LAUREL COUNTY, Ky. —
Do you ever sit around and wish you could do stuff like the masters do or did them?
Write a novel Ernest Hemmingway? Pick a flat top guitar like Doc Watson? Drive a race car like Dale Jr.? Hit a golf ball like Tiger Woods? Bake a loaf of sourdough bread like Charlie Gruen?
At my age, and given my physical limitations, Charlie’s bread would top the list so, right now, you’re probably scratching you head saying to yourself, “But who on earth is Charlie Gruen?”
Charlie Gruen is my neighbor who lives about a mile down the road in Metropolitan Paint Lick, as opposed to out here in the suburbs. He and his wife, Linda, are as fine as neighbors get.
Back in January, Loretta had to have big time, shoulder/rotor cuff surgery that left her suffering intense pain and unable to move her right arm for several weeks. I was simultaneously engaged in a very serious conflict with Mr. Parkinson, so both of us were pretty darned helpless.
Loretta was all for keeping her surgery quiet and certainly out of the newspaper because we’d already had a public pity party when she’d undergone a complicated thyroid operation just a few months earlier.
But word got out and the day after Lo came home, neighbors began showing up at our front door on a daily basis with big dishes of food. We have no idea who coordinated the “Feed the Adamses Campaign,” but it was too well organized to have just happened by itself.
I’ve lost track of who brought what and when and, if I tried to list everybody who participated, it would take all the space I have left in this column. Soups, pasta dishes, casseroles, chili, burritos, sandwich salads, barbecue, veggies, chicken. Suffice to say that Loretta and I both gained weight because this went on for weeks.
Among the gifts of food was a big loaf of home-baked sourdough bread from Charlie Gruen. I didn’t even know that Charlie could bake, but this was easily the best bread I’ve ever tasted. Absolutely perfect texture and that wonderful, semi-sweet, sour dough flavor with just a hint of garlic. Most serious bakers that I know only dream about reaching the level of perfection Charlie has mastered.
Early in February I ran into Charlie at Friends of Paint Lick where I raved about and praised his bread in front of a dozen women. This was the first time Loretta had been able to get out of the house, post-surgery, and she was saying amen to every compliment I offered and throwing in a few of her own.
The very next day, Charlie showed back up at our house with another loaf of sourdough bread, except this one was flavored with the absolute perfect hint of mixed herbs. A few days later along came a loaf with vanilla and nuts, then almond, then beer, then onion, more garlic, etc until I am now addicted. Since day one, not a single crumb has gone to waste in our house. I even eat the heels, which may, in fact, be the best part of any given loaf.
I’ve asked Charlie for his recipe but he is elusive at best. He claims he doesn’t have one. “You just have to have good starter and you throw in some flour and stuff and bake it at about 350 until it’s done and that’s about all there is to it,” he claims.
Over the last several weeks, much to Loretta’s dismay, I’ve searched the internet and copied off several dozen sourdough bread and starter recipes. I’ve even read a book on the subject. But, while I have been able to make the kitchen smell oh so appetizing on numerous occasions, I have yet to turn out a loaf of bread fit to eat when compared to Charlie’s. Indeed, some of my attempts have resulted in things that might be considered lethal weapons by law enforcement agencies.
One day last week Charlie stopped by our house and he had Bobby Stinnett, the Paint Lick Methodist Church pastor, with him. Of course I was raving about Charlie’s bread to Reverend Bobby until he cut in to tell me that he knew all about that bread.
At a recent auction, the Church was conducting to raise funds for something, Bobby had paid $25 for a loaf of Charlie’s bread and he only got it that cheap because the other bidders felt sorry for him being on a pxreacher’s salary and still craving Charlie’s bread that badly.