Garlic Bread of the Revolution
The most-read essay I've ever written
This piece, written six years ago, is the most popular thing I’ve written. It went viral soon after I posted it, was reposted (often without attribution) over scores of other sites, and had at least a quarter of a million views on the sites where I posted it. (I maybe should have been a food writer…)
Anyway, here it is again for those of you who may have never read it. It’s only slightly updated (I added metric conversions) but is otherwise as it was when first published.
According to a former lover, I make a garlic bread so good that “it could start a revolution." It's pretty damn good, I'll admit. And maybe it could. Cooking is kinda revolutionary in its own right. It shouldn't be—it's something humans have been doing for thousands of years. But we've all become alienated from a lot of the things humans have done lately, and there's no better place to start recovering this than the kitchen.
Besides, cooking is pretty close to witchcraft. So, I'm gonna tell you how to make my garlic bread, and give you a little revolutionary history and theory behind some of the ingredients.
First, let's start with what you're gonna need. Ingredients don't have to be organic, 'cause I'm assuming you're probably as poor as I am and most of the people I know. Organic food, at least in the United States, is so much more expensive than other stuff that it's just not for ‘the poor.' We should change that sometime, seriously. But 'till then, get what you can, okay?
It'll still turn out awesome. You'll need
One loaf of thick-crusted bread, preferably sourdough.
1/4 pound (115g) unmelted, salted butter (not margarine)
An entire head of fresh garlic.
some Parsley (must be fresh)
Oregano (can be dried).
Aluminum foil (optional)
Got all that?
Now, you'll also need a really sharp knife (or serrated), an oven set to 350 degrees F (175 C), a small bowl, and some time. Cooking takes time, which you maybe don't have a lot of because you have to work to survive. We'll talk about that in a bit.
The most important thing you need to know about this recipe is DO NOT MELT THE BUTTER. You're gonna want to soften it, but don't let it melt until the whole thing is in the oven. And don't replace any of the ingredients if you want to make ‘my' garlic bread. You can really do whatever you want (please do!), but it's no longer this garlic bread, it's something different.
Step One: Soften the butter.
This is best done by putting it in a bowl at room temperature beforehand. It won't go bad. The goal is to make sure that it's soft enough to mix but not melted, otherwise the fat and liquid in the butter separate.
Step Two: Peel & Chop the Garlic
You have fresh garlic, right? Not powdered or granulated and definitely not ‘garlic salt,' right? Awesome!
Peel at least half a bulb of garlic, at least 5-10 (or more!) large cloves. You can use a fork to crush each clove slightly which makes it peel easier. Then, take all your peeled garlic and chop it finely. Use a heavy knife with a decent blade.
Put all that garlic in the bowl with the butter.
Step Three: Rinse and Chop the Parsley
You want about 1/8 to 1/4 cup (15-20 grams) of chopped fresh parsley. It's a crucial ingredient for this, not a garnish, not just for color. Run a handful under cold water, squeeze it out, pat it dry, and then chop it as finely as you feel like doing so. The smaller the pieces, the more distributed the flavor.
Add the parsley to the bowl of garlic and butter.
Step Four: Add Oregano, mix, and wait a bit
Add a large pinch or more of oregano and then stir the whole thing until it's soft and well mixed. I usually use a fork for this, as it cuts the butter a little bit, so if it's not quite soft enough you can use brute force to mix it. Don't get impatient and try to soften the butter by other means (microwave, magic, blowtorch)—melting ruins the whole thing.
Now, wait a bit. You can totally do other stuff while waiting, like make a salad or pasta or read the rest of this essay. You want the fat in the butter to have a little time to absorb the flavors from everything else.
While you're waiting, let's talk about two of the ingredients, the Bread and the Butter. If you're impatient, Steps Five, Six, and Seven are a bit further down.
Peasant Bread's an Art
If you got a thick crusted bread like I suggested, unless you live in Europe where there amazing bakeries everywhere, you probably bought an “artisan” bread. Artisan bread became sort of a thing in the United States about fifteen years ago. They're thick-crusted breads, usually with only three or four ingredients, and take on characters of taste because of the way they're baked and the age of the yeast.
