Making bread, Ji Village style

Here is a slightly edited comment I made at my buddy Ben Ross’ blog.

The most common type of bread is called 煎饼 in my hometown. I’d say this bread is also popular in other part of Shandong, northern Jiangsu, and possibly part of Henan and Anhui province as well. Here is the original way of making it: First, grains were mixed in water. The grains can be just wheat, sorghum, soy beans, even dried sweet potato slices (地瓜干儿). When the mixture was ready, it would be processed by mill stones (磨) into paste. Mill stones are made out of two round stones stacked vertically, with the top stone being pushed in a circular fashion, by a donkey, mule or human. My two older brothers and I had plenty of that experience (推磨). A spoon or a small half-gourd was used to feed the grain and water mixture into the hole on the top stone as we pushed the top stone around. This process is called 打糊子 in the local slang.

The resulting paste was then gathered and put next to a big round cast iron (鏊子). The cast iron is about 110 centimeters in diameter, I’d say. It is positioned just slightly above the ground. My mom, a retired elementary school teacher (民办教师), usually squats or sits on the floor there, and burns corn stalks and wheat straws to heat it up. Then she scoops up a spoonful of the paste and spreads it around the iron. The result, a thin and round bread, is 煎饼. This bread can be put into a big basket, 煎饼筐子, and stored as is. It can also be folded into a smaller rectangle for easy storage. Kids in my region, grown up in the 80’s, when going to boarding middle and high schools, would carry a bag full of those rectangles (煎饼卷子) for weeks, or even full month’s bread supply. If I could have 辣椒炒肉丝 (pork with spicy green peppers) folded inside that bread during my childhood years, believe me, it was heaven on earth!

The method of making that bread changed quickly in the 80s, in that it is mostly done by machines. I don’t think anybody makes the paste the old-fashioned way now. Probably most of people, including villagers, buy that bread from the market nowadays.

Another wheat flour tortilla type bread is called 单饼 in my local version of Mandarin, which is not as common as 煎饼. Growing up in the 70s, it was considered a delicacy, as it is made out of soft wheat flour. 单饼 (flour tortilla) is made a little differently. The first part is very similar to making dumpling wrappers, only the size is bigger. Obviously it is made out of a dough (no yeast added and not paste), so one could bake and turn this on a smaller cast iron with hand. When we had guests during my childhood years, we sometimes made 单饼 as a treat for them. (Sometimes we even killed a chicken roaming the yard and made 辣子鸡 for guests. How else could one afford meat?)

Obviously pure wheat 煎饼 (no other type of grain added) was good and rare then. On the other hand, 煎饼 made out of dried sweet potato slices (瓜干儿煎饼) and sorghum (高梁煎饼) were considered of lower quality. 所谓瓜干儿煎饼老咸菜. Now with people richer than before, 瓜干儿煎饼 and 高梁煎饼 are considered delicacies now, go figure!

A famous thing in my childhood is 煎饼卷大葱, essentially one or two whole green onions folded inside a 煎饼. When one’s financial condition was looking up , one could put a few drops of sesame oil in it. I like 煎饼卷大葱 along with 老咸菜 (pickled vegetables). It is really delicious, an acquired taste out of necessity.

3 thoughts on “Making bread, Ji Village style”

  1. 哈,正宗的煎饼卷大葱和老咸菜我已经很多年没吃过了。

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