What Diffence Can a Loaf Make?
A simple loaf of bread baked by hand can give the power to feed the soul and build bridges between people worldwide.
BREAD!! I love bread. Whether it be a crusty or soft, sweet or savory hearty whole-grain or simple white bread, it's all yummy and comforting. I was delighted to see so many people started taking up the art and science of sourdough. Learning as they go, and even when there are mistakes they kept trying. They got their hands dirty, their kitchens messy, and the ovens were piping hot. There is an immense satisfaction with a fresh hot loaf. Even if there were mistakes along the way, you achieved perfection. All your time and attention have paid off beautifully. What a great distraction it has been from our world turned upside down.
It's sad to see that the "fad" is over, and we're on to something new. Bread has a rich history for thousands of years. There is artistry even in the simplest of loaves—an expression of love and community.
As we continue forward in this pandemic, we struggle to connect our lives and those of our family that we protect by staying part.
So how in its humble form can bread make a more significant impact?
Let me share with you a story about the very first loaf I learned to make. My family affectionately calls it Mrs. Clark's Bread. For some of you reading this, you may be familiar with her. Mrs. Clark was my next-door neighbor and very much like a grandmother. A lovely caring woman who was skilled at making bread. An enriched buttery soft, and a thick loaf of white bread. Butter topped, of course. The very smell of this bread warm sends me right back to childhood without a second thought. Did I say that I LOVE this bread yet? If not, I am saying it now. I LOVE THIS BREAD! There, done. Now you know.
My home town of Syracuse is notorious for its long, very snowy winters. It makes my heart heavy just thinking about it. Through these long winters, my siblings and I would be out shoveling snow before school so my parents could get the cars out of the driveway. We always needed to pay extra attention to clearing off the ramp. My fathers' wheelchair could go careening down the ramp and fall headfirst if any snow or ice remained. Trust me. Its happened. Many times in my life I tried to brace the back handles on his wheelchair with my tiny hands while desperately trying to find some grip with my boots along the edge of the ramp as we slid the whole way down. That brings back memories! Back to my story When we finished shoveling our place, and if we had time before school, we would shovel Mrs. Clark's sidewalk and driveway. Because that's what our parents taught us. Help your neighbors.
In the time after school and
almost dinner, it would happen. What a glorious sight it was. Mrs. Clark was walking towards our house holding a tray filled with steaming hot bags of her famous bread! Oh, Yes!! The steam from those beauties would rise high into the frosty winter air. I watched her walk with my face pressed up against the front window. I swear that I could smell the bread from down at the edge of the ramp. She would stroll up the ramp and to the door. The anticipation of these buttery loaves was almost too much to bear. My mom would call for us to get out the bread knife, butter and prepared to greet Mrs. Clark at the door. Vibrating with excitement, I would try to count how many loaves she stood in our front door. Sometimes there were three, but more likely, there were six of them. I came from a large family, so six loaves was a necessity. The overwhelming smell of butter and yeast was warm and intoxicating. Mrs.Clark would thank us for shoveling for her and how much she appreciated it with a genuine smile. It always seemed to warm her heart to share something that she loved to create. And we were still so thankful to be able to experience that love from her. The whole family would dive into slice after slice with pads of bu
tter melting silkily on the moist warm crumb. The smells were swirling through the entire house, filling up every corner with its sweet goodness. Who cared if it was almost dinner time.
What a feeling! Just writing this, I can close my eyes and see each moment of this as if it was home enjoying this with my family.
My mom tried for a few years to get the recipe. The answer was always the same. No. Mrs. Clark told me that this was a family recipe that was given to her by her aunt. And that this recipe was a secret that she wasn't giving out to anyone. By the time I was in high school, baking was my passion. My brother was in the Navy at the time would call me the petit petty officer of desserts. I would sometimes bring Mrs. Clark my Peanut Butter oatmeal chocolate chip cookies. She loved them! One day when I gave her a batch of these cookies. She decided to offer me an opportunity to exchange my cookie recipe for her bread recipe. I think my heart stopped for a moment. We had a deal. I went home and wrote my recipe for her, and she typed her bread recipe up for me.
I was so very excited.
For a while, I tried to learn this recipe. I made a load of mistakes of underworked, over-proofed, under proofed. Let say I failed many times. But we still ate all of my attempts. I could never seem to get it to taste just like hers. They were still delicious. Though, I had her recipe. Mrs. Clark would bring us her bread from time to time. I was so jealous of how well hers always turned out. Yet with time, I realize that she has had a lifetime of making her bread. My bread making skills would get better with practice. I think if Mrs. Clark had a purpose in life. It was one of nurturing and generosity.
Over the years, I learned to make it her way. That old familiar smell and taste have me nostalgic for my younger days. I think of Mrs. Clark every time I bake her recipe. I hold the feelings of pure joy when sharing a warm loaf of her bread.
I might know what you are thinking. How could I get to the end of this story, and there is no recipe for this bread? It was her cherished family recipe, and out of respect for Mrs. Clark. I keep that recipe private. I want to leave it that way.
In the last few years, my oldest son Aidan has been learning how to make this bread. He has been doing great. He is already building up memories for this bread and cherishing the moments when sharing a surprise delivery of fresh hot bead he made with friends and family. And I want him to know what it means to take care of others and how they care for us in return. During hard times this is especially important.
While a loaf of bread shared will not fix the problems of the world. A gesture of care to a neighbor goes a long way to promote community and connectivity.
Go forth, bake bread and share bread and ask yourself. What difference can a loaf of bread make in the life of another person?
Love from The Fingerless Kitchen