“Artisan” bread is really just peasant bread, though. It's a lot more similar to what bread was like several hundred years ago than what it is now, all soft and squishy, pre-sliced and wrapped in petrol-plastic.
The pure white bland stuff we usually have now requires heavy refining of the flour and removal of all the fibrous parts of the grains. Removing so much of the plant also removes most of the micro-nutrients available, which is one of the (but not the only) reasons why factory-produced flour is now enriched.
Bread is, at its most basic, flour, water, and yeast. Flour and water are pretty easy to understand, but the alchemy behind bread is the yeast, particularly with artisan breads. Most really good breads use what are called “starters.” These are bits of dough set aside and let to age, often with more water or milk added to help the yeast have more food. The next time bread is made, this starter creates the foundation of that loaf, and another small portion is reserved for the next loaf. This process also cultures the dough, adding certain flavors which are impossible to get without a starter.
To get yeast now, we usually purchase little foil packets of dry yeast granules. Before, though?
Before the advent of yeast culturing, wild yeast fermentation was used (knowingly or not) to attract yeasts (then thought of as spirits) into the wort. The brewers would often leave their brewing vessel in a special hut, uncovered, and say prayers over the brew. When the brew started to foam, they knew the spirit had entered. This wild yeast fermentation process was hit and miss, as sometimes a bad flavor (or spirit) would get into the ale, and it had to be thrown out.
Around the 15th century, some of the brewing monks started to catch on to the way the angels (yeasts) were working. They found that if they used the same wooden spoon to stir their cooled wort, the same good spirit resulted. This technique was also used by the latter day Vikings, but they used oak staves carved with runes. The reason why these tools worked their miracles was that yeast fermentation cultures would live in the wood. Even when the spoon or rune was dried, the yeast culture could live dormant in the wood until the next use. [source]
The same process worked for both bread and beer.
Yeast will grow naturally in moist, warm enclosed areas where the yeast has something to feed it. It also survives better in porous organic surfaces than it does on sterile, impermeable surfaces. So our modern obsession with plastic, stainless steel, and other non-porous surfaces mean we need external sources of yeast. Most modern things require a trade-off.
Bread Takes Time
Bread baking requires a lot more than just buying a packet of yeast, letting the dough set out a few hours, and then baking. What it requires most of all is time.
We have this idea, inculcated more from Media than from historical sources, that industrialization has liberated us—particularly women—from the inconvenience, hard work, and time commitment required for household tasks like baking and cooking.
We should, first of all, get rid of the idea that cooking is a woman's task. Women were relegated to household work during the birth of Capitalism because they'd lost all other access to their means of production. The so-called “Nuclear Family" is a new idea, and it had more to do with keeping workers in line than it ever did with anything ‘traditional.'
How much time do you have to cook? If you're working 40 hours a week, probably not much. The 8-hour workday is never just 8 hours. It requires you to wake up early, feed yourself, commute to work, feed yourself on lunch (which is usually not paid), commute home, and unwind from work.
That leaves 6 hours left, assuming 8 hours of sleep. But by the end of a shift, most people are pretty exhausted. And if you've got kids, you're not getting much else done. If you're single, it's also hard; you have to do all the work to keep yourself healthy, well-fed, well-rested and sane on your own.
But if you have a partner who can do some of that stuff for you, you might be okay. That's where housewives came in, a person who uses some of their time to help the person working maintain their existence as both human and worker. Cooking dinner, washing clothes, all of those things you can't really do for yourself after selling your own labor/energy to an employer (called the means of reproduction) are uncompensated in Capitalism. From Silvia Federici's Wages Against Housework:
In the same way as god created Eve to give pleasure to Adam, so did capital create the housewife to service the male worker physically, emotionally and sexually – to raise his children, mend his socks, patch up his ego when it is crushed by the work and the social relations (which are relations of loneliness) that capital has reserved for him. It is precisely this peculiar combination of physical, emotional and sexual services that are involved in the role women must perform for capital that creates the specific character of that servant which is the housewife, that makes her work so burdensome and at the same time invisible.
For couples of any combination of gender, such tensions remain. In every relationship I've been in, the person who is working more (sometimes myself, sometimes the other) relies heavily on the other to keep him alive and sane. For every successful worker, there's someone else propping them up.
