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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?

Happy Monk Tidings - Baker's Choice: Pender Island Happy Monk Tidings - Baker's Choice: Pender Island Apple Bread; Happy Monk Blog: A Water World; And Please Note: We're taking a Bread Break for Two Weeks! - [ See link in Profile ]

Happy Monk Tidings - Baker's Choice: Pender Island Apple Bread; Happy Monk Blog: A Water World; And Please Note: We're taking a Bread Break for Two Weeks! - [ See link in Profile ] ...

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Rugbrød going out Sunday morning, for smørrebrød at lunch! For all to enjoy, but especially for my two Danish friends who have been clamouring for this Danish style rye for weeks! And @ellasharpmorton just back from Denmark, triumphant from her artistic conquests and rugbrød in her tummy!
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#rye #ryebread #rugbrød #danishrye #danishryebread #smørrebrød #openfacedsandwich #openfacesandwich #openfacedsandwiches #woodfiredovens #woodfiredbread #woodfiredryebread #breadhead #happymonkbakery #happymonkbaking #happymonkbakingcompany #bbga #southpenderisland #southpender #penderislandbc #penderisland
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Happy Monk Tidings - Baker's Choice: Danish Rye (R Happy Monk Tidings - Baker's Choice: Danish Rye (Rugbrød); My daughter, Ella Morton's art exhibits; Blog Post: Coronavirus in the Sky; PLUS: Wood-fired Oven Update - [ See link in Profile ]

Happy Monk Tidings - Baker's Choice: Danish Rye (Rugbrød); My daughter, Ella Morton's art exhibits; Blog Post: Coronavirus in the Sky; PLUS: Wood-fired Oven Update - [ See link in Profile ] ...

27 1
Happy Tidings from the Happy Monk Baking Company - Happy Tidings from the Happy Monk Baking Company - Baker's Choice: Rye-Currant Pan Loaf; Blog Re-Post: The Island Within; And Mildrith Gratitude - [ See link in profile ]

Happy Tidings from the Happy Monk Baking Company - Baker's Choice: Rye-Currant Pan Loaf; Blog Re-Post: The Island Within; And Mildrith Gratitude - [ See link in profile ] ...

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Pillowy, sesame-flecked loaves of Harvest Bread, o Pillowy, sesame-flecked loaves of Harvest Bread, or Struan Bread by another name. You throw in a little of whatever grain and meal you have, in this case oats, cooked brown rice, cornmeal, drizzle some Pender Island honey, lots of wholegrain flour. And make it with sourdough! A glorious, flavourful loaf, tender. Sublime when eaten hot from the toaster, schmeared with salted butter.
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#struanbread #harvestbread #pillowybread #woodfired #woodfiredoven #woodfiredovenbread #bread #realbread #naturallyleavened #peterreinhart #baker #bakery #bbga #artisanbread #breadhead #sourdough #sourdoughbread #southerngulfislands #southerngulfislandsbakers #southerngulfislandsbakeries #penderisland #southpenderisland #happymonkbaking #happymonkbakery #happymonkbakingcompany

Pillowy, sesame-flecked loaves of Harvest Bread, or Struan Bread by another name. You throw in a little of whatever grain and meal you have, in this case oats, cooked brown rice, cornmeal, drizzle some Pender Island honey, lots of wholegrain flour. And make it with sourdough! A glorious, flavourful loaf, tender. Sublime when eaten hot from the toaster, schmeared with salted butter.
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#struanbread #harvestbread #pillowybread #woodfired #woodfiredoven #woodfiredovenbread #bread #realbread #naturallyleavened #peterreinhart #baker #bakery #bbga #artisanbread #breadhead #sourdough #sourdoughbread #southerngulfislands #southerngulfislandsbakers #southerngulfislandsbakeries #penderisland #southpenderisland #happymonkbaking #happymonkbakery #happymonkbakingcompany
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Happy Monk Tidings - Baker's Choice: Struan Bread; Happy Monk Tidings - Baker's Choice: Struan Bread; Happy Monk Blog: Revisiting Rachel Carson and her landmark Silent Spring - [ See Link in Profile ]

Happy Monk Tidings - Baker's Choice: Struan Bread; Happy Monk Blog: Revisiting Rachel Carson and her landmark Silent Spring - [ See Link in Profile ] ...

