Tuesday, August 23, 2016

Living by Bread Alone

Jeemol Koruth Verghese has been spreading the joys of home-made bread
in Kochi 

Photos by Albin Mathew 

By Shevlin Sebastian

Rasheeda Begum, 30, felt depressed. She had asked permission from her conservative Muslim in-laws to attend a one-day baking class, at Kochi, conducted by Jeemol Koruth Verghese, but they said no. Her husband lives and works in West Asia.

Rasheeda threw several tantrums, and stopped having her meals. Finally, the family relented. But when she arrived at Kochi, from Guruvayur, 93 kms away, the mother-of-two was accompanied by two male relatives, who sat on the stairs, outside the door of Eva's Healthy Bakes, throughout the day, providing security for her.

In the end, it turned out well for Rasheeda. “She is a natural talent,” says Jeemol, 34. “Rasheeda picked up the techniques very quickly. And now she is baking all types of bread and has become a star in her locality. It has given a boost to her self-confidence.”

Jeemol's baking classes are growing in popularity in Kochi. “In a way, you can say, I am a 'bread activist',” she says, with a smile. “I want to make people eat home-made bread. It is so much more tasty.”

What Jeemol does not mention is that mass-baked bread has a lot of preservatives in it, so that it lasts a long time. The ingredients include gluten, palmolein, potassium sorbate, calcium propionate and sodium bezonate.

A home-made loaf, which consists of unbleached organic flour and sugar, yeast, water, milk, oil, salt and egg, has a much shorter shelf-life,” says Jeemol. “The bread will go bad within two to three days. But if its refrigerated, it can last a week. To eat it, you just need to steam it.”

Among the many types that Jeemol makes, they include whole wheat bread, baguettes, organic semolina, cibatta, rosemary and braided breads, Olive Herbed Foccacia and the Jewish Challah.

The Challah is a traditional Jewish bread, which is eaten on the Sabbath,” she says. “It is made with honey, olive oil, eggs, but has less sugar.”

But the most popular bread is the foccacia, from Italy. This is made of yeast, olive oil, thyme, herbs like rosemary or basil, black olives and caramalised onions. “Many of my students have never heard of this bread,” she says. “But when they take it home, the families love it. My children also like it a lot.”

Her classes are attended by women, who range in age from 16 to 65. And
most of the participants are happy. Deepa Vijay says, “I attended Jeemol's class, without anyone's knowledge, and the next weekend I baked a yummy loaf and surprised my family, who always considered me as zilch in the kitchen. Now I realise that the step-by-step process of making bread is a stress-buster for my marketing job.”

Asked the secret to making a good bread, Jeemol says, “You need to make it with passion. I feel such a deep sense of satisfaction when the bread rises in the oven. I love the brown crust and the delicious smell. When I make bread at home, thanks to the aroma, it does not take long for my neighbours to know it. So, I always give them a few loaves.” 

(Sunday Magazine, The New Indian Express, South India and Delhi)

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