Of course, you could always go to a restaurant (you won't get this garlic bread there, though). In fact, restaurants sprung up in popularity at the same time as industrialization as an auxiliary function. Don't have someone to cook for you? You can pay someone else to do it, trading some of your money in exchange for a little more time.
That's why you're probably buying the bread for this recipe, by the way, and not baking it. You don't have the time to bake it yourself, and probably don't know anyone skilled enough to make it for you.
Step Five: Slice the Bread, then butter the slices
You don't want to slice the bread all the way through, by the way. The hard crust, especially at the bottom of the loaf, makes for a natural wrapping for this, and will also help keep the whole thing together. Slice into the loaf no more than 3/4's of the way down, and repeat this throughout the loaf, making 8-12 slots. Think of an accordion or fan. Don't worry about precision; we're not doing science, we're doing magic.
Most people usually just slice a loaf in half and butter both sides. My way is better—you'll see!
Now, take a spoon or knife and slather the garlic butter mixture into each gouge you've cut. Distribute it evenly like the good communist you are, and any leftover can be added to the top.
You know how butter is made, yeah? Cream from cow's milk is churned repeatedly, adding air and breaking up the fat until most of the liquid (buttermilk) can be removed. What remains solidifies as the churning continues, and it's mostly fat.
Butter in the United States tends to have a lower fat-to-water ratio than butter in Europe, and also tends to have dyes in it to turn it yellow because of the quality of the milk. Milk takes on specific characteristic of the land where the cow lives through the grass it eats, which is why milk from Ireland tastes different from milk from France, and why the cheeses made in either place have differences in flavor impossible to replicate elsewhere. In the United States, though... well, keep reading.
Industrialization changed a lot of the way we create and consume butter and cow's milk. Before industrialization, we waited for the cream to rise to the top of a vat of milk naturally, a long process. Eventually, machines which would separate the fat faster were developed, as well as machines which would do the churning for us.
Ever thought about 2% and ‘skim' milk? The fat from cream is what makes butter. Removing most of it produces whole milk, and all of it produces skim milk. You might like skimmed milk (I don't), but either way, it's worth knowing that 100 years ago, you couldn't get anyone to drink the stuff.
Actually, it was considered waste, a by-product of cream and cheese production. But War and the science of “Chemurgy" came to the rescue.
“World War II successfully reincarnated skim milk from a locally utilized byproduct into one with national and international appeal. Skim milk entered World War II before American soldiers did. The U.S. secretary of agriculture asked for expanded production from dairy farmers in July 1941, months before the attack on Pearl Harbor. Dairy products quickly became essential to the lend-lease and war relief programs. Whereas evaporated milk was the preferred relief food during and after World War I, dried milk powder’s transportability and long shelf life gave it the favored spot in the lend-lease formulary. By 1941, the federal government asked for 200 million pounds of dry skim milk powder for America’s allies. Dried skim milk manufacturers struggled to keep pace with the unprecedented demand." [source]
You may be old enough to remember a time that skimmed milk was cheaper than whole, maybe not. But through marketing, particularly on ‘diet' concerns, skim milk is considered an equal product to whole, even supposedly “healthier.”
Ruminating on Corn
There's something else important about industrialized dairy production you should know, though. Since the logic of the Capitalist is to increase production while decreasing cost, and in this case the producer is a cow, certain “technological advances” have arisen to ensure that cows produce as much milk as possible with the least amount of cost. Unfortunately, like many other Capitalist attempts to increase productivity, they've got some huge side-effects.
In the 1980's, a recombinant bovine growth hormone, rBST, was developed. It's a hormone that keeps mammary cells from dying, and so increases the amount of milk a cow can produce long past when it might normally have stopped lactating. The United States approved its use in 1993, so it's been around for 23 years. It's been banned in Australia, Canada, and the European Union since 2000, though.
In the USA, milk coming from cows treated with hormones carries a label from the FDA stating,
“No significant difference has been shown between milk derived from rbST-treated and non-rbST-treated cows.”
Whether or not you trust the government on this one, there's something worth noting. Increasing the amount of milk a cow produces often leads to mastitis, or infections of the mammary glands. Whether or not the pus from those infections ends up in industrial milk is impossible to tell because they don’t test for it, but such infections are part of the reason why antibiotics are used in dairy production.
