By David Dewitt
We make bread fairly often in our household.
“Cooking class” has become part of our homeschool curriculum, but making bread has been a part of our routine for some time.
Finn’s preschool and kindergarten years at Acorn Waldorf School reinforced that with a weekly routine of “bread day,” where the children mill the grain and form their own tiny loaves of bread. Finn often brought home little bread animals he had formed, most often snakes.
A couple of years ago I got inspired to make a sourdough starter from scratch after watching Michael Pollan’s series Cooked. In one of the segments he describes the origins of bread making in ancient Egypt, how yeast is in the air and anyone can make a sourdough starter.
I decided to give it a try. I made a mix of flour and water in a bowl, let it sit for a few days and soon it started to bubble. I was so excited! Then it started to smell a little sour and it didn’t turn colors so that meant it worked!
I have to admit the first time I made bread with it, I was a bit nervous wondering if it was going to make us sick. But I have since heard from others who have made their own starters, that if it goes bad, you’ll know it.
Over two years later the starter is still going strong.
I don’t know how many loaves of bread I’ve made with it but I’ve learned to make two loaves at a time. Because when it comes out of the oven, everyone wants a slice (or two) of warm bread.
You can’t rush bread making. It slows you down and makes you wait.
There’s a lot for a little one to learn in the process.
The measuring. The science. The delayed gratification.
Finn especially enjoys the punching down phase after the dough has risen.
This week we made bread and Finn decided he wanted to do it by himself. There were a few brief moments that required my assistance but for the most part he did it.
I was caught up in the moment watching him turn out the slightly sticky dough onto the floured counter and figuring out how to get into the rhythm of kneading. In a short time he was turning and folding, turning and folding.
It felt like a sort of life passage. “Here he is,” I thought, “becoming comfortable with one of the most ancient forms of cooking. A skill he can use for life.”
Then my thought was interrupted by an even more ancient form of human behavior: playacting.
“Oh hello!” Finn said talking to the dough “Who are you? Who me? Oh, well actually I’m just… AAAHHHH!” he yelled as he raised the dough above his head then smashed it on the counter.
Whoever it was met their demise as he pounded them to smithereens. Then he started the routine over again.
I wonder if the kids in ancient Egypt made bread this way.