February: The Season of Bread

Today I carried several slices of homemade bread and a cup of green tea out into the yard. I sat on a wooden bench under the trees in the sun. This is an unusual February in Minnesota. The temperatures have been mostly above freezing. The birds are taking baths in the thawed ice puddles. The still warm bread tastes slightly sweet. There is no other meal on earth I would eat right now.

Making my own bread has been calling to me for over a year now. It grew out of a desire to know how to do it. What does it take to really make bread? My Irish grandmother made soda bread in the brick oven of an 18th century row house in Boston. My Polish grandmother made special breads for Easter celebrations. The native people of Wisconsin, the Winnebagos baked bread in the coals of an open fire. For me, the fun is in the kneading and forming of the dough. I am Gepetto and each loaf is my Pinocchio. When the bread is kneaded, slightly elastic, it’s ready to rest. When it’s swollen to nearly twice it’s size, it’s ready to be divided and put in loaf pans. After the second rise, I pop the loaves into the oven. There is a feeling of satisfaction in using touch and smell to know when the dough is ready for each stage. Timing alone isn’t enough. It’s a matter of noticing the changes in the flour and dough, the smell and even the sound of the finished loaf. When I knock on it, it sounds hollow.

This is the primitive experience my whole being longs for. When I share this bread, people take a bite slowly and think about it. They taste it carefully. It is a meal to warm the body from deep inside. I am not only sharing food, I am sharing the labor of my hands, an expression of my heart, and a reminder of our origins.