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Bread and “Les Canotiers de la Meurthe”

Les Canotiers de la Meurthe by Emile Friant, 1887.

Look at the fellow at the far right of this painting, and what he’s holding close to his belly. It’s a huge loaf of bread, sometimes called a miche. He and his friends are gathered around a restaurant table. A waiter is pouring wine, our man is cutting the bread, the meal is about to start, there is expectation, laughter, conversation, and delicious food to come!

Simple times, simple pleasures. It’s an evocative scene to be sure, the outdoor table by the river, the boaters just in from a day sailing. But it’s the loaf of bread that gets my attention.

I can feel its heft on my knee, its rough dusting of flour on my hand. The knife slices through the crust, shattering crumbs over my clothes and table cloth. The interior crumb is moist and soft and creamy. It smells delicious!

Two pounds of bread per day

The painting, by Emile Friant, is called Les Canotiers de la Meurthe, or “The Boatmen of the Meurthe.” (The Meurthe is a river in France due east of Paris, between Nancy and Strasbourg). It was painted in 1887 when a worker’s portion of bread was two pounds per day, and it was on every table at mealtime.

Notice how the bread here is at the head of the table. It is central to the gathering, a convening presence, the host of the party, metaphorically speaking. The bread will be passed to the guests as if celebrating the Eucharist, or holy communion, though this celebration is as secular and human as it gets. The bread joins them all, as “breaking bread” has done through the ages. Everyone understands this.

Chasing that elemental loaf

This is an elemental loaf and one I first read about in Chad Robertson’s classic book, Tartine Bread. As it happens, Les Canotiers began Robertson’s journey to develop a loaf just as he imagined the one here:

The loaf would be baked dark, and the substantial, blistered crust would hold some give while containing a voluptuous, wildly open crumb with the sweet character of natural fermentation and subtle, balanced acidity. The bread would be a joy to eat and would keep well for a week.

Chad Robertson, Tartine Bread

The loaf he perfected propelled him to the top of the bread world. It became the basis of the Tartine Bakery in San Francisco, where devotees have been lining up every day for years at 5pm to snatch up one of his loaves. Tartine has expanded to Los Angeles, and Seoul, Korea, and the bread is being mass produced for distribution around the world.

It may be factory produced, now, but the Tartine Country loaf is just as compelling today as the loaf in the painting. A little smaller, perhaps, a little less dramatic. But it has the same effect on a gathering of friends. It sits at the head of any table where it is served.

Simple times, simple pleasures

The picture also recalls a simpler time. It’s nostalgic.

Bread is less ubiquitous these days. We have concerns about gluten sensitivity and “wheat belly,” too much carbohydrate. How could workers eat two pounds of bread a day and not suffer from the maladies we have today?

I think it’s because of modern genetically modified wheat and poorly made bread. The bread in this picture was likely made in the traditional way, with sourdough and spent ale grain. Bakers made bread with wheat that, today, we’d call ancient or heritage wheat. And the word “organic” was probably never applied to food at all because everything was from the earth, everything was organic.

No more gut issues, no more wheat belly

Les Canotiers recalls a time when bread could be eaten and enjoyed without health concerns. People ate bread because it was healthy. The enjoyment of a shattery crust and soft crumb was more direct, uncomplicated by worries of irritable gut issues, gluten sensitivity.

We remember when bread didn’t come with health complications. We remember the joy of eating great bread, and how it brings us together.

I make Happy Monk bread in the old way, with ancient heritage grains, organic ingredients, and sourdough yeast. I ferment the loaves slowly, overnight, in the fridge and bake them in a wood-fired oven. The sourdough and long ferment “pre-digest” the starch and wheat, rendering the gluten less harmful to the gut.

Some customers who call themselves gluten intolerant tell me they can eat Happy Monk bread without issue. It’s a revelation to those who love the taste and smell of bread, the idea of bread, but who get stomach cramps after eating it, or swollen joints or “fuzzy brain” every time they eat it.

The aroma of bread

I’m no nutritionist. I’ve read about these claims, but now I hear it from customers who are experiencing the pleasures of bread, tasting the grain. It’s something everyone should enjoy.