The other reason, though? Cows are rarely fed grass any longer. Instead, they're fed grain and corn, despite the fact that they actually can't digest it:
Cows see very little grass nowadays in their lives. They get them on corn as fast as they can, which speeds up their lifespan, gets them really fat, and allows you to slaughter them within 14 months.
The problem with this system, or one of the problems with this system, is that cows are not evolved to digest corn. It creates all sorts of problems for them. The rumen is designed for grass. And corn is just too rich, too starchy. So as soon as you introduce corn, the animal is liable to get sick...
...You start giving them antibiotics, because as soon as you give them corn, you've disturbed their digestion, and they're apt to get sick, so you then have to give them drugs. That's how you get in this whole cycle of drugs and meat. By feeding them what they're not equipped to eat well, we then go down this path of technological fixes, and the first is the antibiotics. Once they start eating the [corn], they're more vulnerable. They're stressed, so they're more vulnerable to all the different diseases cows get. But specifically they get bloat, which is just a horrible thing to happen. They stop ruminating. [source]
So, industrial dairy production affects the cows and requires antibiotics and other technological fixes to sustain it. And regional differences don't appear when the cows are fed on the same diet (corn, grain) everywhere.
Despite all that, though, you gotta use butter (salted) for this Garlic Bread. It won't taste good, otherwise, trust me.
Besides, margarine is just as problematic—you don't hear of people making home-made margarine for a reason. You can't, really. While butter existed before industrialization, you probably don't know anyone who can hydrogenate, fractionate, or interesterificate in their kitchen.
But don't melt the butter, okay? It's the most important part.
Step Six: Bake The Garlic Bread
Put the loaf onto a baking sheet on the top rack of your oven. The oven should be about 350 degrees. You can also wrap the entire loaf in aluminum foil if you prefer, which will make the bread a lot more moist at the end. But it’s not essential.
You're gonna want this in the oven for between 20 minutes to about a half hour. I'm not gonna give you a precise time, because, like I said, magic, not science. You'll know it's ready by looking at it.
Let's talk about the other three ingredients while we wait for that to bake, yeah?
This Shit Grows in the Dirt
Herbs like parsley and oregano are pretty damn awesome, and usually have other fun effects besides just flavoring. For instance, parsley. Others can talk about the magical affects of it, but as a cook I can assure you that it's too awesome to be just a garnish. Parsley tends to balance acidity, and has a significant flavor of its own that gets utterly lost when it's dried. The amount of parsley we're putting in the garlic bread is about 4 tablespoons finely chopped. It's pretty crucial to the taste.
Now, the oregano is actually a little better dried, especially since we'll be cooking this. Fresh herbs are typically better used at the end of cooking as the meal is cooling down. Basil's a good example—fresh basil loses its flavor after it's been cooked. I almost never use dried basil, by the way: it has an oddly sweet, almost tequila-like taste that doesn't mesh so well with most foods.
So, question though: where you gonna get these two herbs? Probably at the grocery store, right? Let me offer you a sigh of solidarity. That parsley's probably gonna cost you $1 to $1.50 for a large bundle that you won't use all of unless you're making tabbouleh later. And the oregano? Like $4 dollars for a small jar if there's no bulk herb section in your store.
Here's a tip, though. You know that area in the grocery store where all the jarred spices are? IGNORE IT. Instead, go find the ‘ethnic' or ‘Mexican' food section (and grumble angrily, like I do, about how ridiculous these labels are).
Wait—are those...spices? Herbs? Why are they so cheap? Like, $2 for something that would cost you $4 one aisle over? There must be something wrong with them, right?
Nope. Not at all. In fact, the ones in the non-clueless-person section are usually a bit better. The grocery store's just betting that you're so alienated from cooking and food production that you'll accept these ridiculous prices.
Herbs grow in the dirt. Actually, almost all plants do. But because we in industrialized, urban settings aren't anywhere near actual farming, we have less context and are more willing to accept what is sold to us.
