. . . Our Daily Bread.
* * ** * * * * * * *
The seasons change abruptly here in the Sierras. One day I donned a filmy dress and sunscreen, and the next found me literally digging to the back of my closet for something snuggly to ward off the chill. Thus, we have received our first rainfall since March (or thereabouts) and it has been simply wonderful. The leaves have finally begun to shed their green in favor of seasonal brights of red and gold and persimmon. My red maple always leads the fashion show, and this year proves no exception.
As the rains dripped from the eaves and the mists hung among the oak leaves, I dug out two of my favorite cookbooks, Laurel’s Kitchen and Home & Hearth, and ushered in our first fallish-feeling day with bread baking in the oven,
a chicken stewing on the stovetop,
and pumpkin-bran muffins resting in a basket awaiting presentation at a candlelit dinner in the dining room. Let us celebrate the coming harvest, of which rain figures prominently here in California as something to be welcomed and celebrated.
The baking of bread strengthens my soul for mothering as I work at creating something so simple yet so vital to the nourishment of my loved ones. I do not rely solely on my home-baked bread to feed my family, but I do delight in producing it and dream of serving only foods grown on my lands, picked with my hands, and prepared by my whim. As a child I dreamed of living in pastoral surrounds with simple foods prepared by hand. I grew up in a TV-dinner-Betty-Crocker-boxed-meal household (like everybody else I knew) that quickly assimilated microwaving in place of cooking. My sister and I laughingly recall microwaving marshmallows and the ensuing disasters. (Ever seen a marshmallow explode black goo all over the inside of a microwave oven? Ever tried to clean it up before your mother got home and exploded?)
Cooking from scratch fascinated me but remained as elusive as alchemy in my childhood surrounds. Everybody’s mom seemed to know Mrs. Crocker. My voracious reading of Laura Ingall’s upbringing, Caddie Woodlawn’s lifestyle, and many others encouraged a longing for pioneering ways in search of “something better.” I read every book I could find concerning homesteading, pioneering, and Utopia. The Amish fascinate me, as do Luddites, Shakers, and many many more that eschew the “progressive” life and hearken for a simpler, more manageable way of living according to gentler ways.
Now, I must confess that “gentle” does not exactly describe my approach to kneading bread; I look on it as exercise and I get a workout to be sure. Laurel’s whole wheat bread stands up and rejects the kitchen-aid mixer and won’t allow for the easy-way-out approach to kneading. I never regret my encounters with the dense and firm dough, despite the muscle-power required.
It always amazes me to take a handful of simple ingredients and produce the staff of life.
In the end, untwisting a twisty, pulling out a uniformed slice, and then re-twisting the twisty around the plastic bag of even the healthiest bread available on the market shelf just cannot compare to slicing through a warm, dense loaf fresh from my oven.
My family opts out of dessert in preference to my bread. Just the other night I succumbed to temptation while running out to the store for just a couple of things – I added a packet of (outrageously expensive) Starbucks Vanilla Bean Truffles to my meager basket (which seemed to shout “Ha! She’s weak!” to every passing carter). Later in the evening we broke out the “treat” and I prepared to savor the decadence. I took a small nibble and prepared for bliss . . . BUT, it tasted like stale Easter candy! I must admit that the next night when Gary handed them out as an after-dinner treat I passed. The following night we feasted on home-baked bread and all agreed it beat the truffles hands down.
Our daily bread comes in many forms, but I cherish the days that I bring it to the table with my own hands. Muffins, quickbreads, cookies, and such all garner a smile, but the soulful glow of a crusty loaf or even the doughy precursor resting in its special bowl calls every hungry heart and reaps oohs and aahs of hopefulness. “Can we have a piece as soon as it’s cool?” one asks. “What’s for dinner?” another casually inquires and then blurts, “Bread! Yummy!” no longer caring what other accompaniment will sit atop the dinner table. I learned a long time ago that a meager dinner (our poor days saw some pretty meager and repetitive meals of barley stew and other meatless wonders) received raves when accompanied by a heaping basket of pumpkin or apple muffins. Nobody bothers to complain about eating cooked carrots when muffins tickle the palate right alongside.
I never witnessed my mother baking a loaf of bread, nor did I see my grandmother ease crusty loaves from an oven. What started as a nostalgic exercise in homemaking arts in my early years of marriage has resulted in a natural part of our life that I will pass on to my children. Home-baked bread will not be a rare and unique event, nor will it be one we take for granted. Every time I bake a bread loaf, present a pie, sprinkle cheese on a tomato laden pizza crust, or place a cooling cookie on a rack, my family shares in the celebration of our daily bread.
Someday I hope to sit with a grandchild on my knee and watch them nibble a fresh slice of their mamma’s home-baked bread. Until then, I shall simply smile as I work the dough and feed my family yet another day by God’s grace.