Nina lives in the Gulf Islands. She found my name in a zine her daughter brought her, Baking for Biodiversity, by the Portland writer and baker Katie Gourley. She liked that I run the bakery by bicycle—she thought I milled my flour by bicycle, too!—and so she called up her local library and asked the librarian to find my phone number. She doesn’t have a tv, a computer, or a cell phone; she listens to Amy Goodman in the morning on a Bellingham radio station, and sometimes a little music afterwards if it’s any good. Doesn’t have a car and, at 80, no longer rides her bike. She bakes bread every other week—pain sauvage, “because I’m wild!”—in a 94 year old electric, cast iron oven in her 100 year old house. She is a photographer. She mentioned, in passing, that in her youth, in London, she photographed The Beatles.
Pain sauvage is wild fermented bread, made without commercial yeast or sourdough. The dough ferments with the yeast and bacteria present in the grain. This is how idli is traditionally made, and injera. I heard once of a baker in Italy who left his mixing bowl of dough to wild ferment every night. I’ve never made a wild fermented wheat bread, so I’m copying out Nina’s instructions here as told to me, with all her particulars. If you decide to make her pain sauvage, you will, of course, need to adapt the ingredients and process to your own kitchen.
NINA's PAIN SAUVAGE
Mill 1/3c rye, 1c emmer, and 1c red fife wheat into coarse meal. Mix with an equal volume of very cold water and ferment overnight at approximately 20°C for 20 hours.
Mix 4c red fife wheat flour with 4c water. Ferment overnight at approximately 20°C for 20 hours.
Mix the overnight ferments, 3tsp sea salt, and 6c of red fife wheat flour with a wooden spoon. Let sit for an hour. Knead for 5 minutes, and then stretch and fold every hour for 5 hours. Leave out for another three hours or so before putting the dough into the refrigerator overnight.
Take dough out, let sit for half an hour.
Turn dough onto a table dusted with bran. Cut into 4 pieces.
Grease 4 round, glass pans and place dough into them. Scatter flax seed on top.
Meanwhile, preheat the oven to 600°F. Turn off. Wait half an hour. Turn back on to 600°F. This process takes about 2 hours. When the oven is hot the second time cover the pans and put them in the oven. Turn the oven down to 500°F. After 35 minutes, take off the covers. Bake for another hour.