Blog the Eighth: Was Alfred the Great Guilty?
Upon reading the title of this blog you may be tempted to ask a few questions. Who was Alfred the Great? (Cue Chef commencing much eye rolling and sighs of disbelief) What was he guilty of? (Cue Chef showing signs of incredulity) Were the charges ever held up in court? (Cue Chef saying “Seriously?”) What made this guy so “Great”? (Cue Chef slapping hand to forehead, dragging it down face and muttering phrases like “…give me strength…)
Alfred the Great became ruler of Wessex in 871 and successfully defended that area of England from the Vikings, eventually becoming the dominant ruler in England. Alf (as he was known to his friends) was by all accounts a halfway decent chap and was responsible (more or less) for improving the legal and education systems not to mention the military and overall quality of people’s lives. He knew a lot about tropical fish as well. What a guy! All of this made Alf pretty “Great” at least in the eyes of his people and their descendants.
As for what he was guilty of that goes back to a somewhat rough period for Alf. He’d been fighting the Vikings (as you do) and at one point things had taken a decidedly bad turn resulting in Alf fleeing into a swampy area known as…………..that really bad swampy area in Somerset, more commonly known as the Somerset Levels. While there he took shelter with some old crone that didn’t recognize him. She asked him to watch some cakes or bread she was baking while she went out to do whatever it is that old crones do but Alf was way too preoccupied with his own troubles and didn’t devote the appropriate attention to the cakes which apparently burnt! When the old crone returned she was pretty P’d off and gave Alf a piece of her mind. Alf probably reminded her she lived in a swamp and what business did she have telling people what to do but it made him really focus on what his problems were and how to fix them. Getting out of the swamp was a good start! Alf did leave the swamp and went on to kick some serious Viking butt.
Is this true? Was Alf really guilty of burning the cakes? Who knows; but that’s the story that’s been handed down to countless English school children over the centuries since.
So what? I hear you ask. What does it have to do with me?
The point of all this is that who decides what’s burnt and what’s not? In my kitchen I do, but in the end overall public opinion counts as well. I’ve noticed since moving here from the place Alf called home that Americans prefer their baked items on the lighter side, or to put it another way, completely under baked, insipid and without color (colour) or flavor (flavour). Color (colour) = Flavor (Flavour)!
But seriously, color is flavor. It counts for so much of the eating experience. Bland and tasteless has no place when dealing with food. A well baked loaf of bread should excite all the senses. It should be a dark golden brown color, it should smell slightly yeasty and have notes of caramel and salt with a hint of wheat, it should feel firm yet slightly yielding to the touch, the crust if crunchy should sound crunchy when squeezed slightly and it should taste…. Well that really depends on the style of bread you are eating but you get the idea. The caramelization of sugars during the baking process is what makes many baked items taste so good. Don’t be tempted to pull items from the oven too soon. Allow them to brown gracefully and achieve the optimum color and flavor. Don’t reject baked items that are darker in color. Try them and experience the true range of flavors hiding within. And if your name is Alf and some old crone is giving you a hard time remind her she lives in a swamp and that people that live in swamps shouldn’t cast the first burnt cake……………………or whatever it is!