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Blessed

Most days, making bread happens by rote, with a tight schedule of measuring, mixing, shaping, and baking. My mind can be tranquil while my hands are a blur, punching and kneading the dough. Or slicing off chunks with the bench knife, balancing them on the weigh scale, and turning them into sensuous rounds.

Not much distracts me from this sort of reverie. Music or podcasts might be pleasant additions, but I’m likely to turn them off if they take me too far away from the dough. A big spill or a measuring mistake can pull me off my game, but the quiet mind is never far away.

I bake the loaves early, through first light and morning birdsong. Hands working in a blur again, turning rounds of dough out onto the bakers’ peel, brushing off loose flour, scoring and loading them into the oven. I work fast to conserve Mildrith’s heat. 1

Into the oven

It’s hard to let go once the oven doors are closed for the bake! The bread is out of my hands, but there is a nagging sense that it could still wobble and fall, over-bake or blacken into a lump of coal. Making coffee can distract me, but my mind is still on the dough.

Then, behold the miracle as the loaves emerge, golden, brown, charred along the score lines, radiating delicious heat and heady aroma. They crackle and sing on the sheet pans as I carry them inside the house.

A miracle of transformation, a blessing of sustenance, the bread “raising its radiance to the moon!” 2

It’s just a loaf of bread

It may seem gaudy, these allusions to miracle, blessing and sustenance in making bread. As if it’s an act of priesthood or artistry when we’re talking about something as unpretentious as a loaf of bread.

But when I hand a still-warm loaf to a customer, see them embrace it, and hold it close to their tummy, I’m pleased they feel the same connection to bread as I do. They may open the bag and breathe in the aroma or explain that a pot of soup is waiting on the stove and they want to hurry home to lunch. Or could they have an extra loaf to give as a gift to a friend?

The bread is an offering to the table, family or friends gathered around. A humble offering, the staff of life is universally recognized and valued. It rises as grain from the earth, is milled by the miller and baked by the baker. So many transformations, there really is a sense of the miraculous!

Reverence

Richard Levine’s “Bread” poem captures this reverence for bread. It’s about these transformations that hint at something mystical. 

Bread

Each night, in a space he’d make
between waking and purpose,
my grandfather donned his one
suit, in our still dark house, and drove
through Brooklyn’s deserted streets
following trolley tracks to the bakery.

There he’d change into white
linen work clothes and cap,
and in the absence of women,
his hands were both loving, well
into dawn and throughout the day—
kneading, rolling out, shaping

each astonishing moment
of yeasty predictability
in that windowless world lit
by slightly swaying naked bulbs,
where the shadows staggered, woozy
with the aromatic warmth of the work.

Then, the suit and drive, again.
At our table, graced by a loaf
that steamed when we sliced it,
softened the butter and leavened
the very air we’d breathe,
he’d count us blessed.

Poem copyright ©2012 by Richard Levine from his collection, A Tide of a Hundred Mountains, Bright Hill Press. “Bread” is reprinted here with Mr. Levine’s permission. This poem, as well as others, can be viewed on the Poetry Foundation website.

It’s a startling poem! The grandfather, changing into his baker whites, transforms into a kind of monk or sorcerer in his white linen work clothes (“in the absence of women”).

Blessed

The bakery is an ethereal world lit by swaying naked bulbs, “woozy with the aromatic warmth of the work.” And the dough that is kneaded, rolled and shaped at the bakery transforms into a loaf at his family’s table that steams and softens the butter and “leavens the very air we’d breathe.”

And inspires the simple benediction at the end, that the table and those around it … are blessed.


Richard Levine is a New York-based poet, retired teacher, ex-soldier and activist who has published numerous poetry collections and chapbooks. You can read more about him, including more of his poems, at the Richard Levine website.


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#woodfired #woodfiredoven #woodfiredovenbread #bread #realbread #naturallyleavened #baker #bakery #bbga #artisanbread #breadhead #breadmaking #breadmaking🍞 #sourdough #sourdoughbread #rusticbread, #breadhead, #coboven #earthoven #earthenoven #penderisland #southpenderisland #happymonkbaking #happymonkbakery #happymonkbakingcompany #southerngulfislands #southerngulfislandsbakers #southerngulfislandsbakeries #penderisland

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Post to The Happy Monk Baking Company
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Post to The Happy Monk Baking Company
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  1. Mildrith, the wood-fired cob oven and mother-muse-saint of the Happy Monk Baking Company. Read more about Mildrith here, and how she was built here.

  2. Quote from W.S. Merwin’s poem, “Bread

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