With Bread: Thoughts on Bread Baking - based on a presentation I did at St. Matthew's for our Faith Formation Class

Bread Baking

Baking helps me remember my past.  My great grandmother, Fiddy who was born the year the Civil War ended, would come every Thursday and she and my Mom would bake the bread we would eat the following week. Often I was given a small amount of dough to knead into a roll but more often than not I would take that dough, go hide in a closet and eat it unbaked.

I have been baking bread since I was in college. I found that when I left home I missed the bread my Mom and Fiddy made, so when I was living in a house with an oven I began baking for my housemates. I never remember being taught how to make bread but after years of watching and being around the process I found that I just knew how to. After college I started a restaurant with some friends and I began baking in earnest.  Since then I have continued to bake for my family and for others.

Baking is a way of being with others.  I have regular customers who come to the Chapel Hill Farmers Market on Saturday and get enough bread to get them through a week. I look forward to seeing them and being a part of their life and the farmer’s market community.

The basic ingredients of bread are simple: flour, water, yeast, and salt.  You can make it sweeter by adding sugar or honey or molasses; you can make it more finely textured by adding oil; you can vary the flavor using different combinations of grains: wheat, corn, barley, rye, buckwheat, or oats; add sweet spices like cinnamon or savory spices like dill or caraway.  You can add nuts or chocolate or dried fruit.  You can add milk instead of water which will make it richer or eggs which will make it lighter.  All over the world people make bread. There are lots and lots of kinds of bread you can make.  You can follow a recipe or make one up. But, in its most basic form, bread is flour, water, yeast, and salt.  However, these ingredients need something that is not bought at a store: bread needs time and bread needs effort.  It takes some time for the yeast to become active and make the dough rise.  And it takes some labor – you must knead the dough to make it strong and stretchy. You can’t hurry it up or take short cuts.

I like making bread because I believe bread is good for you - both your body and your soul.

Sometimes the words we use for something are themselves made of ancient words and have a meaning inside of them that we don’t always know about.  Company is a word like that.  It is made of two words: com (with) and panis (bread).  So the word company means with bread.

Company can be informal - like when you are eating breakfast with your family in pajamas.  Sometimes the word company takes on a more formal nature.  Like when you have company to your house.  Or when you are company and are the guests at someone else’s house.  When you are a guest you often dress up and bring a gift. 

On Sundays, God asks us to visit him.  We do this when we go to church.  Right before communion someone or some family brings the bread and wine which will be used at communion up to the altar to be blessed.  God takes our gifts and gives them back to us.  He is in our company: with bread.  We are in his company: with bread.

One thing I have been thinking about is that this bread and wine that we bring to God are things that have been made.  Bread doesn’t grow on trees. We don’t offer handful of grain, or a sack of flour, or salt, or yeast: we bring bread; we don’t bring grapes, we bring wine. We bring something that we have made or that has been made by someone else: bread and wine.  I think this is true of our own lives as well.  God has given us our lives, but it is up to us to do something with our life.  We have been given talents and gifts and it pleases God when we develop our talents and gifts. 

The words that the priest says at the Eucharist come from the last meal that Jesus had with his disciples. Jesus took the bread that was on the table, thanked God for it, shared it with his friends and said do this in my memory.  Jesus was in the company of God and in the company of his disciples: Jesus was with bread. He asks us to remember him when we eat bread. We are to remember that God is with us, that we are with God, and we are with each other.

So when you make bread or when you eat bread remember whose company you keep and be thankful.

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