Dawn Reader

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from Open Door Coffee Co.; Hudson, OH; Oct. 26, 2016

Sunday, May 20, 2012

Baking Bread

Sunday morning, I bake bread.

This has been a routine for many years--decades, now--a weekend routine I originally developed because, well, I had a job during the week--insufficient hours then to mix-let rise-shape-let rise-bake-cool-EAT.  It's part of my week now, a routine I will greatly miss when time's winged chariot hurries too near and invites me aboard--not an invitation one can generally ignore, or decline.

I got to thinking about bread-baking recently when I was reading The Weird Sisters, the 2011 Eleanor Brown novel.  The story concerns three adult (young) daughters of an English professor in a small Ohio college.  All three have issues (see: title); all three try to find ways to create a life that will make sense to them.  (One of the things I loved about the novel: The father taught his children to quote Shakespeare in all sorts of quotidian situations--from taking a walk to fixing dinner.  I got ticked off when I didn't recognize the quotation!  Childish, I know.)

Anyway, one of the sisters finds peace in bread-baking.  And here's one of the quotations I liked:

"There is nothing not beautiful about bread.  The way it grows, from tiny grains, from bowls on the counter, from yeast blooming in a measuring cup like swampy islands.  The way it fills a room, a house, a building, with its inimitable smells at every stage of the process.  The way it swells, submits to a firmly applied fist and contracts, swells again; the way it stretches and expands upon kneading, the warm, supple feel of it against skin.  The sight of a warm roll on a table, the taste--sweet, sour, yeasty on the tongue" (286).

On Saturday night, I feed my sourdough starter (which has been with me since the summer of 1986): three cups flour, 2 cups warm water.  Cover.  Let stand all night in draft-free place.  Over the years, I've used flour from a number of places that mean something to me.  Lanterman Mill in Youngstown--my great-grandfather, Warren A. Lanterman, was related to the Lantermans who ran the mill in ... Mill Creek Park.  The mill in Garrettsville.  Three miles from Hiram, where I went to school and college, where my wife, until a week ago, adorned the faculty.  Garrettsville--where my mother was a stellar English teacher for ten years.  Where my little brother, Davi (no one calls him that now), graduated from James A. Garfield High School.  I've mixed in flour from Washington state--near when my father grew up.  I want to get some from West Virginia, where my great-grandfather grew up in a family of millers in Braxton County, where he, for a time, was sheriff, and where--much to my horror--I discovered that some Dyers, direct ancestors, had owned slaves.

bread rising: 20 May 2012
On Sunday morning, about 7:30, I return two cups of the starter to its crockery home in the fridge, then mix the remaining dough--all cholesterol-free ingredients these days.  Unbleached white flour.  Some oat flour.  Some whole wheat.  (On some ambitious Sundays I add a dozen other flours, too, and some flax seeds.) Knead, knead, knead until it's so elastic I could make a raincoat of it.  Then--in a covered crockery bowl it lies, warming, growing, waiting for some further abuse in a couple of hours (longer in the winter).  I throw it out onto the bread board when it's doubled.  The books all say to punch it down; I don't.  How can I punch a child of mine?  Besides, when it hits the board, it sighs, collapses.  Submits.

Usually, I make two loaves--a round loaf, a traditional sandwich bread loaf.  But I'll make rolls, too.  A long loaf now and then.  The round loaf sits in an earthenware baking bowl; the other, in a Pyrex dish (I like to watch the sides brown while it's baking).  Once again: warming, rising, readying.  Anywhere from one-and-a-half to two-and-a-half hours.  Depends on some things I understand, some things I don't.  Just like everything else.

Carson with a sourdough wad.
And then--pop into the preheated oven!  And enjoy the smell the rest of the day.  Out to cool on wooden racks that Joyce bought for me in Appalachia somewhere.  Cool and bag and store and eat all week.

My grandsons (7 and 3) love the round loaf: They pick off handfuls from it, wad them in their happy faces, their chubby cheeks swollen like a squirrel's.

I eat a piece every lunch, every dinner.  Joyce likes it best right out of the oven--who doesn't?  Her cheeks puff like a grandson's.

We haven't bought bread in probably forty years.  The baking began as a financial necessity (impecunious public school teacher and grad student); now it's a psychological--no, a spiritual one.

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