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Stones for Bread Stones for Bread by Christa Parrish
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“Do everything as if unto the Lord. Offer up everything as if for the Lord, including jars of olives to the food pantry or leftover loaves of bread. Years later, that's finally how I make sense of it, where it settles out for me. If Jesus knocks on my door today, will I rummage through my home and give him the food I don't like, the outgrown jackets with stains and a broken zipper, the dirty Crock-Pot in the basement, the one with the chipped lid and mice nesting inside I've yet to find time to toss into the Salvation Army's dumpster?”
Christa Parrish, Stones for Bread
“But then Oma tells me of bread, of the six hundred kinds made throughout her homeland, white and gray and black in color. Loaves heavy with pumpkin seeds. Pumpernickel. Rye. All with long, dense names like 'Sonnenblumenkernbrot' and 'Roggenmischbrot'. Each word is music to her. She has never eaten a tinned bread bagged in plastic with a little twist tie, a pride she wears all over. 'It matters,' she tells me. 'Wes Brot ich ess, des Lied ich sing.'
Whose bread I eat, his song I sing.”
Christa Parrish, Stones for Bread
“I keep notations, like my mother. She had notebook after notebook of trials and errors, all written in her perfect penmanship on quad-ruled pages, a square for each letter to nest in. My journal is a thick black hardcover with unlined pages. Like her, I'm a technician, a statistician, copiously documenting slight variations in texture, color, taste. I'm a chemist. A quarter cup of rye flour added to the white wheat gives a sweeter flavor. A half teaspoon more salt and 78 percent hydration of the dough result in those coveted large, irregular rooms in the crumb. Mastering formulas, not recipes, in the quest for the perfect loaf. Xavier tells me not to bother. He doesn't believe in perfection. "Forget the ingredients. Forget the environment. 'You' are different each day. You can't replicate yourself. Your hands are stronger, or weaker. Your mind thinks different thoughts while kneading. Life is all over you, changing you. All that goes into the making comes out in the bread. It won't be the same from one batch to the next. Not ever."
"It'll be close, though."
"Close only counts in horseshoes and hand grenades."
He's the artist. He makes me brave enough to try. With his encouragement, I've focused on the creativity of bread, writing my own recipes, exploring nontraditional flavors and shapes. Not all of them turn out well, but he tastes my failures with me, with layers of warm butter.”
Christa Parrish, Stones for Bread
“Cecelia and Seamus both have a day off, Columbus Day, and I invite them to the bakehouse for... well, for no reason in particular at all. They show up mid afternoon while my hands are varnished with molasses and rye because I have it in my mind to tweak my mother's pumpernickel formulas. While I respect dark breads, I'm not a particular fan of eating them. I know I should offer the classic at least weekly, though, so I first find and then photocopy the pages in my mother's journals where she'd kept notes about her adventures in pumpernickel bread. She has three versions- one using the crumbs of stale rye bread, one with a hint of cocoa powder, and one featuring a commercial yeast booster- all of them with ingredients I want for my own version, and also with this and that I plan to eliminate.”
Christa Parrish, Stones for Bread
“Sourdough isn't only for bread. Any grain-based baked good- from crackers to waffles, from muffins to pasta, can be made with a wild yeast starter. Why would the home baker want to incorporate sourdough into their regular baking? First, it's an excellent way to use the starter you remove during feedings. Instead of throwing the excess in the trash, add it to your pancake batter or chocolate chip cookies. Second, a sourdough starter is an ecosystem of wild yeasts and beneficial bacteria that work together to add B-vitamins to grains, to break down gluten for better digestion, and to neutralize phytic acid and enzyme inhibitors. In other words, it's good for you. And finally, because sourdough eventually becomes a way of life. Experimenting with different ways of using it is one of the most satisfying aspects of using wild yeast in your kitchen.”
Christa Parrish, Stones for Bread
“Jude smiles and explains things much more personably than I, slicing and toasting thick pillows of cinnamon-coated raisin and offering that to people, topped with a pool of melted cultured butter, fresh from the farm down the way. The day tourists find this quaint; the green eaters, sustainable and local; and the rest happy to have something sweet now that the sticky buns are gone. Everyone is smiling, and I wonder if Jude can also turn water into some sort of fermented beverage.”