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#happymonkbaking Seed Feast!
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#sourdough #sourdoughbread #bread #breadhead #woodfired #woodfiredoven #woodfiredbread #redfife #redfifewheat #seedbread #realbread #bbga
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Thank God for dappled things ... Happy Monk breads Thank God for dappled things ... Happy Monk breads do not involve the death of any trees. The wood used to heat  Mildrith the wood-fired oven comes from wind-fallen trees on Pender Island which are donated by property owners for a tax receipt. They are then bucked and chopped by volunteers of the Green Angel Choppers and sold  to Pender residents for the going rate of $350 for a cord of firewood. Proceeds are then put into worthy community projects, such as funding solar energy panels for the community hall.  The Happy Monk Baking Company is just one stakeholder in a chain of community “pay it forward” endeavor!
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#community #payitforward #happymonkbaking #happymonkbakingcompany #woodfiredovens #woodfiredoven #woodfiredbread #woodfiredhottubs #woodfiredbaking

Thank God for dappled things ... Happy Monk breads do not involve the death of any trees. The wood used to heat Mildrith the wood-fired oven comes from wind-fallen trees on Pender Island which are donated by property owners for a tax receipt. They are then bucked and chopped by volunteers of the Green Angel Choppers and sold to Pender residents for the going rate of $350 for a cord of firewood. Proceeds are then put into worthy community projects, such as funding solar energy panels for the community hall. The Happy Monk Baking Company is just one stakeholder in a chain of community “pay it forward” endeavor!
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#community #payitforward #happymonkbaking #happymonkbakingcompany #woodfiredovens #woodfiredoven #woodfiredbread #woodfiredhottubs #woodfiredbaking
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Happy Monk Tidings - July 29 - Baker's Choice this Happy Monk Tidings - July 29 - Baker's Choice this week: Rye-Buttermilk Loaf; Happy Monk Blog: The Pandemic is Beginning to Leave Its Mark. Again! [ See Link in Profile ]

Happy Monk Tidings - July 29 - Baker's Choice this week: Rye-Buttermilk Loaf; Happy Monk Blog: The Pandemic is Beginning to Leave Its Mark. Again! [ See Link in Profile ] ...

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‘Tis not through envy of thy happy lot, But bei ‘Tis not through envy of thy happy lot,
But being too happy in thine happiness,—
That thou, light-winged Dryad of the trees
In some melodious plot
Of beechen green, and shadows numberless,
Singest of summer in full-throated ease.
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#johnkeats #johnkeatspoems #odetoanightingale #summer #poetry

‘Tis not through envy of thy happy lot,
But being too happy in thine happiness,—
That thou, light-winged Dryad of the trees
In some melodious plot
Of beechen green, and shadows numberless,
Singest of summer in full-throated ease.
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#johnkeats #johnkeatspoems #odetoanightingale #summer #poetry
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Spelt-Honey loaves get a dose of Barry’s Bees ho Spelt-Honey loaves get a dose of Barry’s Bees honey for tomorrow’s Baker’s Choice bread. This is really delicious honey and it comes from our fair Pender Isle! Beautiful aroma and subtle flower taste!  Can’t wait to start pulling these loaves out of Mildrith, the wood-fired oven!
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#honey #honeybread #spelt #speltbread #sourdough #sourdoughbread #artisanbread #woodfiredoven #woodfiredovenbread #bread #baker #bakery #bbga #realbread #breadhead #penderisland #southpenderisland #happymonkbaking #happymonkbakery #happymonkbakingcompany

Spelt-Honey loaves get a dose of Barry’s Bees honey for tomorrow’s Baker’s Choice bread. This is really delicious honey and it comes from our fair Pender Isle! Beautiful aroma and subtle flower taste! Can’t wait to start pulling these loaves out of Mildrith, the wood-fired oven!
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#honey #honeybread #spelt #speltbread #sourdough #sourdoughbread #artisanbread #woodfiredoven #woodfiredovenbread #bread #baker #bakery #bbga #realbread #breadhead #penderisland #southpenderisland #happymonkbaking #happymonkbakery #happymonkbakingcompany
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Happy Monk Tidings - This week's Baker's Choice: Spelt and Honey Loaf, featuring Barry's Bees Honey!; And Blog Excerpt: Confessions of a Would-Be Baker [ See Link in Profile ] ...

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Happy Monk Tidings: Baker's Choice: Mountain Rye f Happy Monk Tidings: Baker's Choice: Mountain Rye for the rye aficionados and the Happy Monk Blog: This Living Rock Island - [ See link in profile ]

Happy Monk Tidings: Baker's Choice: Mountain Rye for the rye aficionados and the Happy Monk Blog: This Living Rock Island - [ See link in profile ] ...

