Every poor person should be a baker. Hell, so should you. There is something therapeutic about the process of creating baked goods -- especially bread -- that is good for the soul. It also gives you something to do when you’re home alone on the weekend and all your friends are out socializing, the rat bastards, we never liked them anyway.
In order to successfully bake stuff with make-do ingredients, you really need to know how baking works. At its most basic, a baked product consists of flour, water and (usually) a leavening agent. Leavening, by the way, is what makes baked goods “rise”, by trapping air pockets in the flour.
There are many different kinds of flour: wheat flour, rice flour, etc., etc., but to an impoverished pseron, there are really only two kinds that are readily available: whole wheat flour and white enriched flour. Ideally, your pantry contains both. Also ideally, you are rich as Croesus and don’t need any of the advice that follows.
Whole wheat flour is milled from the entire wheat grain, hence the name. A grain of wheat consists of bran, which is the outer covering; the endosperm, the “middle part”; and the germ, which is the very nutritional heart of the grain. The bran and germ give whole wheat flour its characteristic brown color. Whole wheat flour is nutritionally more complete than white flour, and is therefore the Hulles-recommended choice in every baking project. If you are buying groceries, buy whole wheat flour if you have to make a choice.
White enriched flour is very similar to white rice. Basically, the bran and germ of the wheat are removed when the flour is milled, and then the miller puts some nutrients back into the flour to make up for what was lost in the process. It used to be in Western society that greater value was put on white-colored flour than brown flour, because it was seen as being “purer”, but hopefully we’re beyond that now. I will admit that some recipes are better with white flour than with whole wheat flour, but you won’t find any of those recipes in this blog. For some reason, however, one sees white enriched flour much more often in smaller stores and food shelves, so by all means use it if you have it.
Other grains that you can use in baking are oatmeal, corn meal, rice flour, buckwheat, rye flour, and even cooked rice. Most of these grains do not contain as much gluten as wheat flour, however, so you should consider these as flavor or texture additions to baked products, rather than as the primary flour. As a general rule of thumb for bread, don’t substitute much more than 1 cup of the above grains for wheat flour.
Oatmeal gets special mention because it is a good addition to almost every baking recipe and is commonly found in food shelves. I have no idea why this is; maybe nobody else wants it. Fine. I’ll use it. At any rate, if you have it, use “normal” oatmeal like Old-Fashioned Quaker Oats® in baking, not the instant variety. Prepare the instant variety as directed then just eat it; leave it out of your bread. Incidentally, nearly all varieties of oatmeal are technically called “rolled oats”, but one occasionally sees “steelcut oats”. This method of milling produces a thicker grain than rolling. Steelcut oats need more cooking than rolled oats, but are very good to eat; they are more succulent than rolled oats. You can also successfully use steelcut oats in bread.
You can also add stuff like raisins, nuts and herbs to many baking recipes if you have them. Some things go particularly well together, like caraway and rye flour. If you're poor like me, however, remember that you are creating food that you’ll need to eat until it’s gone: caraway rye bread doesn’t make such good peanut butter sandwiches, in my opinion.