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Rustic Potato Loaves ...inspired by The Orchardist by Amanda Coplin {book tour}

author:  Amanda Coplin
publisher:  Harper
source: TLC Book Tours
"foodie" elements:  yes
hard cover: 448 pages

random excerpt: He had pulled out of that grief, eventually - out from under the suffocating weight of it.  Suffering had formed him: made him silent and deliberate, thoughtful: deep.  Generous and kind and attentive, although he had been that before.  Each thoughtful gesture hoping to extend back, far back, to reach his sister, to locate her somewhere. (p.123)

summary/synopsis (from TLC Book Tours page):  At the turn of the twentieth century, in a rural stretch of the Pacific Northwest, a reclusive orchardist, William Talmadge, tends to apples and apricots as if they were loved ones. A gentle man, he’s found solace in the sweetness of the fruit he grows and the quiet, beating heart of the land he cultivates. One day, two teenage girls appear and steal his fruit from the market; they later return to the outskirts of his orchard to see the man who gave them no chase. Feral, scared, and very pregnant, the girls take up on Talmadge’s land and indulge in his deep reservoir of compassion. Just as the girls begin to trust him, men arrive in the orchard with guns, and the shattering tragedy that follows will set Talmadge on an irrevocable course not only to save and protect but also to reconcile the ghosts of his own troubled past.

Transcribing America as it once was before railways and roads connected its corners, Amanda Coplin weaves a tapestry of solitary souls who come together in the wake of unspeakable cruelty and misfortune. She writes with breathtaking precision and empathy, and in The Orchardist she crafts an astonishing debut novel about a man who disrupts the lonely harmony of an ordered life when he opens his heart and lets the world in.
my thoughts/review:  At first, Coplin's writing style took some getting used to.  She writes without using "quotation marks", which sometimes left me shaking my head and backtracking to read a sentence or paragraph over again.  I eventually got somewhat used to it, but overall, the phrasing and flow seemed a bit jumbled to me.

That said, I thought the novel was touching, infuriating, and hopeful.  It explored the nature of the human soul in dealing with relationships, loss, and love in their many confusing forms.  Laced throughout the entire novel are descriptions of food, whether in the orchard, on the small table at home, in the wild, or traveling.  The mental pictures had a way of transporting me to the past.  I wanted to be in the orchards picking apricots, apples, plums, or cherries.  I wanted to tend to my wood-burning stove.  I wanted to can and preserve and bake loaves of bread.  I wanted to make stews and roasts of wild game.

Overall, I found this novel to a tad lengthy and drawn-out, but I still enjoyed reading it.  I think if it had used "quotation marks", I would bump my rating up a notch, since it would have flowed a bit easier.  But definitely a good one for those who enjoy stories set in the turn-of-the-century and even for foodies.  Plus, I love the cover art and the style of the pages (You know the sort...the type that is different sizes...look like they're sort of shoved in to the binding.  I forget what that's called...).

about the author:  Amanda Coplin was born in Wenatchee, Washington. She received her BA from the University of Oregon and MFA from the University of Minnesota. A recipient of residencies from the Fine Arts Work Center in Provincetown, Massachusetts, and the Omi International Arts Center at Ledig House in Ghent, New York, she lives in Portland, Oregon.

recipe inspired by the book:  Though this novel contained a surprising amount of food and each and every bite inspired me and threatened to send me directly to the kitchen, I couldn't get the thought of a loaf of potato bread out of my mind.  All rustic and filling...and definitely spread with some sort of preserves made from an orchard fruit... When the men arrived again the following summer, Talmadge's mother went down to the field where they camped and offered them fruit and vegetables, loaves of potato bread.  The men accepted her gifts; and when they returned, four weeks later, they offered her a deer they had killed, strapped to the back of a horse. (p.10)

Rustic Potato Loaves

by Heather Schmitt-González
Prep Time: 2 hours
Cook Time: 45-50 minutes
Keywords: bake bread potatoes

Ingredients (2 loaves)
  • 1½ lbs. russet potatoes
  • 4 tsp. salt, divided
  • ½ c. tepid reserved poato water (80°-90° F)
  • 1 Tbs. active dry yeast
  • 2 Tbs. extra-virgin olive oil
  • 4¾ c. bread flour (scooped & leveled)
Scrub the potatoes (don't peel them) and cut into quarters. Place them into a 2-quart pot along with 2 teaspoons of the salt and cover with water. Boil until tender enough to be pierced easily with the tip of your knife. Measure out ½ cup of the potato cooking water and reserve it. Drain potatoes in a colaner and then spread out onto a cooling rack to let them (thoroughly) air dry, ~20-30 minutes.

Once the potatoes are cool, stir the yeast mixture into the reserved potato water (check that temp of water lies somewhere between 80° and 90° F). Let sit until creamy, ~5 minutes.

Place the cooled poatoes into the bowl of a mixer fitted with the paddle attachment. Mash them up at low speed and then add the dissolved yeast and olive oil. Mix until the liquid is incorporated into the potatoes.
Switch the paddle with a dough hook attachment and continue mixing on low speed. Add flour and remaining 2 teaspoons of salt. Mix on low for 2-3 minutes and then increase speed to medium and allow to mix for 11 minutes more. The dough will seem stiff and crumbly (like pie crust dough) at first, but as it is worked, it will become soft and will start to "pool" in the bottom of the bowl (almost like a brioche dough, if you've ever made one).

Cover the mixing bowl with plastic and allow to rise at room temperature for 20-30 minutes. It should rise noticeably, but not necessarily double in size.

Place a rack in the bottom half of your oven and set a baking stone on it. Preheat oven to 375° F. Have a spray bottle filled with water set aside.

Turn dough out onto a lightly floured work surface and cut in half (a dough scraper is the best way to do this). Shape each half into a "torpedo": First shape dough into a ball and then flatten into a disc. Starting at the end furthest from you, roll dough toward you. When you're on your last roll, pull the "free end" towards you, gently stretching, and dust the edge of it with flour. Finish rolling. The shaped dough should be the shape of a torpedo or a football - if it's not, rock it back and forth a bit to taper the ends. Repeat with other half of dough.
Place the loaves on a baker's peel that has been liberally dusted with cornmeal, seam side up. Lay a clean kitchen towel or plastic wrap gently over the loaves. Let rise at room temperature for 20 minutes.
Spray the oven walls with water and immediately close the oven door to trap steam. Remove towel or plastic from the top of the loaves. Open again and quickly and carefully slide the loaves onto the baking stone. Spray the oven with water again and close the door. Bake for 45-50 minutes, or until the crust is brown, loaves sound hollow when tapped on the bottom, and the interior temperature is 200° F (plunge an instant-read thermometer into center of loaf). Remove from oven and cool on a wire rack for at least 20 minutes before slicing.

Will keep at room temperature (either turned cut side down on a cutting board or in a bag) for ~2 days (if it lasts that long). You can also wrap the loaves airtight and freeze for up to a month. Thaw, still wrapped, at room temp.

adapted slightly from Baking with Julia
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*I received a free copy of this book to review from the publisher.  All thoughts and opinions stated in this post are 100% mine.

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