I sense this every time I hand a loaf of fresh bread to someone. If it is still warm, the receiver presses it against their belly or heart. They raise it to their nose and take a deep whiff of the aroma. There are smiles and heartfelt thanks.

We can enjoy bread as happily as the boatmen of the Meurthe are about to enjoy as they move into their feast, their conversation, their joy. That bread looks so good, doesn’t it?

Moonset and high tide, South Pender Island at 3:50 a.m. 
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 #woodfired #woodfiredoven #woodfiredbaking #woodfiredbread #clayoven #clayovenbaking #coboven #cobovenbaking #sourdoughbread #sourdoughbaking #breadmaking #breadbaking #breadlove #bread #bakersofinstagram #bakerslife #penderisland #southpenderisland #southerngulfislands #southerngulfislandsbc #happymonk #happymonkbakingcompany #happymonkbakery

Moonset and high tide, South Pender Island at 3:50 a.m.
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#woodfired #woodfiredoven #woodfiredbaking #woodfiredbread #clayoven #clayovenbaking #coboven #cobovenbaking #sourdoughbread #sourdoughbaking #breadmaking #breadbaking #breadlove #bread #bakersofinstagram #bakerslife #penderisland #southpenderisland #southerngulfislands #southerngulfislandsbc #happymonk #happymonkbakingcompany #happymonkbakery
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Happy Monk Tidings - July 21, 2021 🍞 - Baker's Choice: Bird Seed Bread; Blog: Rye Bread: The Agony and the Ecstasy [ See link in profile ]

Happy Monk Tidings - July 21, 2021 🍞 - Baker's Choice: Bird Seed Bread; Blog: Rye Bread: The Agony and the Ecstasy [ See link in profile ] ...

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In the early light of dawn, Mildrith oven-springs sourdough, caramelizes crusts gold and brown and leaves heavenly smells as evidence. Inside her hot clay dome, 12 boules of Salish Sourdough are on the final stage of their journey. Behold the steam rising out of the chimney!
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#woodfired #woodfiredoven #clayoven #clayovenbakery #clayovenbread #woodfiredbaking #woodfiredbread #sourdoughbread #sourdoughbaking #breadmaking #breadbaking #breadlove #bread #bakersofinstagram #bakerslife #penderisland #southpenderisland #southerngulfislands #southerngulfislandsbc #happymonk #happymonkbakingcompany #happymonkbakery

In the early light of dawn, Mildrith oven-springs sourdough, caramelizes crusts gold and brown and leaves heavenly smells as evidence. Inside her hot clay dome, 12 boules of Salish Sourdough are on the final stage of their journey. Behold the steam rising out of the chimney!
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#woodfired #woodfiredoven #clayoven #clayovenbakery #clayovenbread #woodfiredbaking #woodfiredbread #sourdoughbread #sourdoughbaking #breadmaking #breadbaking #breadlove #bread #bakersofinstagram #bakerslife #penderisland #southpenderisland #southerngulfislands #southerngulfislandsbc #happymonk #happymonkbakingcompany #happymonkbakery
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Happy Monk Tidings - July 14, 2021 🍞 - Baker's Choice this week: Rye and Spelt Sourdough; Blog: Pleasure and Worry in the Summer Heat; Gratitude for Pender Island Fire Rescue; Happy Monk Search-Ability [ See link in profile ]

Happy Monk Tidings - July 14, 2021 🍞 - Baker's Choice this week: Rye and Spelt Sourdough; Blog: Pleasure and Worry in the Summer Heat; Gratitude for Pender Island Fire Rescue; Happy Monk Search-Ability [ See link in profile ] ...

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Happy Monk Tidings - July 7, 2021 🍞 - Baker's Choice: Sourdough Sandwich Loaf; Blog Redux: Aunty Betty's "Brown Bread"; [ See newsletter link in Profile ]

Happy Monk Tidings - July 7, 2021 🍞 - Baker's Choice: Sourdough Sandwich Loaf; Blog Redux: Aunty Betty's "Brown Bread"; [ See newsletter link in Profile ] ...

