Thursday, July 19, 2007

Faith Works 7-28-07
Jeff Gill

Kneading a Symbol

On the south side of Courthouse Square, Great Harvest Bread Company offers their wares, mostly baked.

The Little Guy always badgers me to go in, which we usually do when he’s in tow and I’m heading just above them to the Licking County Coalition for Housing (did I mention they have a golf event Aug. 25 at Raccoon Int’l? No? Well, there we are . . .).

Smells are free, as are slices, which is my son’s primary motivation, but he wants to take a loaf home. The choice, though, can take . . . OK, I won’t run the risk of exaggerating, but it does seem quite a while.

I’ll ask him what he thinks Mom would like, which can be a struggle to translate into “what I like, but she probably would, wouldn’t she?” Fortunately for him, the Lovely Wife likes pretty much anything that’s a baked good.

(When I mentioned to her that some had been grousing about the trend at many Farmer’s Markets to have a predominance of baked goods instead of produce, she replied “And the problem is?”)

The very kind lady behind the counter, quick to cut a slice even before you ask, knows her whole grains and semolinas and yeast varieties. I do not, but bread as a final product is of interest to pretty much anyone who likes to eat and thinks a bit about what it is they’re putting in their mouths.

They had some pepperoni rolls that day, which she admitted were rolled up and baked around sliced discs of pepperoni sausage; I told her about Fairmont, West Virginia, where we lived when LG was born, proudly home of the pepperoni roll. The claim there is that it was an ideal way to make lunch for coal miners, indestructible and easy to eat in the dark with dirty hands. Their pepperoni was not in slices, but in rods, square lengths of sausage, three in each hand-sized pepperoni roll, and a rugged crust.

She replied with the Cornish pastie, a dough round flipped over a stuffing of ground meat, carrots, nowadays celery, but traditionally with cubed rutabaga. I’d had pasties at Mackinac City, where a restaurant and museum honor the Cornish and Devon ironworkers who 50 years ago this summer built the Mackinac Straits Bridge, “Mighty Mac.” (And I learned when I got home and checked on-line that it burned down two years ago, but is being newly raised out on the edge of Mackinac City just in time for the golden anniversary celebrations!)

The Little Guy finally came up with Cinnamon Chip Loaf, a hunk of bread about the size and shape of his head, but softer. The label says “great for French toast,” but dipping this stuff in batter and frying it seems redundant. We just slice it and eat it.

Bread was once an everyday part of most households, with mounds of flour on the counter, bowls with rising dough on the sideboard under a tea towel, and often a fresh loaf coming out of the oven, flaking crust and delightful smell covering the kitchen.

Now we see making bread as an artisanal experience, a special event often facilitated by a gadget looking like R2-D2’s little brother next to the food processor, which pops out a globe of admittedly tasty bread.

For most of the religious traditions in Licking County, bread is part of the ceremonial life and at the heart of worship. Some of the immediate power of that presence came from the place bread held in the home, in the everyday: a piece of mild magic summoned up by those you knew well, dough swelling to twice its size and more, crust adjoining soft networks of bubbles outlined in bread, crushable back down to the inevitable pellets made by children around the world from whatever the local specialty.

The staff of life, the most mundane of meals, a trick unveiled on the most important stage of any child’s life, the dinner table. The loaf so lovely and whole, that must be broken and cut and sliced so all may eat.

Making bread can be a religious experience, some say; I’d say that appreciating our daily bread surely is, and getting a bit closer to how it comes to be makes that appreciation turn into actual thankfulness.

Which would be the best thing since, uh, sliced bread.

Jeff Gill is a writer, storyteller, and supply preacher around central Ohio; he’s partial to Irish soda bread, rhapsodies to yeast aside. Share your recipe with him at

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