Photo-less not-Friday: what did we do before plastic was invented??

summary: we’re shirking our responsibilities; reflections; still staying at home; reading, reading, reading, reading; bread cookbooks galore; why do we need all that plastic wrap? …an entry for Photo-less Fridays;

I’ve always read a lot. In fact, one of the things I heard most often as a child was, Are you up there reading again? Get down here now to [fill in the blank with] a.) practice b.) set the table c.) cut the grass d.) take out the garbage e.) etc. etc. But these past weeks and weeks and weeks that started last 13 March, all that reading practice as a child has really paid off: I’ve read novels, non-fiction, memoires, short stories, magazine articles, history books, and bread cookbooks cover to cover.

Now, as we are at the beginning month number twelve of Staying at Home, I am about half way through “Bread Illustrated” and, while most of the book so far gives excellent instructions, I keep finding myself gasping at how many times they talk about the need to use plastic.

Cover the dough on the counter with plastic wrap […] Cover bowl tightly with plastic wrap and let sit at room temperature […] Cover loosely with greased plastic
– editors at America’s Test Kitchen, Bread Illustrated

(Please don’t get me started on the fact that the ATK editors claim a heavy-duty stand mixer is necessary for kneading bread, because “kneading dough by hand can be messy [ and] takes up to 25 minutes — and some well-developed forearm muscles — to knead dough fully by hand:stomp: :stomp: )

I’ve learned a lot from all this reading. But I cannot believe how many of the authors – many of them renowned bread bakers – advocate the use of plastic. Often prodigal use of plastic. :stomp: :stomp:

Here are some examples of needless recommendations to use plastic wrap from the past 11+ months of my bread book reading:

Cover the bowl with plastic wrap.
– Peter Reinhart, A Bread Baker’s Apprentice (this instruction is repeated several times throughout)
Cover the bowl with plastic wrap and let the dough rise at room temperature until fully doubled
– Mandy Lee, The Art of Escapism Cooking
Lightly dust [the dough] with flour and drape with plastic wrap.
– Daniel Leader, Living Bread (this instruction is repeated several times throughout)
Cover the bowl with a sheet of polythene […], which helps to generate the damp steamy atmosphere propitious to the dough. To envelop the whole bowl in a polythene bag, as is so often advised nowadays, is an unnecessary and clumsy method. And if you have young children please don’t leave large polythene bags lying about. They are dangerous.
– Elizabeth David, English Bread and Yeast Cookery
Cover with a plastic wrap
– Martin Philip, Breaking Bread: A Baker’s Journey Home in 75 Recipes
Cover the bowl with plastic wrap and set the mixture aside to ferment, undisturbed
– Richard Onley, Breads: Time-Life Books (this instruction is repeated several times throughout)
Let the dough rise […] [S]prinkle just a little flour on top of the dough, and cover the bowl with plastic wrap.
– Uri Scheft, Breaking Breads (this instruction is repeated several times throughout)
Proof the dough […] in a large bowl covered with plastic wrap.
– Ed and Jean Wood, Classic Sourdoughs Revised: A Home Baker’s Handbook
Shape into a ball and cover with clingfilm (plastic wrap) […] If the bread [dough] is not covered properly, a skin will form on its surface. A sheet of oiled clingfilm (plastic wrap) will prevent this from happening.
– Gaitri Pagrach-Chandra, Warm Bread and Honey
[C]over [the dough] with a plate or some cling film (plastic wrap)
– James Morton, Super Sourdough
[P]reshaped loaves are covered with a sheet of plastic to prevent a surface crust from forming
– Jeffrey Hamelman, Bread, A Baker’s Book of Techniques and Recipes
However your dough proofs, keep it covered. If it dries out, a hard skin will form, preventing it from rising. It will not be able to expand in the oven. If you cover it with plastic wrap, leave the wrap loose enough that the dough can rise. A poofed-up plastic bag around the whole pan, board, basket, or bowl works
– Emily Jane Buehler, Bread Science
Cover with a plastic bag or kitchen cloth and let proof
– Bryan Ford, New World Sourdough
Place the shaped dough on a baking sheet and cover tightly with plastic wrap.
– Eric Treuille & Ursula Ferrigno, Ultimate Bread: Artisan Breads from Baguettes to Bagels to Focaccia and Brioche
Cover with plastic wrap and place in a warm, draft-free area to double in bulk
– James Beard, Beard on Bread (this is repeated several times throughout the book)
Transfer the dough to a large baking sheet, cover with plastic wrap, and refrigerate
– Chad Robertson, Tartine Book No. 3
Cover with plastic and allow to bulk proof […] Return the dough to the bowl, cover with a towel and then plastic, and refrigerate overnight. […] Cover with plastic and allow to autolyze for 20 minutes.
– Sarah Owens, Sourdough: Recipes for Rustic Fermented Breads, Sweets, Savories, and More (these are repeated several times in recipe instructions throughout the rest of the book)
Place the dough in the warm cleaned bowl and cover it with plastic wrap.
– Maggie Glezer, A Blessing of Bread (this is repeated several times in recipe instructions throughout the rest of the book)

That’s a LOT of plastic!

