The Fresh Loaf

A Community of Amateur Bakers and Artisan Bread Enthusiasts.

Why bake bread?

Lazy Loafer's picture
Lazy Loafer

Why bake bread?

Here is an article in Bread Magazine that is so thoughtful and powerful, and I think perfectly expresses why I bake bread for people in my community (and why I'm on the Board of an organization promoting the re-localization of our food system).

When bakers in their home kitchens and craft bakeries take the time to learn about the people who produce the ingredients they use, or think about their place in the long line of bakers, they participate in a peaceful but powerful revolution. A revolution that happens through rebuilding connections that once were commonplace but have since then been lost: between the grain and the loaf, the baker and the person who receives the bread, between generations.

mutantspace's picture

I like that; for me all slow food is a political act of defiance albeit a small one

IceDemeter's picture

...and a question that maybe we each should reflect on, at least occasionally.

I personally come from a heritage of harvesting wild bounty (plant and animal), and home preserving, and being hands-on help with farmers and ranchers, so am always rather bemused by the total separation that a lot of people have from their place in the food chain, and where food actually comes from.  It never ceases to amaze (and disgust) me the number of people who quite sincerely are ignorant of the fact that the packaged meats in stores come from animals, and that vegetables and fruits and grains are grown in open fields and so are always going to have some degree of "contamination" from the saliva and wastes of both wild and domestic animals.  The total waste of foods that show natural growth oddities or blemishes is mind-boggling, but is a simple offshoot of having natural foods try to project the same "perfection" as something manufactured to immutable standards.

For me, baking my own bread is about getting back to my roots, and the satisfaction of enjoying and sharing the results of my own labour.  It is about understanding the underlying science and techniques, and being able to apply that understanding to whatever ingredients and circumstances I have, and create results that are purely to my own preferences with no need to follow any "rules" or recipes.  I actually find myself actively avoiding recipes, just because I find it confining and frustrating (and somewhat weirdly unnatural) to be trying to match the results and "rules" of someone else instead of going by the feel of my own ingredients and the dictates of my own mood.

In a world where the most primal need of nourishment is currently considered "production" and is more and more a creation of scientific invention instead of natural discovery, I shudder at the thought of how many people would starve if something so uncontrollable and unpredictable as a solar flare were to even temporarily impact electronics and communications, and so limit the transportation industry and the delivery of all of the global "food products" that people are now so dependent upon.  I find it to be quite sad that a large proportion of our North American population believes that "bread" is far too complicated to be made by any but the most skilled home baker (and one with access to a shocking amount of ingredients) and would be lost without access to You Tube to teach them what to do with "ingredients" instead of "foods". 

Ah well - hopefully the upcoming generations will either reconnect with their ties to nature and nourishment and the satisfaction of home cooking, or they will have their preferences and tastes changed enough that they happily prefer the delivery of newly invented artificial nutrients.

bread1965's picture

I think that our connection with food is part primal, part introspective and part extroverted..  ..we survive because of it and not without it.. when thoughtfully engaged in the process of making it, getting in there "elbows deep" we're at peace with the process of making something wholesome and it feeds something more than our bellies and creates internal space for a better sense of our own standing in the world.. and when we have courage and give away and share what we've made we find meaningful connection and look for affirmation and belonging.. all of us journey on different paths and with different intention.. like cars on a long busy highway we know little about our fellow travelers true destinations, but all that's important is our own and how we choose to journey along the way.. i think that for some of us on this board, that's what bread is all about.. countless times I've reflected on the stories of my parents, grand parents and beyond and their own food journeys many years ago.. and in that way it connects me back to those earliest memories that tie me to them.. one bite at a time.. and I'm now passing it forward to my own children as they see my experiences, taste my breads and hear my stories.. technology doesn't do this for us.. nor do possessions of any real monetary value.. experiences with friends, family and food (and of course wine) create this great feedback loop that your quote speaks to for me..

Mr. Waffles's picture
Mr. Waffles

Flour, water, salt, and yeast seem like they should just come together to make something bland and functional. That's how most people treat it, too. But if you understand each of those elements (plus time, temperature, and a host of others) and develop a level of control over them, you can create textures not found in any other food + flavors that seem to have nothing to do with a wheat berry. Like sleight of hand tricks, the best practitioners seem to literally be pulling off something supernatural.

