“The smell of good bread baking, like the sound of lightly flowing water, is indescribable in its evocation of innocence and delight...
[Breadmaking is] one of those almost hypnotic businesses, like a dance from some ancient ceremony. It leaves you filled with one of the world's sweetest smells... there is no chiropractic treatment, no Yoga exercise, no hour of
meditation in a music-throbbing chapel. that will leave you emptier of bad thoughts than this homely ceremony of making bread.”
― M.F.K. Fisher, The Art of Eating: 50th Anniversary Edition
I've posted about making bread before, but it's been a while, and there is something new afoot.
Here is a brief recap. When I was a teen I spent many a happy hour at the elbow of my my then boyfriends patient mother, Barbara Jackman. She taught me how to bake bread. Fragrant white loaves, that she slit with a knife before popping in the oven and wiped tenderly with butter when they came out, all hot and crusty. I never became proficient in the art, but I had a decent foundation and wasn't afraid of the process of coaxing life from yeast and flour, of kneading a sticky mass of dough until it became an elastic ball, willing to take the shape of my hands bidding.
Fast forward many years and I was living in Memphis, Tennessee with my husband and toddler daughter. A grooming customer of mine gave me a loaf of bread she had made, and it was superb. When I complimented her on it, she gifted me with a photocopy of the recipe and a little jar of liquid starter. The starter had to be fed often, and it lived in my refrigerator in an antique crock that had once belonged to my gentle mother-in-love, Vernice. I have had for a long time, and made more bread than I can recall. I've tweaked the recipe a bit, and make delicious, reliable loaves. They are light, rather sweet, with a soft texture and unique flavor imparted by the starter. I've often toyed with the idea of making other types of bread, especially sourdough, but have been stuck in my pleasant rut, cranking out the familiar recipe with happiness. I tuck the dough into pans by the wood stove, and cover them with a clean cloth. They rise slowly there in the cozy warmth.
Recently my daughter became interested in creating sourdough. She researched the process and soon mixed up flour and water in an antique bowl and left it near the stove to catch wild yeast from the air. It took about two weeks, feeding the starter and keeping it warm, before it began to bubble and rise and give off the distinct, tangy aroma of sourdough.
Here are the two starters. The sourdough is on the left, dubbed "Maude." On the right is the liquid starter that has moved with me to several different homes, across country and has been a living part of my existence for a quarter century. I call it "Seymour."
Yesterday we baked sourdough, our third attempt. It came out perfectly. It boasted a firm crust, was slightly chewy and heavy with flavor. We polished it off in no time.
Compared with the bread we buy at the grocery store, all light and sliced in perfect-looking, squishy loaves, good homemade bread is such a treat for the senses. We delight in the process, the feel and scent and flavor. The ceremony of baking is rich in happiness.