I’ve been journalling every day since January. Each morning I’ve been dumping my thoughts out of my head onto paper. It’s been helping me control my anxious and whirling mind. Usually I write about what I’m feeling and what I did the previous day. Maybe something about my therapy and the processing of my thoughts. Today, I found myself writing about bread. As I’ve found it impossible to distill my thoughts about isolation and Coronavirus into a post, I decided to publish this… on bread.
Saturday in lock down is bread day.
For the last three weeks I’ve been buying bread from my local bakery, Cinnamon Square. They’ve managed to stay open and a small queue forms every Friday and Saturday outside their very small shop.
I went to buy bread this morning. I’m much happier to queue for bread than I am to queue for my weekly grocery shop. Today I waited for twenty minutes. Just long enough to listen to half an episode of the Fortunately podcast with Jane and Fi (if you know, you know). My anxiety brings me to their door early and thus to the queue. I hope they haven’t sold out of my favourite sourdough.
Plastic screens are newly erected; at odds with the ancient timbers of the centuries old building. The screens may protect shopper and staff from coronavirus but they can’t stop the smell of freshly baked bread from permeating the air. It’s yeasty, malty, warm, and comforting. I feel hungry the moment I step through the door. I buy two loaves of wheat and rye sourdough bread. One loaf for today and one for the freezer. I also buy one bag of the holy grail – strong white bread flour.
Back at home, I take the bread from its white paper bag. In anticipation of its taste, I inhale its perfume. The crust is slightly burnt, and a rich brown. Just as I like it. It’s crisp and cracks under my teeth as I bite. The middle of the loaf is springy. I love to pull it from the crust and mould it back into the dough like texture from which it originated. I eat my bread naked – not me but the loaf itself. No butter, no jam, no marmalade. Just the bread in all of its glory.
Bread. It has always been one of my favourite foods. Crusty bread – the white bloomer was my first love. I’d cut a big fat slice, the bread knife’s serrated teeth slicing easily and smoothly through the virgin loaf. It’s that first crust, end, heel of the loaf that I love most. There’s so much more surface area of crust to savour.
Here’s how I eat the second slice. A thick wedge of bread. I smell it. Yeasty, sweet and sour, the flour from the bake on my hands. I love how the bottom is a different texture and colour to the rest of the slice. I think it’s my favourite part. I pull the middle of the bread away from its protective crust. It’s the crumb. Different types of bread have different quality crumbs. Open crumb, like a ciabatta or sourdough, with lots of air holes. Tight crumb like a sliced bread from the supermarket.
I digress. I’ve pulled the crumb away from the crust, leaving the crust intact and joined all the way round. Next comes the fun part, and I know that I’m not alone in doing this. I take all of the crumb that I’ve pulled from the crust and start moulding it. Pushing and squashing the open structure of the crumb until it becomes dough like again. I flatten it into a thin patty of squishiness and then bite round each edge, nipping off small amounts each time. I love the feel of the dough between my teeth.
I’ve done this since I was a child – don’t tell me that you’ve never done this yourself. The piece of flattened dough like crumb gets smaller with each bite until it’s a near perfect square, save for the imprints of my fingers and slight toothmarks. It’ the size of a postage stamp now. And it goes straight into my mouth – no biting this time.
Now for the crust. The most flavoursome part of the bread. I really take my time over this glorious, yet simple food. The crust is a continuous shape, still joined. I break the continuum somewhere near to the bottom edge; that bottom edge which is grainy with flour or semolina or whatever the alchemist baker has used to prevent the raw dough from sticking during baking.
Then the fun begins. I break the bottom edge into small pieces and try to tease the layers of each piece apart with my teeth. Sometimes the top, crusty, hard layer is separated easily from the more sinewy lower layers – sometimes not. If I’m successful, the small sliver goes into my mouth alone. If not it’s the whole piece. Whichever, I love that bitter rough piece of crust. The burnt flavour tastes sweet to me.
All of this leads to the highlight which is the top crust. My separation technique usually works more successfully, and I can tease the flaky crust of the top edge away from its softer lower structure. The crunch and crispness of the crust reverberates around my mouth. I love it so much. I’ll never stop eating bread like this. It’s joyous and awakes all of my senses. Not just taste, but smell, sight, hearing and my memories.
I’m not finished yet though. With the top layer of crust removed and eaten, I’m left with a sinewy, soft, malleable piece of crust. This part makes me smile because it’s so random. I fold that fragment in half horizontally and then make a small tear in the fold with my front teeth. I unfold to reveal a hole in the middle of that slither of bread. Not for long, as that too follows the rest of the slice into my mouth.
It takes quite a long time to eat a slice of bread my way. I don’t eat every slice of bread in this way, but I often do. I’ve done it since childhood, and my family will recognise the way that I’ve described my bread eating method. It strikes me now that it’s a mindful way of eating. It engages all of my senses as I focus on that most humble of food – bread. My mind is concentrated on all of the small processes that I go through. Intrusive and unhelpful thoughts find it hard to gain a foothold in my mind while I’m dismantling a slice of bread.
I started making my own bread around a year ago. I make sourdough. Three ingredients – flour (when it can be found), water and salt. Much maligned and cliched in these lock downed times. For me, life affirming and deeply pleasurable. Bread is my constant and my comfort food. Yes, full of carbs and fattening but I don’t and have never cared about that. I love it – the making and most of all the eating.