A Basic Human Effort

A comment from a friend made me think about something that really makes me happy and contented at a very basic level.

It’s a magical thing when it happens: usually about every other weekend or so. It all starts with a big bowl. Warm water, salt, yeast, a little sweetener, flour and effort results in something that makes the house smell wonderful. It also makes people coming home smile. They know they’re in for something yummy.

Don’t tell me about bread machines. Those are for amateurs. Oh, sure, bread machine bread is tasty, but it’s different! Like frozen pizza can’t really be called pizza, can it? It should have its own food group. Homemade bread is likewise in a class by itself.

There is something deeply satisfying about using my own two hands to turn basic ingredients into something else entirely. It’s about nutrition, sure. But it’s also about simple human ingenuity. Who was the first amazing individual to think of this? Kneading bread dough develops the gluten and changes the character of the end product. This is truly an amazing process. Adding milk or eggs or butter or potatoes....or cheese or herbs or.... the varieties are endless, limited only by my imagination and budget.

When my Dad was very sick with cancer and past the point of worry about nutrition, one thing he could eat was good rye bread and a little red wine. Dad was allergic to corn, and most rye bread uses either cornmeal to dust the pan or even corn syrup to sweeten the dough and feed the yeast.

So I started making Dad’s rye bread. The best recipe I found used water on the kneading board instead of flour. What a mess! Every loaf was like throwing a clay pot. But it made a good, chewy rye bread with tender flavor.

If I stop and think about it, that was a tremendous gift for me. My Dad was dying and I could actually DO something. It wasn’t much, but I felt as if I made his last days just a little more pleasant and bearable. Could I have asked for more? I never tried harder to make excellent bread. I didn’t have stand by helplessly and wish I could think of something he might enjoy eating. That’s huge.

The years of necessity have passed. I can afford to buy fancy bakery breads. Why would I do that? Isn’t it the most human thing of all, to take something and make into something else by the effort of your own two hands, and the knowledge you have acquired?