It is autumn, sunlight glances in at the windows of the winter house, revealing layers of the past that long to be swept away to create space for the new. I walk into the kitchen, recipe in hand, heart filled with anticipation as my small son races ahead of me to gather the essential ingredients; we are going to make bread.
First, we search for a vessel big enough to hold our experiences and workings, it will need to be a large container as we are messy workers and don’t always get it right. We settle on the cool ceramic of the mason cash bowl, alike to the one my mother has; I think my grandmother had one too; it is a kitchen classic and our cauldron of sorts for today.
Hands cleansed of the everyday presences of paint, unidentifiable sticky residues and general dust and dirt, sanctified by soap and water, we call the ingredients together. My small son rummages hopefully in the cupboard and the spirits of what we need come to us, bringing their gifts.
I glance at the clock, being thankful for the spirit of time and the gift of this moment for us to be here, now, in the sunlit kitchen having this experience. The moments of our births have constellated to allow this to be, and for this I am grateful. We will use the gift of time in another way as we combine water and yeast, and allow the magic to begin. We feel the spirit of place too, we are focused being present, here in the process of what we are doing, rooted in the hearth of our home, in our street, in our community, in our city; the particular part of the surface of the earth which we call home.
My son enthusiastically brings the flour to where we are working and marvels at the numbers on our digital scales. We weigh the yeast, counting millilitres until we have exactly the right quantity. Two small hands, helped by two larger hands pour the agents of change into the bowl, and then we get down to the tricky business of the water. Getting water right is hard for us, it flows in abundance in our lives and a beautiful river curves its dance through our city. The temperature here is the key though, if our water is too hot and powerful, it will end the life of our yeast, too cold and our magic will be painfully slow. We dip our clean fingers in, anticipating, judging then trusting it is right.
Sloshing leads to laughter as we cascade the water to join the waiting yeast beings, then we pause, watch and wait for the alchemy to begin. I had never thought I’d want to watch this process of change, in all honesty, I assumed it would be similar to being a spectator standing beside a newly painted wall, yet, as the water begins to bubble, and the air becomes ripe with the distinctive aroma, my son and I observe and share our excitement ~ what we’re doing is working!
We watch, we wait. In small boy world, ten minutes is forever. He spirals away to meet his needs for play and exploration elsewhere, whilst I pause and think about the next steps, the honey, salt and flour. My partner has commented that this thing we do together, this almost primal activity making bread for our family in our kitchen probably honours one of the oldest practices of cooking. It is one of the most fulfilling things I do, and has provided a way to engage with mother-energies which I hadn’t anticipated. I could participate in my community by buying bread, I could choose to go to a large corporation or a corner shop, yet, to me, creating loaves for my family feels like a call to authenticity, to walk my talk and get out of my head and into my body.
“My son appears at my side again, still wearing his apron and now, having heard the shrill call of our kitchen timer, is eager for the next step.”
My son appears at my side again, still wearing his apron and now, having heard the shrill call of our kitchen timer, is eager for the next step. The thing is, bread doesn’t always work to time, it depends on the weather, the temperature in the kitchen and general humidity, so we have to check what’s happening, to be guided by where we are, not where we think we should be.
The scales are waiting to measure and contain the flour, which is an amazing thing. Powdered from wheat, grown in the earth, nurtured by the sun, wind and rain and tended then harvested, it contains the blessings of all the elements. Wheat also carries the spirit of our tribe; we are of a culture that uses grains for sustenance as our ancestors have done cross time.
The physicality of water and flour meet in a joyful gooey mess and now the real fun begins; we must knead the dough, and turn our base elements into something that has the potential to transform, when the right circumstances constellate. Putting hands into ingredients to create and form dough is quite an experience. I have made bread for years with the aid of a bread machine, but this is something else. Initially, my son is unsure of the texture, yet with a little flour to help, his fingers are soon exploring, compressing, shaping and moulding. We love our dough and I often talk and sing as we are working it into what it’s going to be, blessing this transformation for the sustenance of our family, our little tribe.
As we find the rhythm of our working, I wonder of our ancestors, of the generations who stood as we do, making bread, enjoying the simplicity of an age old task; the difference is we are making a conscious choice to be living in this way, choosing to feel our connections with the elements and our landscape. Using local flours is something we are becoming increasingly keen to do, and the honey we choose provides nectar created from the plants of our place, whose medicines will be all the more special to us for this reason.
As everything comes together, I think of our journey to this moment, to who we are; in my hands I hold the dough, the sum of the past and the potential for the future. Now we wait, blessing our doughbowl with oil and the darkness of a damp linen tea towel, to allow the magic, once again, to begin.
When we return, things have changed, and I hope I never lose my feelings of joy at the wonder of revealing the growing being our bread has become; inflated, rounded, swollen and sometimes overflowing its container; the cauldron cannot always hold the power it has created! We lean into the dough, pushing it down, moulding, shaping, pulling the fibres that will create the tapestry of texture. We shape it, liking the rusting feel of cob loaves and preferring to use our circular cake tins for our bread.
Looking down as from above on our work, I give thanks to the constellation of circumstances that allow my son and I to share this moment, that we are here together, sharing history, sharing culture and ancestral wisdom rekindled by our desire to be more in touch with who and where we are and to be conscious of our actions in a way that is compassionate. As our bread bakes the spirit of the journey carries us to the mundane tasks of washing up and making spaces clear to receive the harvest that is currently rising in the two hundred degree heat of our oven. The elemental gifts blend and merge with each other at the centre, giving us their blessings.
Hands in flour,
the future and past,
Alison lives in Oxford with her three children and husband. She is an English and Media Studies teacher, as well as a writer and poet.