I grew up eating rye bread — or at least what I thought of as rye bread — as the grandchild of eastern European Jewish immigrants. However, I didn’t start baking with rye until I began exploring my culinary roots, an exploration that ultimately came to fruition in Inside the Jewish Bakery.
During my research, I encountered the dense, dark rye breads that my grandparents’ generation subsisted on, but which had already disappeared from the Jewish bakeries of my childhood. I was hooked: My quest led me to the rye breads of northern, central and eastern Europe — largely unknown in the U.S. — where I found flavors, textures and baking challenges I never imagined existed.
The world of rye is vast and, to most American bread lovers, entirely unknown. Rye fed most of Europe north of the Alps and eastward into Russia. It sustained Chaucer’s England, Villon’s Paris and the empires of Charlemagne and Peter the Great. When the rye crop failed — as it did on a massive scale during the 14th century — people starved and empires fell.
Today, rye breads remain an important part of both diet and cultural heritage through most of northern, central, and eastern Europe — and even as far south as northern Italy, Portugal and Spain. In America, we are not so fortunate: our wheat- and corn-driven industrial food culture has largely relegated rye to ethnic enclaves and animal feed, and that’s a shame. For in so doing, we’ve deprived ourselves of flavors and experiences that are not only special in themselves, but that also forge a powerful bond with the food cultures of generations past.
Over the past several years, I’ve baked well over a hundred classic rye breads from all across Europe and America. As my experience and understanding grew, what began as an exploration turned into a love story: I can’t imagine having a cupboard devoid of a dense, rustic, immensely flavorful loaf of rye bread, let alone returning to my pre-rye baguette-and-boule days.
Rye has ignited in me a passion for baking of an intensity I never imagined. I want to communicate that passion — and hopefully ignite it in as many fellow bread-lovers as I can — by sharing rye’s idiosyncrasies, joys and challenges, not to mention lots of good recipes. Hence, this blog and my forthcoming book, The Rye Baker, to be published in September, 2016.
I invite you to join me as I continue this splendid journey.