Tolkien never misses an opportunity to speak about food, perhaps his most freqeuntly mentioned food allusion is to bread, which he speaks of in revernt tones, such as “Bread, Surpassing the Savour of a Fair White Loaf to One Who Is Starving.”
Bread has reverence attached to it in almost every culture. Christian teaching tells us that man does not live by bread alone, but by how often bread, bread-baking and bread-breaking is mentioned in Judeo-Christian scripture, bread is clearly important. Our son is the biggest bread consumer in our house, since PB&J, grilled cheese, and plain toast are his three favorite meals. Currently we buy a loaf or two of commercially produced bread a month. I want to feed him tasty, nutritious bread without all the chemical preservatives that are in the commercial loaves that last entirely too long on the store shelves. In the distant past, I have occasionally made sweet breads, bread machine breads, and entirely too many cinnamon rolls, but that was long ago. I now have domestic dreams of a weekly bread-baking day where the house smells of glorious yeast and my family says the crusty-yet-tender golden loaves I produce are “better than Wonderbread, Mom,” but bread-making is an art, and I am not an artist.
I am, however, a spiritual person, and I am considering a process of learning to think of bread-making as a spiritual experience. My husband and I attended a contemplative retreat led by one of my favorite authors, Lauren Winner. Lauren led us all in a bread-making exercise where we talked about all the scriptures that speak of bread and talk of the religious traditions of kneading prayers into the dough. It used to be understood by these ancestors of ours that the physical process of preparing and kneading bread had a basic connection to the mysteries of life itself.
Clearly, for centuries before the term bread-winner became popular, women were the primary bread-makers, bringing forth from their hands and hearths the vital food to sustain their families. I want to get in touch with this history and create this kind of home-hearth for my family. I want to make some bread and learn something in the process.
My plan is to try a series of bread types in search of skill, technique, and the perfect recipe to make bread for my family. If you’re lucky you might get to try a taste sometime!