By Liesl Clark
When you make your own bread, or buy beautiful artisan’s bread from a bakery, the last thing you want to do is store it in a plastic bag. There’s a reason bakeries sell you the bread in a paper bag. It keeps the bread fresh, but only for so long. Storing some breads, like a baguette, in a paper bag overnight will result in stale bread. So how do you restrict the amount of oxygen exposed to the bread? In the past, I used a plastic bag, but that resulted in a bread with a weird soggy consistency, especially the hand-made breads that had crunchy crusts. And when you’re trying to get back to basics and exclude plastic from surrounding your foods, the plastic bag, plus bread clip or twist tie just isn’t an option.
Enter the bread box. Remember the question: “Is it bigger than a bread box?” often used in the game, 20 Questions? Bread boxes were so common they were a staple size in our estimation of how large or small something might be. Now, we might say “Is it bigger than a microwave?” but no one’s playing 20 questions these days, so bread boxes in game lexicon, may go extinct.
Why were bread boxes used in the first place and why are they no longer common? Seems the bread box’s demise can be attributed to the advent of preservatives in bread and the use of plastic bags to store a loaf of bread. But, according to wikipedia,”Bread does not go stale by “drying out”—stale “dry” bread weighs the same as moist “fresh” bread, indicating almost no loss of water. Bread goes stale through a process of retrogradation, in which the starch transposes to a crystalline form in the presence of the water contained within the bread itself. The process speeds up at cooler temperatures, such as under refrigeration, and thus bread stored at room temperature remains fresher for longer periods than refrigerated bread. (Frozen bread, however, traps the moisture as ice, and prevents the staling process.)”
Translated? Don’t store your bread in the refrigerator! It’ll “retrograde” it which is basically a staling or drying out of the bread. Keeping it at room temperature is ideal. Just as great grandma knew, a bread box is truly your best friend for storing bread. You’re storing it at room temperature, and in a plastic-free environment (if your bread box is made of wood.) There’s a video at eHow that clarifies the difference between a wooden or metal bread box. Stick with wood.
Here’s a helpful stat: In summer, your bread box will store your bread for up to a week and in winter it can be stored for 2 weeks. If you still have bread around at 2 weeks, maybe you need to invite some buddies over to help eat the good stuff. But storing the bread in the freezer, if you only nibble a piece or 2 each day, might be your answer. Freezers will keep them quite fresh, but then you have to contend with plastic again, or you might find a large glass freezer container if you’re a purist.
So where do you find a bread box? Look in antique stores, second hand stores, or online. I found ours online (there are only a few brands available) and although it isn’t my favorite style, it’s been a champ for us since we make our own bread in a breadmaker 2-3 times per week. If you can’t find a bread box, the towel solution is a great substitute. Or, put it in your largest pot. Rebecca puts hers in her crock pot or slow cooker.
Enjoy your well-earned bread, and store it wisely, like great grandma did.
Some people just won’t be convinced about the wonders of a bread box. That’s okay, they’ve converted theirs into other useful things. Check out these innovative reuses on our Trash Backwards app: