"It's a sobering thought, but wheat, which has been around on this planet longer than man, stands a pretty good chance of outlasting him here too. Faced with immutable odds, man crumbles. Wheat, on the other hand, merely adapts; and has been doing so successfully for millennia."
Wheat, of course, is not the only grain, or vegetable from which you can make flour. Most usually flour is made from some kind of grain - by grinding it somehow, from simple processes of pounding it with something hard, to sophisticated modern-day machines. And there are countless grains in the world that can be grown and made into flour - the number seems to be rising daily. But you can also make flour from other dried things - pea pods, roots, nuts and seeds. They may not taste as good but they will serve a purpose.
I have been reminded of the fundamental nature of flour by this current crisis. I went to the shops yesterday - the first time for a couple of weeks - and noticed that most of the previously raided shelves were now full. No shortage of toilet paper any more. Some things were in lower supply - butter being one of these, but the one thing that was truly deficient was flour - and frozen pastry. And yet there is no shortage of bread, nor has there been at any point, so I don't quite understand why there is no flour. Are people just spending their spare time making cakes and cookies? Are they taking all the frozen puff pastry to make sausage rolls? In fact there had been a delivery of the puff pastry and it was being rapidly removed from the freezer cabinet and I did hear one woman remark that she made sausage rolls with it. Will there be an obesity upturn at the end of all this? Are people eating more unhealthy things out of boredom?
But I digress. The other thing that made me think of the absolutely basic nature of flour and water was watching a couple of Jamie's Carry on Cooking programs. In one he made pasta with just flour and water, and in the same program he made bread - with flour and water - yes I know he added yeast - but he did mention that if you had no yeast you could make flatbread.
Flour and water leads to hundreds, possibly thousands of outcomes when combined. Yes of course it does not give you the other nutrients you need. "Man cannot live by bread alone", as we all know, and even if those words actually meant "Man cannot live by food alone". it certainly is true that if you only have bread to eat then you will get all sorts of deficiency diseases. But it will certainly sustain you and keep you going for quite some time.
So what happens when you combine flour and water?
"The two primary proteins in flour (any flour) are known as gliadin and glutenin. When these proteins combine with a liquid (any liquid), they mutate into a super-protein called gluten. Gluten in dough forms a kind of cellular spider's web. Taut to begin with, when the dough is kneaded and punched down, the strands of the web loosen and stretch." Bert Greene
Add yeast of course and it will ferment and rise and give you bread as we know it, but if you knead a simple flour and water dough long enough, and then give it a rest, when you apply heat, that too will puff up and give you many of the glorious kinds of flatbreads that are made around the world. And if you leave your dough even longer - a couple of days or so, it will begin to ferment on its own and eventually give you sourdough bread. And the beginnings of a sourdough starter.
"Knowledge is flour, but wisdom is bread." Austin O'Malley
But that's not all flour and water can provide in the way of food. The other glory of the flour and water world is pasta and noodles. Yes you can add eggs and make them even better, or flavourings of a myriad kinds, but simple flour and water (and really you should add salt, although I don't) will give you pasta and we all know how many different kinds of pasta there are. And once again, Jamie showed us how.
Add a little flour and water to what's left in the roasting pan, or the frying pan, stir it around and you get a wonderful sauce, or gravy. Add a flour and water paste to soup and it will thicken. Mould a flour and water dough into little balls and add them to a stew or soup and you have dumplings. Or make the flour and water mix a little thinner and press it through a colander into a soup or stew and you have those Eastern European kind of dumplings. Yes you can improve upon a basic flour and water mix, but the basic mix will work.
Then there's pastry. Yes most pastry has other additives - most generally some kind of fat, but you can make pastry with just flour and water - filo is the prime example of this I think, and I suppose lasagne is a kind of pastry really. It is often used for enclosing things and we do like the crispy bits on the top of a lasagne do we not?
Biscuits of the cracker kind. Originally given to sailors because they kept for a long time, and now a mainstay of every cheeseboard, made in an endless variety of shapes, with a seemingly endless variety of flavourings. You can make them too.
Batter too can be made with just flour and water. Again it generally has other things added - some kind of raising agent or a different liquid, perhaps an egg or two, but you can make batter with just flour and water and when you have batter you can make all manner of delicious, if not especially healthy things - fried fish and vegetables, pancakes, pikelets, churros ...
Then there's the other things - glue, plaster of Paris, play dough, finger-paint. I'm sure there are lots more of this kind of thing.
Alas at this time, unless you started out with a big bag of flour at home - fortunately we did - you won't be able to do much at the moment because you are only allowed one item at a time, if there are any. I suppose there were signs that it was coming back to the shelves - there were some 1 kilo bags of flour in Coles - plain and self-raising. Not many but a few. A week ago there were none. But as I said, why do you need it anyway? There is plenty of Laurent's beautiful bread on the Coles' shelves, and the European bakery and Baker's Delight seem to have no problem in making bread. But then again you could have fun making pasta or flatbread.
POSTSCRIPT - a tip from my granddaughter that I should have thought of. You can use bubbly water - she was talking about batters, but you can use it in other things too. Should have thought of that.