This began as a recipe for my blog, then became a poem. Is it a recipe? Is it a poem? No, it’s a whole new genre – the poetic recipe!
The night prior to the birth of my bread,
I take my starter from its chilly berth
to feed it a hearty meal!
I empty the starter into a jar,
and give that smelly crock a bath.
Measure three-quarters cup of starter
back into the crock,
and quench it with one-half cup of tepid water.
(Return any starter remaining in the jar to the refrigerator
to become an ingredient for buttery biscuits
or a gift for an eager sourdough newbie.)
Then I lavish that hungry sour soup with one cup of flour,
and set it aside to rest.
It’s time for me to get some rest too.
Rising with the sunrise,
the vinegary aroma wafting from the kitchen
heralds that my starter too has risen!
It’s alive and escaping!
Dry and liquid measuring cups.
A solid wood board, at least twelve by twelve.
Sturdy spatula, scraper, and bowl.
These have been the simple tools of the breadmaker
for thousands of years.
I pour three-quarters cup of awakened starter into a bowl.
Mix in one cup of tepid water
and a teaspoon of salt.
Measure exactly three cups of unbleached flour
and add all but a tablespoon to the bowl.
The rest for the board
Once I start to work the dough,
I know it will plead for more flour.
Lest I end up baking a brick,
I’ve found it’s best to avoid temptation,
and put the flour canister away.
Mix well with your spatula
until it binds together.
Rubbing the flour on the board
gets my hands perfectly floured too.
Use the spatula to nudge the mixture
from bowl to board.
Like most worthwhile endeavors,
will be messy-sticky at first.
And here’s the secret
to keep the dough from amassing
in gooey clumps between your fingers…
Keep your fingers out of it,
using only the palm of one hand
and a scraper in the other.
In a smooth Tai Chi movement,
flick up the dough with the scraper,
transferring it to the waiting hand,
lifting it from the board,
flinging it back down with sufficient oomph
for it to cleanly detach from the hand.
As I enact this ancient rite,
merging the magic of leavening with
memories are resurrected
of hurrying home from school,
to the fragrance of just-baked bread.
Rushing to the table before my siblings,
to claim that prized heel,
just sliced from the end of the loaf,
still warm enough to melt the pat of butter,
the golden crust resisting my bite,
the tender tang of ancestral yeasts.
Ah, bread holds the memories of generations!
The kneading sets the beat,
Push it away with the heel of my hand,
Bring it back up with the scraper.
When I was a young mother,
I’d knead my anger and frustration into the dough.
I’d shape it into the face of my ex,
and give it a resounding punch!
I thought that was funny,
But my children watched.
And though my bread rose,
and filled their mouths and bellies,
they were mal-nourished.
I’d fed them my angst.
But now I am tempered
with the wisdom of age and arthritis.
I am firm and deliberate with my dough,
while seasoning it with a lifetime of loving memories.
I let it go, pick up, and let it go again.
Slowly there is a metamorphosis.
There is a memory of it in my hands.
I recognize the feel of emerging transformation.
Bubbly, satiny, strands of gluten holding it all together.
I keep pushing,
feeling that reward for resisting the temptation
to add more flour.
The dough remains moist,
but is no longer sticky.
I know from years of experience this point will come.
I feel the dough stretch and separate beneath my fingers.
No longer needing the scraper to pick it up.
Fold it over.
Push it away.
I pull it up with both hands,
like I am pulling a bedsheet up to my chin,
and it holds together in one piece,
stretching so thin I can see light through it.
And that’s when I know it’s ready to rest.
Gently shaping it into a mound,
I place it into the embrace of the floured bowl,
the way the radiologist positions my breast for a mammogram.
Hidden and protected beneath a damp dishtowel,
from breeze, chill or heat,
my sweet child sleeps and grows.
In three to four hours,
the dough is crowning against the towel,
eager to resume its journey to becoming bread.
I give it a friendly poke and it holds the impression.
Round like a mother’s belly,
birth is imminent.
I use the spatula to coax the newborn from its bowl
onto the lightly floured board.
Gently pushing the outside under,
to become the inside,
the inside emerges to replace the outside.
Top becomes the bottom.
Bottom becomes the top.
The bigger gaps stretch closed,
allowing smaller bubbles to remain,
the dough emerges as a loaf,
as I let it fall into a floured bread pan,
where it will rest and rise again
for another three to four hours.
I cavalierly slash my mark on the top of the loaf,
to give it an opening to expand.
Pour water into a small tin in the bottom of the oven,
preheated to a fiery 425 degrees,
so a sizzle of moisture will welcome the loaf,
and retain the flexibility it needs to continue to grow.
The kitchen is enveloped in the fragrance of nurturing.
In thirty minutes, dough becomes bread.
I turn off the oven and let the bread snuggle in the remaining heat.
Oven mitts embrace the pan as I gingerly remove it.
Using a sharp knife to detach the sides.
Turn the pan over, resting the loaf in my hand.
Give the bottom a firm tap and lift the pan.
Hold my child in my hands.
Feed the hungry.