Tuesday, December 9, 2008

Thoughts While Making Bread

The Baker
by Judy Westergard
oil on canvas

I’d like to open this with the phrase, “I spent the morning making bread from scratch.” The truth of the matter, though, is that the bread making took me all of five minutes. My much-used copy of Artisan Bread in Five Minutes a Day by Jeff Hertzberg and Zoe Francois, my Cuisinart® and a well stocked cupboard will yield enough dough for me to bake four one-pound loaves of brioche over the next week or so. This is an excellent cookbook and I use it often. But it’s not where my thoughts roam when my need to create takes me to my kitchen.
Rather, my fantasies wander to those people who came before me...not necessarily my ancestors (although their images are there at the periphery of my imagination), but rather to all the folks who baked bread “back in the day.”
Willa Cather wrote so profoundly of women who endured brutal Midwestern winters in sod huts. What would they have thought if they could see me throwing ingredients into an electric mixer, hitting the “on” button, grabbing a cup of coffee, and 10 minutes later, placing bread dough on the counter to rise?
Let’s take the image further. I’ll be baking Christmas cookies later today. Ground walnuts? I’ll whirl a handful in my electric grinder. Flour on the floor? I’ll suck it up with my vacuum cleaner. Sticky pans and bowls? My dishwasher will take care of that mess.
I didn’t grow my own wheat to be processed into flour. I didn’t spend hours hand-churning butter. The foods I get to make today are the miracles of technological innovation, each new idea the result of a creative problem solver. I think about them and I give a nod of thanks to all those farmers and cooks and bakers and engineers who came before me, all those women and men who over the centuries who turned the creation of a meal into a creative endeavor.
And as I take out another pound of butter for those Christmas cookies I’ll make this afternoon, I think, too, about the growing numbers of people who don’t have access to a brioche or homemade cookies...who don’t even have access to the basics. I’ll make those cookies today, but I’ll forego the other four recipes I was planning. Neither my family nor I need all those calories, and if I forego them, I can place just that much more in the food shelf collection box.
Have I inspired you to do the same? I sure hope so.

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