There’s much talk about Artisan breads and about the premium label attached to the handmade wood fired breads .The Boulangerie has always been my favorite area of study and observation because of the science involved. One could spend a lifetime understanding the complex lactic and acidic flavors produced by fermentation and the effect of heat on these flavors.
On one of my trips to Goa, I developed a much higher sense of respect for the Trade thanks to the “Poders” or the local bakers. Poders have been the Traditional “wake up calls” for Goa for the last 4 centuries, first with their clanking walking sticks and then with the air horns on their bicycles.
Jim Gomes was one such kind poder who allowed me to spend a night in his Padaria (Portuguese for bakery) in Salcette. I was aware that earthen ovens had become scarce due to their substitution by their electric and gas counterparts, so the moment I saw the traditional earthen oven at Jim’s, I was overjoyed and shocked. Shocked as the oven was filled to the mouth with lit firewood and no space for baking. Later when the firewood was burnt to ash it was removed completely.
I asked Jim the design and composition of the oven to better understand what was going on and got my answers. The Oven has a very small opening (9 inches by 4 inches) and a very low roof (12 inches max at the center). Its walls are packed with all good conductors of heat inside like iron, glass and salt. So the oven is lit for 4 hours , and even after removing all fire wood it retains the heat for 4 hours of baking . So to sum it up ; the baking happens without any fuel and completely in the steam of the bread . For people from the trade like me this was surely a eureka moment. The variety of breads (Ondo. katre, Poie and the bangle shaped Kakon) and the unique baking process place the 500 year old Goan Baking tradition amongst the most artisan in the world .
Next time in Goa : stop the Poder , smile and buy a poie you would have done your share of humble service to Artisan bread making . Oh and if you get a chance ask him to show you his earthen oven because very soon we just might see them in Museums.