Sunday, July 13, 2008


I like to make sourdough bread. I learned as a kid in 4-H, from a leader who gave me some starter she had gotten from her mother, who had gotten it for her wedding sometime in the 1950s.

My folks thought it was a good idea that I work hard at bread-making, especially my father, who used to live in San Francisco. Among my grandmother's recipe books, my mom found some that approximated that style. The recipes were much more complicated than the kids' ones we got from 4-H--they took a couple days of risings, some attention to detail, and a fair amount of upper body strength to kneed it. My bread pretty often sucked. I would make some for a family dinner, have it turn out rock-hard or else spongy-liquid, and stick the starter in the freezer for six months. When I was high school, I think was more the norm than the exception.

I took some starter away with me when I moved to Montreal, though I can't recall what apartment I eventually left it in. Before that, I did make bread or biscuits (probably biscuits, they're easier) for people, not often. When I visited home, I still baked for my folks, though, who were unfailingly appreciative of even my worst efforts. So were the few close friends I baked for, who perhaps knew that I wasn't overwhelmingly confident amount this sort of thing (or anything) and wanted me to feel better.

I took a fresh supply of starter with me to Toronto. By then, I was getting close to being able to reliably make decent bread, though I have forgotten every ingredient at least once, and had everything that can go wrong (fire alarm, power outage, ingredient shortage) go wrong. But when nothing goes wrong, my bread generally turns out pretty good these days.

I like that, while I'm not a wonderful cook, I don't know anyone else who bakes bread, so I get the reputation of making the "best" bread. I get a lot of compliments, not so much on the calibre of the food as the fact that I would spend the time and energy doing it. Much better bread is, after all, available in stores.

Which is of course not the point. I like my own bread. I like knowing what's in it, knowing I made it, and that if someone else made it it would've turned out different. I like thinking of all the help I've had getting better at this. I like that people know I do it from scratch, so that when I give someone a loaf of bread, they know I am saying, "I like you so much, you are worth this much effort." And I like doing it. When you kneed dough, you put the heel of your hand on top of the lump, and put your body weight into your shoulders to slide it forward, so the insides of your wrists glide over the floury damp of it. Do you know how that feels? I like how that feels.

I also think the bread tastes pretty good. With a little effort, I could perhaps turn this post into something about how I feel about writing. But, in fact, since I truly do feel this way about bread, I'll leave it lie.

Here we are now

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