Some time ago, I formed a partnership with a man who came equipped with fifty pounds of buckwheat flour. I don’t remember why or how he acquired this—he came attached to some other undesirable baggage as well.
By inclination and design, I try not to waste anything (I was recycling in the early ‘60s when most people thought that was something you did with a Schwinn) and I made it my mission to use up this flour. Now, unless you are sharing your life with some kind of cattle, buckwheat is not the thing which will be in high demand at your house.
Buckwheat, unlike other flours, does not lend itself to a multiplicity of uses. Even the Tassajara Cookbook, that stern and serious tome which implies a kind of culinary excommunication if you dare to flirt with white flour, wasn’t much of a help. I felt a certain urgency to use the buckwheat as we kept it in a large sack stored in my young daughter’s closet, something she very much objected to. The bag was bigger than her largest teddy bear and not much smaller than her Flexible Flyer.
I was baking most of our bread myself at the time and decided to make up some recipes of my own. First I designed loaves which took at least half their flour content in buckwheat. Bread entirely made of buckwheat is not exactly, well, bread. I don’t know what it is, I only know what it isn’t. My daughter and my friend tried to claim that bread made out of half buckwheat flour wasn’t bread either, but I wasn’t having any of that. If you put enough peanut butter and jelly on it, I pointed out, you would hardly notice.
However, the bread was very gray and I believe food should be beautiful to look at as well as tasty, notwithstanding those chopped liver ducks you see at some weddings. So I gradually whittled the buckwheat content down.
I was, in fact, remembering the unfortunate experience I had had with bread in Seattle. I spent a year out in Seattle and while I was there, I was visited by a hippie friend of mine who, with braid down to his waist, walked off the plane and withdrew a loaf of bread from his backpack he had baked just for me. Joey was trying to live the life of a ascetic—or something—and he proudly stated that this bread had neither salt, sweetening or leavening in it: just pure spring water and stone ground amaranth .
The last time I had heard of anyone eating unleavened bread was when Moses led the Jews out of Egypt, but I accepted the loaf graciously and after shifting everything else I was carrying to a shoulder bag, I was just able to stagger out of the airport with this hefty baggage.
To say this bread was dense is to monumentally understate the matter. It was so compact you could have safely stored plutonium in it. To say it had any taste is to give it underserved accolades. But Joey was so proud of his bread that he offered it to everyone who visited us, and they pretended to like it! (Seattle lends itself to this kind of thing which is why I don’t live in Seattle.) It was a very large loaf of bread, and although Joey was feeding it to everyone, there never seemed to be much less of it. I could hardly wait for him to leave because I was obliged to have some of it every morning: otherwise I felt I might break his heart.
Now, I did not want to subject my small family to a comparable experience. We had our share of buckwheat pancakes, which of course, are very good, but you would have to eat about 60 pancakes a day for 25 years to use up 50 pounds of buckwheat flour. Buckwheat flour makes perfectly terrible muffins and even worse cakes. In fact, almost anything you can bake with other flours can be sabotaged by adding buckwheat.
The relationship with the man didn’t last and it may have been curtailed by the excessive amount of buckwheat I was force feeding everyone. But I view this as a cautionary tale: beware of Greeks bearing gifts, or at least men toting buckwheat.