Monday, November 01, 2010

On Baking Bread

We had the pleasure of hosting a Ugandan clergyman in our home a couple of years ago.  He was the humble priest of an Anglican parish who lived on a very small income.  He arrived in our home never having set foot in the U.S.  He did not know what to expect from us.  After a couple of days he told us that he fully expected to be received coolly and actually to be rejected by my children because he was black.  On the contrary, upon entering my door, my daughter climbed into his arms and my son hugged him.  I watched as he took in the environment and made silent and verbal observations about our way of life.  I remember his amazement when he saw our pantry, overflowing with food.  He made a point to talk to my kids about what it meant to be hungry, to not know where your next meal would be coming from, and to trust God for your food.  He said, "Americans have no concept of 'give us this day our daily bread.'"  Truly, we do not.  How those words implanted themselves into my heart!  I reckon that anyone reading this does not know what it means to be helplessly hungry, without assurance of a timely meal to come.

And yet, we still pray the prayer...what does it mean, "give us this day our daily bread?" For us as Americans, I believe we still need that prayer, something called "daily bread."  We go to the grocery store and buy bread in bags and keep it for many days without it spoiling, and then get irritated if we only have end pieces left when we want a sandwich.  No human hand ever touched that bread that we ultimately eat.  This is our legacy.  Our food, our machines, our convenience.

exhibit A
 I have been wanting to learn the art of baking bread for about a year now.  Last year I purchased wheat berries and decided to learn to mill and bake using them, and my success has been very limited.  I've done very well with muffins and quick breads, but my loaves of bread have been well, not unlike little footballs or bricks.  See exhibit A.  Believe me, it was worse than it looks here...I needed a hack saw to get through it and it was not like any bread I had seen before.  Over the summer, the thought of baking was not that appealing, so I abandoned the effort, only to have the desire rekindled with the cooling fall weather.  So I tried again and got bricks.  I didn't feel the need to take a picture.  I cried out on facebook about my lousy bread and a sweet friend who is quite good at baking bread offered to come to my aid and teach me.  In person.  At my house.  I had read cookbooks, read threads on forums, listened to advice from friends over the phone.  No one had shown me how to do this in person--until now...not that I had asked.

The first step was to offer her some tea and stir the soup I had made for dinner.  The next step was to follow the  bread recipe, and have her coach me as I worked.  As I expected, baking bread is more than recipe...it's a feeling.  She offered me tips and tricks that I would have never known, and when it came to kneading, we used our hands.  She was there to tell me if the dough was springy enough and ready for its first rise, she was there to show me what "punching down" really should look like, and taught me how to shape the dough into loaves...again, something that directions in a book just can't communicate as effectively as seeing it in person.  I could not have guessed it, but baking bread is so much more than recipe, it's a relationship. 

What my Ugandan friend could not see was that as Americans, we are starving.  We do need daily bread, but not in the way that he meant.  In our case, we have removed ourselves from so much that sustains us and keeps our hearts beating.  It is not a physical hunger nearly as much as an emotional and spiritual hunger--the starvation for the fellowship of others whose hands can come and touch our bread and let us know when it's ready to rise, whose experienced eyes can tell us "wait a little longer" and whose fellowship and encouragement can carry us through a day.  My dearest friends are those who spend time in my kitchen and I in theirs.  We fellowship over the art of cooking and blessing our families with sustenance.  This is the legacy I want to leave my children.

When my Ugandan friend left our home we blessed him, and we all wept.  We had broken bread together and shared life deeply.  We had found a brother.  When my friend left today, she hugged me and prayed a prayer of blessing over our home which nearly made me cry.  The bread was perfect.  It was blessed by prayers and fellowship and human touch.

Give us this day our daily bread...

7 comments:

  1. What a lovely post! Just lovely!

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  2. Aren't you going to post the recipe? :)
    Lee

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  3. Well, thanks for asking, but there are enough good recipes out there. In case you're really interested, though, I took it is in the Bread Becker's red book, p. 26. It's reallly nothing special in terms of ingredients. What made it special was the time spent making it.

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  4. awww sniff sniff* and this quote got tears in my eyes.. "We fellowship over the art of cooking and blessing our families with sustenance. This is the legacy I want to leave my children" GREAT post!!! I'll be tweeting it out! Fabulous!

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  5. thank you so much for the comment, Lisa, and the tweet! tonight a couple of friends wanted in on the bread success and came over to bake with me. it was fun, and we baked four gorgeous loaves.

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  6. Beautiful post and thoughts, Kelly! Thank you for sharing, and for understanding what's real and important.

    Your post reminded me of two of my life experiences: that of being hungry and not knowing where my next meal would come from, and of learning to make bread in community. Both of those are many years in my past, and I never thought of them next to each other until I read your post.

    Your observations about what we have and what we've lost are right on--and they reflect the larger picture, of what we have and lost when we traded convenience for community music, for rites of passage, for barn raisings and quilting bees, for the very things that sustain humankind. We have allowed ourselves to be shortchanged.

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  7. Thanks for the comment, Shay. I'm truly honored that you stopped by to visit the blog and read. Really.

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