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The signature of a real wood-fired oven, written o The signature of a real wood-fired oven, written on the backside of a Salish Sourdough loaf from last week. You can see the rectangular impressions of the hearth firebricks. This is as good as a certificate of authenticity, made by Mildrith and the Happy Monk, South Pender Island!😃 you won’t see it in pan loaves, though. Look for it next time you open up a bag of HM bread! 
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#woodfired #woodfiredoven #woodfiredovenbread #bread #realbread #naturallyleavened #baker #bakery #bbga #artisanbread #breadhead #sourdough #sourdoughbread #penderisland #southpenderisland #happymonkbaking #happymonkbakery #happymonkbakingcompany

The signature of a real wood-fired oven, written on the backside of a Salish Sourdough loaf from last week. You can see the rectangular impressions of the hearth firebricks. This is as good as a certificate of authenticity, made by Mildrith and the Happy Monk, South Pender Island!😃 you won’t see it in pan loaves, though. Look for it next time you open up a bag of HM bread!
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#woodfired #woodfiredoven #woodfiredovenbread #bread #realbread #naturallyleavened #baker #bakery #bbga #artisanbread #breadhead #sourdough #sourdoughbread #penderisland #southpenderisland #happymonkbaking #happymonkbakery #happymonkbakingcompany
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Sourdough Pan Loaf raised on a pedestal.
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#woodfired #woodfiredoven #woodfiredovenbread #bread #realbread #naturallyleavened #baker #bakery #bbga #artisanbread #breadhead #sourdough #sourdoughbread #sandwichloaf #panloaf #penderisland #southpenderisland #happymonkbaking #happymonkbakery #happymonkbakingcompany
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Olive Loaf, with a couple of Kalamatas winking at Olive Loaf, with a couple of Kalamatas winking at you from the crust. .
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#woodfired #woodfiredoven #woodfiredovenbread #bread #realbread #naturallyleavened #baker #bakery #bbga #artisanbread #breadhead #olives #olivebread #sourdough #sourdoughbread #penderisland #southpenderisland #happymonkbaking #happymonkbakery #happymonkbakingcompany

Olive Loaf, with a couple of Kalamatas winking at you from the crust. .
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#woodfired #woodfiredoven #woodfiredovenbread #bread #realbread #naturallyleavened #baker #bakery #bbga #artisanbread #breadhead #olives #olivebread #sourdough #sourdoughbread #penderisland #southpenderisland #happymonkbaking #happymonkbakery #happymonkbakingcompany
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Inside Mildrith yesterday morning, 11 Salish Sourd Inside Mildrith yesterday morning, 11 Salish Sourdoughs risen and baked exuberantly to a luscious golden colour. The oven had baked two loads previously and it’s still just shy of 500ºF in there. She’s my inanimate love with a soul!
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#woodfired #woodfiredoven #woodfiredovenbread #bread #realbread #naturallyleavened #baker #bakery #bbga #artisanbread #breadhead #sourdough #sourdoughbread #penderisland #southpenderisland #happymonkbaking #happymonkbakery #happymonkbakingcompany

Inside Mildrith yesterday morning, 11 Salish Sourdoughs risen and baked exuberantly to a luscious golden colour. The oven had baked two loads previously and it’s still just shy of 500ºF in there. She’s my inanimate love with a soul!
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#woodfired #woodfiredoven #woodfiredovenbread #bread #realbread #naturallyleavened #baker #bakery #bbga #artisanbread #breadhead #sourdough #sourdoughbread #penderisland #southpenderisland #happymonkbaking #happymonkbakery #happymonkbakingcompany
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100% Rye with Currants, a happy loaf to enjoy on t 100% Rye with Currants, a happy loaf to enjoy on this day of rest. .
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#woodfired #woodfiredoven #woodfiredovenbread #sourdough #sourdoughbaking #sourdoughbread #rye #ryebread #ryebaking #ryecurrantbread #southpender #southpenderisland #southerngulfislands #southerngulfislandsbc #penderisland #happymonkbaking #happymonkbakingcompany #happymonkbakery #bbga

100% Rye with Currants, a happy loaf to enjoy on this day of rest. .
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#woodfired #woodfiredoven #woodfiredovenbread #sourdough #sourdoughbaking #sourdoughbread #rye #ryebread #ryebaking #ryecurrantbread #southpender #southpenderisland #southerngulfislands #southerngulfislandsbc #penderisland #happymonkbaking #happymonkbakingcompany #happymonkbakery #bbga
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3 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.

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