So the whole world is under lockdown. We’re hearing stories about how nature is rejuvenating. Birds and insects and animals are reclaiming their spaces. Whales have appeared on the Bombay coastline. Crows are showing up where I live. Spring is in the air and what a comeback she’s making when we stopped interfering.

But here is a fable for a not so distant tomorrow. Once the lockdown is over and things get back to “normal”. What will the normal be? There may come a silent spring. Can you imagine a silent spring? A spring without bees humming and birds chirping? Where the birds don’t sing anymore? A spring that brings with it death and destruction?

“No witchcraft, no enemy action has silenced the rebirth of new life in this stricken world. The people have done it themselves”. These are Rachel Carson’s words from her book Silent Spring written in the early 1960s, even more relevant today.Carson wrote about death and destruction by humans. Not destruction by wars and weapons, though she foresaw that as an immense possibility too, but another kind of weapon. Man made synthetic chemicals used as pesticides.

Carson was a marine biologist, conservationist and a writer whose book Silent Spring helped launch the global environment movement. Her book was first published serially in four additions of The New Yorker in 1962. [1]

Not surprisingly, the pesticide industry responded with a campaign of disinformation and sexism. Carson’s gender, looks and unmarried status were all seized upon by her critics, who called her a hysterical woman, a priestess of nature and a spinster……In a letter to President Eisenhower, Secretary of Agriculture Ezra Taft Benson asked “why a spinster was so worried about genetics” and….. Monsanto got in on the fun and printed a brochure parodying the book. [2]

The insecticide industry was the child of the Second World War. When chemical warfare was being created, for instance nerve gas to destroy the Jews in Germany, some of these chemicals were found to be lethal to insects. This discovery did not happen by chance. Insects were used as agents to check their efficacy on humans. So were born streams of these dangerous man made synthetic chemicals.

Insect invasions have happened from time immemorial. In the olden days people used natural methods to ward of insects. Then after the Second World War came man made insecticides. There was limited awareness of the nature of these chemicals. Each specialist had his own small view and not a big picture of the problem. Add to that, it was the age of industry, where money talked. And people who took a stand against these death traps were “fed little tranquilizer pills of half truths”. Carson wrote this in the sixties but as you can see nothing’s changed, in fact we’re far worse off now.

Humans have silenced nature by dominating her and paying no heed to her. The shadow of death looms large over all of us as we pollute the air, water and soil with these deadly chemicals. The nightmare won’t end.

Rachel Carson’s book is a must read for those who are concerned about the environment and about how we have the power to alter the world around us, are using this power selfishly and unwisely, and are moving at an accelerated pace towards our own and the planet’s doom.

Here is an photo essay showing the damage done by insecticides to farmers in Punjab in India, by Sean Gallagher. https://gallagher-photo.com/environmental-stories/pesticide-poisoning-punjab-india/. This is true of not only Punjab but many parts of India. Carson gives hundreds of examples of these occurrences in Europe and America in her passionate poetic prose of a book.

Paragraphs [1] and [2] are taken from an article by Katie Halper called Happy Birthday, Rachel Carson.

I’ve baked bread today, an Irish Raisin Bread from the book Secrets of a Jewish Baker by George Greenstein. This bread is rich and tastes divine with the whole lot of raisins that it has. It keeps well too. Here is the recipe.

Irish Raisin Bread

A sweet bread, choc a bloc with raisins, this bread is delicious at tea time or at breakfast.

  • 1 cup warm water
  • 2 packages active dry yeast. ( 1 1/2 tablespoons)
  • 1/2 cup plus 1 tablespoon sugar
  • 2 tablespoons unsalted butter or margarine at room temperature
  • 3 tablespoons skim milk powder (optional)
  • 1 egg, lightly beaten
  • 5 to 6 cups unbleached all purpose flour
  • Pinch of ground cardamom(optional)
  • 1 cup raisins
  • Cornmeal, for dusting baking sheet.
  • 1 egg beaten with 1 tablespoon water and a pinch of salt, for egg wash
  1. In a large bowl, sprinkle the yeast above the warm water and allow to stand for a few minutes to soften. Add the sugar, butter, milk powder, egg, 5 cups flour, salt and cardamom. Mix until the dough comes away from the sides of the bowl.

  2. Turn out onto a floured surface and knead until smooth and elastic (about 8 minutes), adding flour 1/4 cup at a time if the dough is sticky. The finished dough should push back when pressed down. Add the raisins and gently knead them into the dough.

Rising

  1. Transfer the dough to an oiled bowl and turn to coat. Cover with plastic wrap or a towel and set aside until doubled in volume. Punch down, cut in half, and shape into balls. Cover and let rest for 10 minutes.

Shaping

  1. Knead each round lightly, then shape each into a tight ball. Place on a cornmeal dusted baking sheet, cover, and allow to rise until doubled in size. Brush with the egg wash, then allow to dry for several minutes,then brush with the egg wash a second time to ensure a high shine when baked.

Baking

  1. Preheat the oven to 375 degrees F, 190 degrees C. Bake until the loaves emit a hollow sound when thumped on the bottom with your finger tips. (35 to 45 minutes).

    If baking on an oven stone or tiles, bake the loaves directly on them for the last 5 to 10 minutes.

3 thoughts on “Breaking Bread With Rachel Carson

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