Tuesday, 2 October 2012

Breadmaking, a trilogy (3)

 While teaching a ceramic workshop in Ireland, 
and while we were waiting for pots to dry for firing
i thought it would be good to spend a day in a similar activity
that of bread making.
since we were going to be outside firing a wood kiln
the electric kiln was utilised for our bread making
the ceramic department never smelled so sweet
 Meanwhile, let’s have a sip of tea. The afternoon glow is brightening the trunks of the birch trees with dappled shade, the sprinkler rains delight upon the vegetable garden, the soughing of pines is heard in the kettle on the boil. Let us dream a little, in this,  the present moment, and linger on the beautiful romantics of things.  

The Poet and Baker both nourish the world

A few weeks ago, after my story about making bread, a friend caught me buying a loaf in town. “Why are you buying bread?” was the question. That day instead of eating bread, I had to eat my words.

When recently, I took my latest loaf of bread from the oven the thought of: ‘I have finally arrived’ came about spontaneously and to my own surprise. This after years of messing around with dough. I thought the bread was finally right. I had achieved something with it. An ease of making.

The bread was beyond my wildest expectations and was the result of once again going back to the source, which was the use of basic food stuffs and the pure pleasure of creating beautiful things to eat. Bread in this case. Baked in a simple manner. No bread making machines. No bread making mix. The enjoyment and pleasures associated with wood-heated oven cooking. Attending the most basic expression of the ancient craft. However this time the bread had not been enhanced with fancy ingredients. Just an expression of the making and cooking of a strong and simple loaf.

Not long after this event took place, I attended a talk by Richard Perry on the meditative qualities of the Japanese Tea Bowl. As part of his presentation he showed a bowl which, in Japan, is regarded as a national treasure. Its title was ‘Fuji-san’ Fuji Mountain. A simple, and at the same time complex, Shino bowl. Its Beauty in its simplicity. My last loaf of bread, and I say this in all modesty, has a hint of a similar quality.

During Richard’s presentation, I recalled that my initial bread making, some thirty years ago, was originally inspired by traditional bread makers with their wood-heated ovens, which I had learned about as a result of my travels in Europe. Plus an initial interest in, don’t be surprised to see this in relation to bread making, Zen Buddhism. All this came back to me when Richard mentioned the concept of: ‘a good bowl leads the mind inward and outward’. Which I interpreted as: ‘A good loaf nourishes the inner and outer being’.

It was this last thought that made my bread making clear, even though I did not know this at the time. It has always been my intention to create objects of meditative quality. Now, as a consequence of attending the talk, I realised that I, as a baker also, have been practicing my skills and making bread in such a way that it has become an activity of simple yet universal proportions.

I feel that I have arrived, at the end of a seemingly circular journey, where I started. With, at the start of this journey not knowing anything and at the end knowing only that which is expressed in a simple loaf. A thing of beauty. A bit like a tree which finds itself all of a sudden, and to its own surprise, with blossoms and fruit. And the continuation of that journey now becoming one of producing more fruits and, consequently, seeds. The seeds for more bread-making. The seeds of meditation. The seeds of continuation.

The latest loaves then, which I took out of the oven this year, provided me with a stronger consideration of ‘the loaf of bread as one of the most beautiful meditative objects’. A loaf to get lost in, a loaf to lead the mind inward and outward. The reason why this thinking is somewhat difficult to appreciate for the layman is most probably because it is best appreciated in stillness, something our society of noise and speed does not do too well. A way of looking and consideration that is not a quality that has come with industrialisation, an event which also seems to have send the concepts of elegance and refinement of food, actions and manners out of the door. However, even people without the consideration of ‘quietly observing’ seem in the main intrigued by both the quietness and strength of a simple loaf resting on a flour dusted wooden table.

The loaves, finely made, are decorated, with and without intention, by the flames/heat of the fire. As the baker I have used the dough and the fire to tell the story of its making, plus that something extra.

In essence I hope to express, through this bread making, the delightfulness of that which exists. The pleasure of making beautiful things by hand and the expression of relatively simple skills to make wholesome food.




  1. We are so used to accumulating, Petrus, aren't we, and so used to the notion of increase, and to a goal, that we forget all about the moment we're in and forget all about that moment's qualities, and we forget that a beautifully baked loaf of bread, appreciated now, is likely to be far more valuable to us than our illusionary, imaginary aims.
    No wonder the world is got so sick.

  2. Good explanation and photos, Perfect Japanese Design.
    Here, a gallery in Paris, which has nice japanese art pieces:
    Yakimono Japanese Ceramics

  3. Dear Petrus,
    This sounds like a coincidence but I am reading this post while sitting in the kitchen, waiting for my own loaf of bread to finish baking.
    Baking bread assails the senses too. Gazing on its loveliness as it comes forth from the oven, tapping the underside in the hope of hearing that hollow-ness that means it is ready,. Then there is the smell of freshly baked bread which surrounds me with a cloud of homeliness and peace, even if just for a few moments. The feel of newly baked bread is something as well. It is rough, primeval in its texture. The taste of home made bread is wonderful. Since regularly making bread for about a year now I feel I never want to go back to shop bought...
    I like reading your blog.

  4. your words about bread, good, simple, real bread brought to mind two things, the bread i used to make each week along with goat cheese; and the coyotes that called a tiny while ago. coyotes, bread, wood ovens, simple things really. beautiful.