lot more water so it makes great batter breads. That’s Thing One.

Thing Two is the rye. I just said rye has some gluten, which is true. Gluten comes in two varieties: glutenin and gliadin. I’ve been told that gluten-sensitive people are most often sensitive to glutenin, and less often sensitive to gliadin. Rye has no glutenin, so some people with sensitivities can eat all-rye breads. This is good for those people who can eat it, because it opens up all kinds of possibilities. One of my former students is gluten-sensitive, and she always said the worst part for her was not what she couldn’t eat, but rather the fact that what she could eat — that rice bread from the store — tasted so awful.

Thing Three is sourdough fermentation. There is some evidence to suggest that very long, low temperature fermentations will tend to break down gluten more than fast, high temperature fermentations. This information comes from studies done on why people who are gluten-sensitive in North America can eat all the artisan wheat bread they want when they’re in Europe. In fact, here’s a link to a story on AlterNet.

Thing Four is baking time. Every batter bread I tried to make come out like my target loaf was done on the outside and gooey on the inside. I figured they couldn’t all be wrong, but part of the problem was that most of the recipes I looked at also used wheat flour to add some gluten to the bread. Not to buy into all the anti-wheat hysteria, but for this bread wheat flour is cheap filler. I got to thinking about other wet batters I’ve worked with and that put me onto the topic of fruitcake. When I bake fruitcake, it’s in a 250F oven for about two and a half hours. Voila! Secret re-discovered.

So now I’m sharing it with you.

One more thing about this bread. I’m including the timing I use so you can see that although this bread “takes a long time” to make, it really only takes a few minutes at any point. This bread is great for anyone who “doesn’t have time to bake” because you’re just doing something every once in a while, as a break from doing other things.

You will need to start with an all-rye sourdough starter. There are several available through the internet; a Google search will turn one up. Once your starter is going well, you can use it to make bread. Here’s the way I do it:

{8:30 p.m.}

1 cup sourdough starter

3/4 cup warm water

2 1/2 cups rye flour

Put the starter in a bowl, whisk in the water. Stir in the flour. It will be very stiff and wet. Cover the bowl with a plate and leave it on the kitchen counter overnight. Now recharge your starter with a cup of cool water and “almost a cup” of rye flour. Mix it up well, put it in a clean jar, cap it loosely, and leave it on the counter overnight. (My starter is very active. I have to put the jar in a soup bowl because occasionally it will bubble over the top of the jar.)

{8:30 a.m.}

When you get up in the morning, put the jar of starter in the fridge.

Warm up 3/4 cup of water in the microwave. To this, add:

2 Tablespoons sugar

2 Tablespoons olive oil

1 teaspoon salt

1 teaspoon ground caraway seed (I use on old pepper grinder)

Now pour the warm water mixture over the batter lump and gently begin working it with a spoon until the liquid is mixed in and the batter is wet and sticky. Now work in

1 cup rye flour

and beat it up well with your spoon.

Spray a loaf pan with cooking spray and spoon the batter into the pan. You will need to use the spoon to press and move the batter into the corners. Now cover the pan and let the bread rise for six hours or more. Keep peeking every hour or so. When the bread quits rising, it’s ready to bake.

{3:00 p.m. or so}

Preheat your oven to 250F. Put the uncovered bread pan in the centre of the oven and let it bake for 2 1/2 hours. The bread is done when it is pulling away from the sides of the pan and a tester inserted in the centre of the loaf comes out clean.

Carefully turn the loaf out on a wire rack and let it cool completely before slicing. I usually start this bread on a Saturday evening, bake it on Sunday, and it’s ready to start Monday morning with rye toast and home-made apricot jam.