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Mildrith’s Body of Miracles

Mildrith’s weekly body of miracles

Mildrith, the wood-fired oven, welcomed her first load of bread when the morning was still dark. It’s dawn now, three batches later, and I’m opening the oven doors on what may be the last one of the day. Sunlight is beginning to wink at me through the fence.

There’s a bit of warm colour on the loaves closest to the doors, deeper brown on the loaves in the back. They’re about 210ºF internal temperature. The walls of the oven are 420ºF.

Yep, these loaves are baked. Ain’t no more colour gonna happen on these ones. Mildrith’s work is finished. She’s done it again! Another successful bake.

Pillowy loaves of gold and brown

To me, it’s a miracle that this seemingly inert mass of clay, straw and fire brick has just baked 64 loaves of bread. Big, brown, pillowy loaves of gold and brown have emerged and suffused the air around her with luscious smells that roil the stomach juices.

Above all, the whole thing is a miracle! Mixing three simple ingredients at base (freshly-milled flour, water and salt), throwing the dough mass into the oven and pulling out something entirely different, something that could never have been predicted with those three ingredients.

What about yeast, you ask? Flour and water, fermented as sourdough and turned into natural yeast. Refreshed every day with more flour and water, cultivating the natural enzymes and bacteria that produce leavening. It’s that leavening that receives a giant boost from the heat inside the wood-fired oven.

The taste, too, has nothing to do with the floury, grainy, adulterated stuff that comes in plastic bags that line the grocery store shelves. Here is real bread!

These three humble ingredients, in some alchemy, transform themselves in the wood-fired heat of Mildrith into what we call “the staff of life!”

I named her Mildrith

St. Mildred-Upon-Thanet

I named her Mildrith and thought it a bit of a lark. But the name stuck and is appropriate for the weekly transformative miracles she performs.

Mildrith is close to the Old English pronunciation of the more contemporary name, Mildred.

She’s known as St. Mildred-upon-Thanet. As legend has it, she was the daughter of an Anglo-Saxon king and an abbess who lived, in the early 700s, in the Kingdom of Mercia (south of England). Her parents sent her to France for religious education.

‘The fairest lily of the English’

A French nobleman asked for her hand in marriage. But Mildred, who was described as “the fairest lily of the English 1” rejected him.

The abbess of the convent implored her to accept. Mildred was having nothing of it. They argued, then fought. In their struggle, the abbess threw her in the warming oven and locked the doors.

After three hours, the abbess opened the doors, expecting to see ashes. Mildrith was standing there, unscathed and radiant, and walked out past the abbess.

The nuns and other faithful venerated Mildrith as a saint. Still, the abbess continued to abuse her, kicking and scratching her. In one exchange, she tore out a handful of Mildrith’s hair.

Mildrith was able to send her mother a letter, enclosing some of the hair torn from her head. Her mother, Queen Ermenburga, immediately sent ships to fetch her daughter. She returned to her village of Minster-in-Thanet in Kent and eventually became an abbess herself.

5,000 loaves

I think I’m a kinder patron than the Abbess of Chelles if I say so myself. I have welcomed well over 5,000 loaf miracles from Mildrith’s doors. And each one has marched past me, warm, beautiful and radiant, into the adoring hands of Happy Monk adherents.

I’m not a religious baker, but I’ll say it anyway:

“Bless you, Mildrith!”


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Lo! The mighty Seed Feast! Favoured by Happy Monk customers the Pender Islands over! These loaves, just rolled out of Mildrith, are hot and fragrant with seeds, nuttiness and bready wholesome-ness. O for a steamy slice and a schmear of butter! That I may eat “and leave the world unseen, and with thee fade away into the forest dim.” (Apologies to the ghost of John Keats).
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Lo! The mighty Seed Feast! Favoured by Happy Monk customers the Pender Islands over! These loaves, just rolled out of Mildrith, are hot and fragrant with seeds, nuttiness and bready wholesome-ness. O for a steamy slice and a schmear of butter! That I may eat “and leave the world unseen, and with thee fade away into the forest dim.” (Apologies to the ghost of John Keats).
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  1. Goscelin, the French monk and hagiographer, described her thus.

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