Today is Lughnasadh, the ancient Celtic celebration honoring the first harvest. One of the 8 holy days in the Wheel of the Year. Today my loaves and bagels came out beautiful, despite my worries about my dough yesterday. For this harvest and the “dough” it will bring me, I give thanks.
I’ve been participating in the process of wheat harvest and bread making my entire existence. Picking the rocks from the fields, watching the soil being tilled, tasting the gritty dust between my teeth, witnessing the wheat quietly grow under its blanket of snow on my winding path to the school bus on frosty winter mornings. Sensing the energy of earthly excitement as the stalks shot up when the earth sprang forth from the deep sleep of winter and spring brought the warmth of the hot Okanogan Valley sun. The wind rustling through the golden shafts and the smell of desert rain as it fell in the dusty August days. Visions of my dad, kerchief tied around his face, while driving the combine harvester. Diving into the piles of grain, and feeling it slide into my jeans, the husks scratching my young body as I snuck out of the granaries we were forbidden from playing in to quietly pursue the new kittens the wild barn cats had just borne. The tractor was the first vehicle I steered in this world, and the sound of flour being milled, smell of sharpie as my dad scratched “Hard Red Winter Wheat” onto a sack and hefted it onto the truck, will be forever in my memory.
In over 30 years I’ve baked hundreds, perhaps thousands of loaves of bread. While the warmth of the fresh loaf brought delight to all who could smell and taste it, slathered in rich creamy butter, I always felt like I was missing something… an elusive experience that I couldn’t get my finger on. As I branched out of the whole wheat bread my mom taught me to make and began experimenting with Italian country breads, sourdough English muffins, yeasted dinner rolls, rye, multigrain, soft white, milk bread and so many more, the ingredients and techniques became more elaborate and yet, while the results were delicious, that sense of something just out of reach pervaded. A few years ago, when I began (for the second time) to experiment with wild yeast and finally the long slow leaven process, I realized what I was searching for. The ancient technique of mixing flour and water and nursing along a colony of bacteria answered my need. The complexities of flavor that can come of this simple yet precise process are miles apart from that of a commercially grown dry yeast. Indeed it feels like magic to take that flour and water and, in a symbiotic fashion, create a beautiful bread. Every loaf is its own life form!
Prior to the pandemic, my friends would ask me to sell them bread but I always baked it to give it away because it brings me such joy to do so and it felt right to share the generosity of the organisms that I partner with, in this ongoing collaboration. And today, as I bake bread for sale, I can thank the Rona for bringing me this joyful way of turning this lifelong experience into one of the streams of money that feeds and houses my little family. We never really know where life will lead, but it seems that looking back, I can trace this path so clearly.