It's also an extremely challenging craft that you can treat either as an "art" or as a science. And regardless of which approach you take, your effort can render something that delights all the senses in so many ways. There's nothing quite like it.

gwschenk's picture

This a nice thread.  The thoughts are well appreciated.

I bake bread because it tastes better. The grandbabies love my sandwich bread and dinner rolls. Baking my own bread has also eliminated my anxiety dreams from my days as a baker.

Lazy Loafer's picture
Lazy Loafer

It's funny how small children love good bread, if they haven't first been fed Wonderbread. I have two customers who each bring their little ones when they pick up bread. It doesn't matter what kind of bread it is; sourdough or not, both littles have the end off the loaf before their parents have finished chatting with me. One of these children is about 18 months (and she's been gnawing on the end of the bread since she was about a year old) and the other one is four years old (and she has definite favourites now). My own seven-month-old grandson is just starting to explore real food, and has gummed a couple of my breads too. :)

My grandmother taught me how to make bread over 50 years ago, and I'll be teaching the grandson as soon as he is big enough. Last autumn I took some of my sourdough starter to England when we went to visit our other daughter there, and she has kept it going, baking bread on weekends when she has time.

I find it interesting that you had anxiety as a baker but not when baking your own bread. I think that's because you have no expectations except your own to deal with now. I certainly am less stressed as a community baker than I was in my last career, as a management consultant in the health care industry!

Colin2's picture

A few quibbles with the romanticized history.

 "bread accompanies most meals around the world—today as it has done throughout recorded history" this assertion is unsourced, and seems unlikely to be true.  It would be nice at least to acknowledge the fact that the writer is describing only those parts of the world that have long used wheat as a staple grain.

"The industrial revolution turned grain and flour into a commodity" -- Nope.  There was a well organized grain trade in the Roman empire, with large-scale imports from distant places, multiple layers of intermediary merchants, prices set in large-scale markets ... all the things that make something a commodity.  (A number of Roman emperors regulated the price of bread, something you can only do if bread is a standardized commodity.)  There was a large European trade in Baltic wheat in the middle ages.  The ancient, medieval, and early modern worlds were *not* for the most part composed of  cute little self-reliant communities in which farmer, miller, baker, and consumer all knew each other.  Wheat and baked bread are actually among the oldest commoditized products, with large geographical, cultural, and social distances between producers and consumers. 

Apart from some flatbreads like North Indian chapatis that have long been made at home (because you want to eat them straight off the tava), *home* bread-baking has generally been confined to places too remote to support bakeries.  When Clayton, Field, or Leader went to Western Europe looking for breads, they did not look for home bakers, who barely exist there, but professionals.

The kind of home baking that's represented on this site, and the ideal of local sourcing, are actually pretty new.

Bread-baking is tasty and fun and lets you try new and different things, including breads none of your ancestors ate!  I have no problem with "regaining our bodies and minds," whatever that means, and "an interdependent but liberated communion" sure sounds lovely ... but I wonder if that's too much burden to place on a simple foodstuff.


golfermd's picture

I'm a master gardener in MD where we have a program for elementary school kids come to visit the main center. Nearly all of them have no idea how vegetables grow, or what the plants look like. It's fun to watch them learn and ask questions...

agres's picture

I like bread, but as I get older, I am more careful about my glycemic loads.  Real, long fermentation sourdough has a much lower glycemic index than any local baker's bread. The cost of flour is minimal, so home made bread is less expensive.  The actual time required is minimal.  Making bread requires less of my time than going to a good bakery.  Nothing beats fresh bread.  I can make the kind of bread that I want to accompany the planned menu/wine, which the bakery may not have on my schedule. My bread comes out of the oven an hour or two before we sit down to the planned meal, or some breads are the meal.  Why would I buy bread?

This is not a comment on my skill, but rather the nature of  local commercial bakeries. When I lived in Berkeley, CA, I ate bakery sourdough.