The staff of life can be a cruel mistress but at the end she forgives if you’re tough enough

My grandmother had seven children and each and every day she rolled up her sleeves and got promptly to one of her daily chores – of which she had many in the 1920s and 1930s when her kids were still at home – and that was to bake at least two loaves of bread.

And that was in the oven of a wood-fired stove, which even in the summer had to pound out heat in order to create that ‘staff-of-life’ stuff.

Even later, when I was a child she (even though she wavered periodically and picked up the store-boughten stuff) still regularly turned out fresh bread. I always knew when she had because the kitchen aroma was heavenly on baking day.

Realtors suggest that if you want to unload your dwelling that has been put on the market, bake some bread on open-house days. The fragrance will entice prospective buyers and make the kitchen seem ever so homey.

If you ever want to calm me via aromatherapy you could bake some bread because the fragrance of yeast soothes me immeasurably. Just a suggestion if you are a freelance aromatherapist and plan to drop by.

Now, I have had a bread-machine for a number of years and use it with considerable regularity. It saves a hell of a lot of money to bake one’s own, and it turns out a pretty decent loaf as well.

But, you know, it’s just not quite the same as the real thing. The very labor-intensive mess-causing real thing.

Yesterday was a rainy Sunday and I decided on whim I wanted fresh-baked bread in the house. I used to bake bread a number of years ago, so I know how it’s done. What I’d forgotten was how demanding the task is and how bloody long it takes.

Here in a nutshell is the process:

1)     Have all the stuff at the ready. Flour, milk, butter, yeast, sugar, salt, bread pans, an oven. Miss one and you’re hooped. Realizing you are missing one when you are part way through the process is a pain.

2)     Be prepared for mess: Bread baking isn’t neat. You’ll have flour everywhere including possibly in intimate parts of your body. Extract it and use it. Nobody needs to know where it came from. If you are planning to vacuum the kitchen on bread day, do it afterwards. You will also end up using dishes and utensils you hadn’t anticipated having to.

3)     Be prepared to work: This is known as kneading. Kneading is a brutal demand of the process and it’s essential. After you’ve mixed all the stuff up you have to get your hands into it. If you’ve used the potty prior to starting – well, needless to say clean hands are essential. In my case yesterday the big 10-minute kneading was divided between Wendy and I. Mainly due to the fact that after decades as a working scribe I have a bit of carpal tunnel. Doesn’t usually bother me, but with bread-kneading I find that I have a huge amount of carpal tunnel. But, knead and knead and knead until the dough gets all silky and elasticy.

4)     By the time I get to Phoenix: The bread’ll be risin’. Hopefully, if you have the right combo of sugar, yeast and flour it will be. My granny’s wood-stove actually had a rising oven up above. Ideal. Ours doesn’t. But, a nice warm temp is still essential. So, I heat the electric oven at 200 for a few minutes, shut it off, leave the door ajar for a bit and pop the dough in.

5)     Waiting: And waiting, and waiting. Not a quick task in an age of instant gratification. Preparing bread lasts longer than some relationships I’ve had and almost as long as my 2nd marriage. But, eventually the time passes; the fledgling loaves are popped in the oven to bake. And they do and that exquisite aroma fills the house.

6)     Climax: Just like all the other kinds of climaxes, if it’s done right the satisfaction is brilliant and consuming and sometimes leaves a body hankering for more.

Now you have bread. Was all the time and effort worth it? In a way, yes. Not that I’m going to embark on the venture again in the immediate future. That was why God made bread machines and bakeries. Sorry, Granny, but you were a tough old bird, you were.


8 responses to “The staff of life can be a cruel mistress but at the end she forgives if you’re tough enough

  1. You can come and bake bread for me, ok?

    • I’d love to bake bread for you. Pony-up for the transportation costs and I’ll slip over and pop a loaf in the oven — which is an entirely different thing than popping a bun in the oven.

  2. its my “go to” stress busting remedy

  3. I have the world’s easiest ~ and oh so best ~ bread recipe. I will happily pass it along if you’d like. The key is to let it rise overnight, so you aren’t actually aware of the fact that you are waiting and waiting and waiting.

  4. I haven’t made yeast-risen bread in years… Soda bread, yes. Flat bread, yes…

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