The Fresh Loaf

News & Information for Amateur Bakers and Artisan Bread Enthusiasts

Spirituality and Bread in Colorado

owensbt's picture

Spirituality and Bread in Colorado

About three years ago, I was thinking about bread and how this has been the sustenance for people for thousands of years.  In our analytic, fast food culture, I felt like I was missing something people used to know.... cut off from human history.  So I set out to let my body, mind, and experience teach me... to learn answers to questions I couldn't articulate... by making bread.

I set out to make bread the way people have always made it.  With no real measurement, no bread makers or mixers.  The only real "machine" I still use is the oven.  I wanted to "know" bread, not just make a loaf.

I started with a recipe using only salt, yeast, water, and flour.  If I needed to measure, I poured the ingredients into my hands first so I would know what a tablespoon of yeast or a teaspoon of salt actually was.  After about 20 loaves, I could create a pretty good loaf from just touch.

And then began the experimenting... and experience slowly worked its way into me.  I found myself adjusting a bit on hotter days intuitively.  I played with different flours, oil, eggs, milk, and seeds.  I now maintain a starter.  I even tried to put edible flours in loaves (but it didn't work well). 

I learned about myself.  I learned that bread isn't created like a machine is created.  Bread has life in it and that life must be respected.  I have to bend myself around the life of the yeast while gently guiding it... and that is good.  I wonder how that lesson effected groups that lived with each other throughout history.

There is a lot more I have learned and am still learning both spiritually and practically with bread.  Christ as the Bread of Life.  The significance of the removal of yeast for the Jews during passover.... great stuff.

People ask me if making bread in Colorado at a high altitude (about 6500 ft) is hard.  I tell them that it really isn't if you really know the bread.   It is only tough if you are trying to make it follow exactly your recepe.  I don't try to make bread do exactly what it did last time.  I intuitively adjust as I go and it seems to work at whatever altitude I am in.



proth5's picture

It is lovely to hear a fellow Coloradan wax poetic about bread.

I had heard that good bread could not be made at a mile high and we now know that to be untrue, but my baking journey was very different.  I have baked bread since my childhood which was a long, long time ago.  I baked many a loaf "by feel" with a little of this and a little of that.  We womenfolk have done that for centuries.  We expect to be able to do it.  It is nothing new for us.  After a quarter of a century I was pretty sure that I "knew" bread.

Somewhere along the line I became enamored of precision.  I love my spreadsheets and my scale.  I will bake the same bread dozens of times - each time making a minute adjustment to try to get the flavor and dough handling profile that I want.  I take notes. 

While I hand grind my own flour for some of my breads, I'd have every piece of high tech rheology testing equipment that is on the market, if only I could afford it. 

I'd trade my cat for a sheeter.  (I would - if anyone is interested...)

Now, after half a century, I'm not so sure that I "know" bread, but I think I might be on my way.

I suppose that my baking can seem a little prosaic in the light of your process.

Yet I daily stand in wonder about the journey of grain to bread.  I know that when we eat bread we should give thanks to the starter that we have nutured like a pet, and yet like so many other beasts will die to allow us to live. I never forget about "my teacher" telling me to "pay attention to the bread."  It is craft - it is not art - it can be learned.  The analytics must be right, but in the end it is the practiced hand (and eye and nose and ear) of the baker that makes the bread.

And so as you think of spirituality and bread think of all the roads that can be travelled.  It is now how we create but that we create, I think, when all is said and done.



owensbt's picture

I am a computer guy for a living.  My journey with bread involved moving away from that precision into a more open place.  I love that yours has involved a broad knowledge that grew in strength by adding precision. 

"It is now how we create but that we create, I think, when all is said and done."  Great words.

A half century.  You have wisdom worked into your hands.

proth5's picture

a computer gal.  But I find beauty in the precision of my profession as well.  Odd how it all works out, that.

PiperBaker's picture

Although I'm currently almost half the world away, I'm a Colorado baker at heart.  There's definitely more of the art than the science involved when we deal with the altitude and dryness.  That's part of what drew me to baking:  to create and enjoy the process.

It's great to see other Colorado bakers here, even if I'm not "officially" one any more. 

sharonk's picture


What beautiful writing about bringing Spirit into daily tasks! I especially like this line "I have to bend myself around the life of the yeast while gently guiding it... and that is good." Your writing reminds me it is good to be really conscious when we transform flour and water into bread and to remember to give thanks for the bread when we eat it. I remember reading about a native American tribe having a prayer song for every task involved in planting corn. A prayer for the harvest for next season, a prayer for the soil preparation, a prayer for the planting, a prayer for the rain to come...I believe  awareness of every step of our bread making can bring us closer to Spirit.  And that is good.




owensbt's picture

Thanks for the reply Sharon.  It has been a beautiful spiritual journey for me.