June 05, 2011


My grandmother Rose has been on my mind this morning. Grandma, bread, and Jesus! What a mix, huh?

Do you ever have those days when there is a swirl of thought carried by its own energy in and out of your head, around your body, peeking out at you from behind every door and curtain?  There is a strong essence of something divine in the energy but nothing that I can grab. It's real enough that I know that I should be able to at least smell it; I feel it but it swirls just above the fine hair on my arms,  just out of reach. Teasing me to stretch, search, find.

Bread is very much a part of this mystery today.  Of course, when I think of bread I think of Grandma.  Anyone who was gifted a thick slice of her fresh home baked bread right out of the oven, would claim, "Aha, this is where the divine comes in!'  Her bread was definitely heaven sent!

If you have not experienced baking bread with a beloved grandmother you are definitely missing one of the finest blessings of life.  Sifting flour, tossing in a bit of this and a bit of that, watching timeworn hands kneading and kneading with a soulful rhythm, all the while surrounded by unconditional love. Watching the little towel rise as the dough grows under it.

There may be scientific reasons why dough rises but I always felt the small ball of dough doubled and tripled in size because Grandma's love was being absorbed be the bread.  That's what made it so truly delicious. 

In ancient times, the women who baked the bread, who kneaded the dough, had to go to confession prior to making bread. It was believed that sin and negativity would infiltrate the cells of the bread. In Bulgaria the dough for the special bread of holy days was mixed with "silent water," water brought from the wells by a virgin maiden in absolute silence. Flowers and herbs were then soaked in the water to flavor it, then only a young girl or newly married woman could knead the dough. Only someone filled with love and joy.

Sadly, today,  in a world where tradition is laughed at and rituals, other than daily flossing, are the target of scorn, kneading dough is being discarded.  Many new cookbooks are suggesting "knead-less" recipes. Dough is made with extra liquid and stored in the refrigerator for several days to do its gluten-thing.  Where is the soul in that?  Where is the love?  Talk about a white bread with nothing to offer but air.   Where is the intention of purpose?  Sad, very, very sad.

To  "break bread" with another is about making peace, sharing, to engage and partner. How can a mess of soupy flour and water, sitting in a bowl in the coldness of a darkened, noisy refrigerator ever be worthy of the ritual and humanity of breaking bread?

A starter is a piece of dough in which yeast is continually reproducing with regular help from the baker. Sourdough breads need a starter.  San Francisco's famous Boudin sourdough bread is still made from a starter created prior to 1849. This starter or "mother dough" as it is often called, was rescued from the bakery in San Francisco during the earthquake of 1906. Mrs Boudin carried the mother dough in a bucket to Golden Gate Park where she continued to bake the famous bread until they reopened the bakery at a new location. Can you imagine, a mother dough more than a hundred years old!

In ancient times daily breads were typically made from barley. Wheat was only used for special occasions, for holy days.  I often wonder why we have so many wheat allergies today, is it because we are over indulging in the holy without the reverence?

When I was a young woman I had an old neighbor who was from Greece. Mr. Macdemus. What a wonderful character he was.  He walked with a cane and came through the fence often to see my garden. He  made fun of my garden because I had pretty ribbons tied here and there and my garden beds were not straight rows. I planted beds of companion plants, veggies and fruits that liked each other and tasted good together. If they taste good together they always grow better together!

One day he was at the house when I was making sandwiches for the kids. I placed a loaf of bread on its side! Thump! He whacked me with his cane. (he always did alot more whacking with it than walking with it). He admonished me about my lack of reverence for bread, the staple and icon of life.  "Jesus chose bread to share his body with humanity!" he exclaimed. "Never, ever handle it without reverence and always place it in an upright position!"

So, today, Grandma, Bread and Jesus and I guess, Mr. Macdemus are gently making themselves known to me today...good day to bake some bread.

1 comment:

  1. What a beautiful post, Observer. I feel like any comment I might make would be nonsense after reading this.

    I loved it.


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