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Happy Monk Tidings - June 30, 2021 🍞 - Baker's Choice: Spelt and Honey Loaf; Blog: These Waters, This World Around Me - [ See Link in Profile ]

Happy Monk Tidings - June 30, 2021 🍞 - Baker's Choice: Spelt and Honey Loaf; Blog: These Waters, This World Around Me - [ See Link in Profile ] ...

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Happy Monk Tidings - June 23, 2021 🍞 - Baker's Choice: Deli Rye Bread; Blog: Summer Stars; and Who invented No-Knead? [ See link in profile ]

Happy Monk Tidings - June 23, 2021 🍞 - Baker's Choice: Deli Rye Bread; Blog: Summer Stars; and Who invented No-Knead? [ See link in profile ] ...

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Happy Bloomsday from the Happy Monk - June 16, 2021 🍞 - Baker's Choice: An Earthy Olive Loaf; Blog Redux: The Terroir or Wine and Wheat; A Letter from Carrie and Leighton; [ See link in profile ]

Happy Bloomsday from the Happy Monk - June 16, 2021 🍞 - Baker's Choice: An Earthy Olive Loaf; Blog Redux: The Terroir or Wine and Wheat; A Letter from Carrie and Leighton; [ See link in profile ] ...

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Cinnamon-Raisin loaves, they get it on! Can’t keep their hands off each other when they’re a little too close in the oven. Monkey business!
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#woodfired #woodfiredoven #woodfiredbaking #woodfiredbread #sourdoughbread #sourdoughbaking #cinnamonraisin #cinnamonraisinbread #cinnamonraisinsourdough #breadsex #breadporn #showusyourfuckedloaves #breadmaking #breadbaking #breadlove #bread #bakery #bakersofinstagram #bakerslife #bakersandspice #penderisland #southpenderisland #southerngulfislands #southerngulfislandsbc #happymonk #happymonkbakingcompany #happymonkbakery

Cinnamon-Raisin loaves, they get it on! Can’t keep their hands off each other when they’re a little too close in the oven. Monkey business!
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#woodfired #woodfiredoven #woodfiredbaking #woodfiredbread #sourdoughbread #sourdoughbaking #cinnamonraisin #cinnamonraisinbread #cinnamonraisinsourdough #breadsex #breadporn #showusyourfuckedloaves #breadmaking #breadbaking #breadlove #bread #bakery #bakersofinstagram #bakerslife #bakersandspice #penderisland #southpenderisland #southerngulfislands #southerngulfislandsbc #happymonk #happymonkbakingcompany #happymonkbakery
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Happy Monk Tidings - June 9, 2021 🍞 - Baker's Choice: Cinnamon Raisin Sourdough; Blog: Chasing the Perfect Loaf - [ See link in profile ]

Happy Monk Tidings - June 9, 2021 🍞 - Baker's Choice: Cinnamon Raisin Sourdough; Blog: Chasing the Perfect Loaf - [ See link in profile ] ...

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Happy Monk Tidings - June 4, 2021 🍞 - Baker's Choice: Metchosin Wheat and Honey Pan Loaf; Happy Monk Favourite: Salish Sourdough; Blog: Gratitude and the Joy of Chopping Wood - [See Link in Profile ]

Happy Monk Tidings - June 4, 2021 🍞 - Baker's Choice: Metchosin Wheat and Honey Pan Loaf; Happy Monk Favourite: Salish Sourdough; Blog: Gratitude and the Joy of Chopping Wood - [See Link in Profile ] ...

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Look what I found in the back of the wood-fired oven last Friday morning. A mighty Seed Feast from last week, no longer so mighty, burned to a crisp. Knew I was one loaf short, but no idea where it went. Mystery solved. The ravens will appreciate it ... it’ll need a hammer to break it up!

Look what I found in the back of the wood-fired oven last Friday morning. A mighty Seed Feast from last week, no longer so mighty, burned to a crisp. Knew I was one loaf short, but no idea where it went. Mystery solved. The ravens will appreciate it ... it’ll need a hammer to break it up! ...

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Happy Monk Tidings - May 19, 2021 🍞 - Baker's Choice: Double Fermented Oat Bread; Blog: Dreams of Bread; Introducing a New Way to Order Happy Monk Bread - [ See link in profile ]

Happy Monk Tidings - May 19, 2021 🍞 - Baker's Choice: Double Fermented Oat Bread; Blog: Dreams of Bread; Introducing a New Way to Order Happy Monk Bread - [ See link in profile ] ...