I'll actually tell you my own story on this. 22 years ago, I lived in a pretty awesome house with this really cool, beautiful evergreen-looking bush by the front door. Anyway, I was making dinner with a friend. I went shopping, returned home, and started preparing stuff when he showed up. I pulled out one of the things I'd bought and he starts laughing.
“You fuckhead," he says. (Yeah, he was a really close friend). “How much did you pay for that?”
“Three dollars," I said, suddenly quite concerned.
“You paid $3 dollars for 4 sprigs of rosemary when you've got a massive bush of it right outside your door?"
“Wait," I said, confused. “Isn't that, like, ornamental rosemary or something?"
I actually took the organic sprigs I'd bought to the bush and compared them, hoping against hope I hadn't spent at least $30 that year on an herb that grew literally out my front door. But...yup. I'd been had.
Parsley and oregano are both really easy to grow. In fact, they do better being mostly left alone, and growing in poor soil conditions rather than rich. But in urban settings, we have very little access to growing spaces and trade our time (in wages) to purchase something that grows happily, easily, and rather abundantly in dirt. However! With enough connection to a place, and some forethought, you can actually plant quite a bit of the stuff in places no one will touch it. It's called Guerrilla gardening, and it's a lot of fun.
The garlic is, of course, really important here. You're using a lot of it for a reason—it's garlic bread, after all. And by the way, it's not going to be completely cooked through when it's done. It'll still be a bit sharp, soft but not mushy.
I, uh, hope you like garlic. I should warn you, you're gonna smell like it the next day. It comes out your pores, will be on your breath no matter how much you brush your teeth.
But that's okay, right? Except of course that some people will find it offensive, because the smells that the human body emanates have become generally ‘offensive.' That was another long industrialized process, but I won't go into that here.
My suggestion? Share this bread with people you really like, so you'll all smell like garlic.
Step Seven: Pull it out of the oven and eat that delicious revolt
It should be pretty hot when it comes out of the oven, so be careful, yeah? Also, rather greasy. We did, after all, put a lot of butter in there.
Set it on a cutting board and once it's cooled off enough, slice it down the rest of the way and serve it. It's damn awesome with pasta or salad. Everything sorta fuses together, adding a extra flavor that wasn't there.
Be warned, though. Both garlic and parsley have this funny affect on the stomach; both speed digestion a bit, so you might find this weird thing happen where three hours later you want to eat whatever was leftover. It's kinda magical.
While you're eating it, consider the history of the ingredients and their relationship to Capitalism, as well as what you don't have access to because of Capitalist social relations. Those herbs we used? They should be free, but most of us don't have access to land to grow them. Same with the garlic—it grows quite well in most soils, and you eat the part that's underground.
So much now goes into the creation of butter and other dairy products (like antibiotics and hormones) that it's quite a moral choice to abstain from eating it. But taste that? That's something people have been eating for thousands of years. In India, a type of clarified butter (ghee) is considered sacred and medicinal. Capitalist dairy production, though, is awful.
And bread. Feel free to get a bit grumpy about paying high prices for a bread that peasants made, often communally. In fact, there are lots of activities that are more time-efficient when done with others (like cooking large meals, baking, gardening, child care, etc.) that we rarely do together any longer. Many of these activities are outsourced to Capitalist enterprises (like artisan bakers) who pay their workers less than the amount you pay for the bread.
Get a little grumpy, sure. But also, you taste that? The deep earthy mix of parsley and garlic infused into the butter, how the whole thing tastes absurdly light and smooth despite being full of fat and carbs? Smell how you almost get a little drunk on the garlic, how your body seems to warm in sensuous desire with each bite? How you don't want it ever to end?
That feeling? Pure desire, pure enjoyment, intoxication of senses and a certainty that the world should have much more garlic bread in it, and a lot less useless harm and unnecessary sorrow?
That's kinda what revolution is like.
For me, though it could make a meal, I love the small side of spaghetti to go with. Immune enhancing food, at least the garlic and the herbs. And the company, hopefully. Best to you Rhyd from Oregon, at least I can get a good sourdough all over town, organic too. Tonite!!
Oh man, as a naïve country girl from a dairy farming area, I always used to wonder why US recipes specified butter from "grass-fed" cows, as if cows ate anything else... although industrialised dairy production can be awful in the UK too, hence the whole 1990s BSE crisis.