Some wise person once called “bread” the warmest and kindest of words.
“Baking With the St. Paul Bread Club” is full of warm and kind bread bakers who shared some of their best recipes and tips with me, as well as their stories. They shared not so much HOW they bake but WHY they bake. After all, the “how” is not really such a secret; the knowledge has been around since Egypt's earliest history. But the “why” can be a revelation. For some, baking bread lets them control their ingredients. For others, it’s a way to honor an ethnic heritage. For others, it’s a therapeutic escape from life’s routines.
These days, baking no longer is a chore, but a choice. If you want to bake, you’re psychic kin to P.O. Walker, a baking expert of the early 1900s who wrote a pamphlet distributed by the Ramsey County Flour Company -- makers of Miss Saint Paul Flour. He began: "In placing this booklet in your hands, we feel that we are positively benefiting you, your family and your community."
That’s how I feel about this book, published by the good folks at the Minnesota Historical Society Press. It wasn’t until about 10 years ago, after I had started baking bread for my family with a convert's intensity, that I began to appreciate the sacrifice my mother had made each time she shook loose a loaf of bread from a hot pan.
All morning the big yellow Pyrex bowl would sit on the counter of our South Dakota farmhouse, the drape of the dish towel subtly shifting as the dough swelled past the rim. By afternoon the bread was in pans, the kitchen filling with the metallic whiff of a preheating oven. I had a keen skill for timing my day’s play so that I could walk into the kitchen just when Mom was tapping the loaves to hear if they sounded hollow. Even when they were still too hot to handle, still too tender to cut, she would slice the end off of one and pass it to me.
There is nothing like a slice of hot, fresh bread, the steam still rising through a sheen of butter. Especially the heel of a loaf, she'd say, and with a child's breathtaking selfishness, I would agree and eat the whole thing.
We talk a lot about the desire for community these days. We wonder at how the Internet enables people to connect over a mind-boggling array of passions. We live in amazing times. But I'm throwing in my lot with those who marvel over the connection we can make over a loaf of home-baked bread.