Out of the several books I read, only two of the books so far have not even mentioned the need for plastic wrap, and four other books have offered that there may be a need for an alternative:

Use your hands to stir, making sure everything is well mixed together […] Loosely cover the bowl […] Put the dough in the refrigerator. You do not have to cover it unless the dough is dry.
– Casper André Lugg & Martin Ivar Hveem Fjeld, Artisan Sourdough
Cover with a tea towel
– Richard Bertinet, Dough
As dough rises, it needs to be covered to avoid drying out. Plastic wrap is one option, but there are others to consider. In Armenia, where people still work in the waste-not-want-not ethos of Soviet times, we saw bakers cover dough with kitchen towels and home cooks cut plastic bags into squares to reuse. All this is to say that it is possible to reduce plastic wrap use and bake great bread. […] [W]orkarounds include experimenting with silicone lids, beeswax wrap and other reusable covers.
– Kate Leahy, Lavash
[O]ne option is simply to leave it on the work surface and cover with a large mixing bowl. Another is to put the dough into a large bowl and cover with a damp, clean dish towel, large elasticated bowl cover or shower cap. Alternatively, you can slip the bowl into a reusable plastic bag that’s large enough to be sealed around it. I try to avoid anything that’s single-use, such as cling film/plastic wrap.
– Chris Young, Slow Dough
Transfer the dough to the oiled bowl. Cover with a plate or plastic wrap.
– Jim Lahey, The Sullivan Street Bakery Cookbook
Cover with a tea towel or plastic wrap
– David Norman, Bread on the Table

That’s STILL a lot of plastic. And this has been bugging me for a while now. What exactly did bread bakers do before plastic was invented a relatively short time ago, at the beginning of the 20th century?

Mum used to use a damp tea towel to cover rising bread… I too used to do that, but it means having to wash the tea towel. Extra washing?? I’m lazy. :lalala:

Early on in my bread-making career, I used and re-used those plastic shower hat like bowl covers.

But now, instead of using up tea towels or elasticized reusable plastic bowl covers, for several years now, we have been using a silicone lid to cover the leavener bowl, a plate to cover the rising bowl, and an over-turned mixing bowl to cover shaped bread. This is WAY cleaner and WAY easier. And it works perfectly.

Sure, we usually make round bread so it makes it easy. But if we are making buns or baguettes, we use an overturned roasting pan when they are rising.

Which leads me to this: Why are respected authors and their respected publishers still advocating the use of single use plastic? Indeed, why are we encouraging anyone to manufacture it?

Don’t get me wrong. We’re no rose geraniums. We still have a large roll of plastic wrap in the kitchen. We still bring home plastic vegetable bags from the store, using and reusing them, before guiltily putting them into the recycle box to be whisked away so we can pretend we are being virtuous.

Shame on us! – me, blog from OUR kitchen | Why are we still wrapping cheese in plastic?!

How wilfully obtuse are we?

Exactly how many times does it take of us being horrified that there is a section of ocean larger than Texas full of plastic, that whales and birds are dying because they are eating plastic instead of actual food, before we finally get it??

Judging from the following, it takes more than two decades:

The fact remains that man has unprecedented control over the world and everything in it. And so, whether he likes it or not, what happens next is very largely up to him.
– David Attenborough, Life on Earth: A Natural History (1979)
Clearly we could devastate the world. As far as we know, the Earth is the only place in the universe where there is life. Its continued survival now rests in our hands.
– David Attenborough, The Living Planet: A Portrait of the Earth (1984)
Human population density is a factor in every environmental problem I have ever encountered, from urban sprawl to urban overcrowding; disappearing tropical forests to ugly sinks of plastic waste, and now the relentless increase of atmospheric pollution. […] It’s clear that we’ll have to change the way that we live and use our resources. We’re at a crossroads where we can choose to cooperate or carry on regardless. Can our intelligence save us? I hope so.
– David Attenborough, Horizon | How Many People Can Live on Planet Earth (2009)
Industrial pollution and the discarding of plastic waste must be tackled for the sake of all life in the ocean. […] The future of all life now depends on us.
– David Attenborough, Blue Planet II (2017)
The future of all life depends on our willingness to take action now.
– David Attenborough, Our Planet (2019)
Our imprint is now truly global. Our impact is now truly profound. Our blind assault on the planet has finally come to alter the very fundamentals of the living world.
– David Attenborough, A Life on Our Planet (2020)


Did you know that every still of plastic ever produced & not recycled still exists!
– Say No To Plastic™ | Plastic Facts
A national ban on many single-use plastics is on track for next year after a government report concluded Thursday that there is more than enough evidence proving plastic pollution is harmful
– CBC News | Single-use plastic ban coming in 2021 after report concludes there is evidence of harm, 30 January 2020
Less than 10 per cent of the plastics we’ve used have been recycled. […] Although our landfills and oceans are full of it, we are as dependent as ever on plastic. And since COVID-19, it’s gotten worse.
– CBC News | Recycling was a lie — a big lie — to sell more plastic, industry experts say, 23 September 2020

Please. Let’s not wait until the government tells us to stop using single-use plastic. Do it now. Stop buying/using plastic wrap. Stop telling people to buy/use plastic wrap. Stop insisting that vendors keep plastic wrap on their stores’ shelves.

This entry was posted in baking, bread - yeasted & unyeasted, cookbooks, etc., food & drink, Photo-less Fridays, rant on by .

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1 response to “Photo-less not-Friday: what did we do before plastic was invented??

  1. justplainj

    So in the “olden days” – like centuries – just how do you think people kneaded bread and what did they cover it with when it was rising? No stand mixer and no plastic!

    edit 23 February 2021, 16:26: My point exactly! – E)


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