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Happy Monk Tidings - May 12, 2021 🍞 - Baker's Choice: Rye and Currant Sourdough; Happy Monk Blog: No-Knead Bread Revisited [ See link in profile ]

Happy Monk Tidings - May 12, 2021 🍞 - Baker's Choice: Rye and Currant Sourdough; Happy Monk Blog: No-Knead Bread Revisited [ See link in profile ] ...

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Happy Monk Tidings - May 5, 2021 🍞 - Baker's Choice: Whole Wheat and Spelt Pan Loaf; Blog: This Bread You Eat, This Poem You Digest - [ See link in profile ]

Happy Monk Tidings - May 5, 2021 🍞 - Baker's Choice: Whole Wheat and Spelt Pan Loaf; Blog: This Bread You Eat, This Poem You Digest - [ See link in profile ] ...

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Happy Monk Tidings - April 28, 2021 🍞 - Happy Monk Blog Redux: Life in small-town Burgundy: The French Factor; Bread of the Week: Baker's Choice, Purple Barley Bread, PLUS return of the mighty Seed Feast [ See Link in Profile ]

Happy Monk Tidings - April 28, 2021 🍞 - Happy Monk Blog Redux: Life in small-town Burgundy: The French Factor; Bread of the Week: Baker's Choice, Purple Barley Bread, PLUS return of the mighty Seed Feast [ See Link in Profile ] ...

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Happy Monk Tidings - April 21, 2021 🍞 – Happy Monk Blog: Read about one of my greatest bread teachers: “A Bread Teacher With No Recipe” Also: This week’s Baker’s Choice: Danish Black Rye Bread.
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[ See link in Profile ]
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#teachers #breadteachers #bread #breadlove #breadlife #norecipe #happymonkbaking #happymonkbaker #happymonkbakery #penderisland #southpenderisland

Happy Monk Tidings - April 21, 2021 🍞 – Happy Monk Blog: Read about one of my greatest bread teachers: “A Bread Teacher With No Recipe” Also: This week’s Baker’s Choice: Danish Black Rye Bread.
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[ See link in Profile ]
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#teachers #breadteachers #bread #breadlove #breadlife #norecipe #happymonkbaking #happymonkbaker #happymonkbakery #penderisland #southpenderisland
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G&T and HT - C’est necessaire after a long day and night at the Happy Monk Baking Company.
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#ginandtonic #gin #G&T #BoundaryPass #SouthPender #SouthPenderIsland #HappyMonkBakery #HappyMonkBaking #HappyMonkBaker #cestnecessaire #cestnécessaire #cestnecessaire😍

G&T and HT - C’est necessaire after a long day and night at the Happy Monk Baking Company.
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#ginandtonic #gin #G&T #BoundaryPass #SouthPender #SouthPenderIsland #HappyMonkBakery #HappyMonkBaking #HappyMonkBaker #cestnecessaire #cestnécessaire #cestnecessaire😍
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4 thoughts on “Bread and “Les Canotiers de la Meurthe”

  1. […] context. We can see it as a means of bringing us closer to others at the dinner table (as in the boaters in “Les Canotiers de la Meurthe”). It can remind of us our love and humanity, as I often see when people pick up their loaves and […]

    1. I don’t know if the happy monk is keeping track, but when I remember in time I weigh my fresh loaves. Practically every loaf, Salish or otherwise, hovers in the kilo-range, most greater than, a few nearly a “ki”. Still, I have to restrain myself from finishing-them-off before Replacement-Friday.

      1. Thanks for comment, Mr. Leathersmithe! Good point!

        The Salish Sourdough is scaled at around 1,055 grams, so it will be about a kilo when baked. The mighty Seed Feast is mighty, partly because the dough is scaled at 1,395g. So it weighs a little less out of the oven. Baker’s Choice weights are variable and are often scaled based on cost of goods … but the aim is to shoot for one kilo of dough.

        Some people think the loaves are too big. But a Happy Monk needs to be happy, which means eating lots of bread.

  2. […] Bread and “Les Canotiers de la Meurthe” […]

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