Christa Parrish, Stones for Bread
“Christstollen.
I can shake away thoughts of favorite gifts and trips to Oma's house and building snowmen with Santa hats every Christmas Eve, as long as enough snow covered the ground. But my mother's stollen won't fall off as easily. She made it for my father; he ate the first piece with cream cheese at breakfast while I had bacon and chocolate chip pancakes and my mother drank her special amaretto tea.
The recipe is there, tucked in her recipe box, the index card translucent in places from butter stains. I hold it in my hand, considering, reading the ingredients and pawing through the cupboards and pantry. We have raisins and a bag of dried cranberries from last year's Christmas baking. There's a wrinkled orange in the fruit bin, a couple plastic packets of lemon juice that came with one of my father's fish and chips take-out orders. No marzipan, almonds, candied fruit, or mace. I'll be up all night. It's too much effort. But the card won't seem to leave my hand. So I start, soaking the fruit and preparing the sponge.”
Christa Parrish, Stones for Bread
“The twelve stay.
They eat a final meal with Jesus, and with his hands he tears the unleavened bread and holds it up to them. 'This is my body,' he says. 'Remember me.' And he tells Simon that the adversary has asked to sift them all like wheat, but their faith will be restored. The next day the Christ is lifted up at Golgotha, nailed to a tree, dead before sunset. And when his Spirit leaves him, the temple curtain rends, a veil between God and man. Left exposed in the holiest place is the ark of the covenant, and in that, the manna given to the Hebrews in the desert, life-giving for those who ate of it, but only for a short while here on this earth. And the people remember his words on the shore of Capernaum: 'Your fathers ate the manna in the wilderness, and they died. This is the bread that comes down from heaven, so that one may eat of it and not die. I am the living bread that came down from heaven. If anyone eats of this bread, he will live forever. And the bread that I will give for the life of the world is my flesh.'
His body, crucified, given for them so they may taste eternity.
Three days later, resurrected, so those who believe can come to his banquet table and be filled.
His followers obey. They devote themselves to the breaking of the bread. They remember him each time they eat of it, and offer thanks. They are sustained in the world and rescued from the world because God became man, and man became bread.”
Christa Parrish, Stones for Bread
“Now it's time to reveal the secret ingredient to be included in our second type of bread. This can be made of any type of dough, but must prominently feature whatever is in this basket."
The crowd hushes and he opens the lid, removes two containers, and holds them in the air so all can see. "Chèvre," he declares. "Goat cheese."
Jude looks at me. "What a joke. I thought you would get something good, like sour gummy worms or turkey feet or something."
Jonathan speaks to the camera as he works a new lump of dough, explaining how he's using the same base formula as his baguettes, but adding the sweet twist of maple syrup and apples.”
Christa Parrish, Stones for Bread
“What's on the menu for tomorrow?" I ask.
"Celery root soup with bacon and green apple. And bean and Swiss chard."
"Why don't you ever do something normal, like chicken noodle?" Gretchen asks.
"If you want that, buy a can," Tee says, stirring the creamy goodness in her speckled enamelware pot.
Gretchen begins preparing for the morning. I hover, watching, though by now she knows what to do. She'll make the dough for the soup boules, challahs, sticky buns, and Friday's featured sandwich loaf, cinnamon raisin. I start the poolish- a pre-fermented dough- for my own seven-grain Rustica as she weighs the flour and fills the stand mixer. The machine wheezes, rocking a little too much, as it spins the ingredients together. It's old and will need to be replaced soon. Vintage, Gretchen calls it.”
Christa Parrish, Stones for Bread
“I ask him to pull the buttermilk sourdough; I'd taken several of my wet starters, fed them vigorously yesterday, and created three different dough variations early this morning, giving them time to rise. "The green bowl."
"Yeah, okay," he grumbles.
"And I'll take care of the onions," Xavier says. "Why do you need them?"
"Ciabatta," Jude says.
"Dough." I point to the door. He goes and I show Xavier the container of goat cheese. "I need something splashy. I thought a caramelized onion and Chèvre ciabatta."
"Using the buttermilk starter as a base?"
"I consistently get the biggest rooms with it."
"You need a third ingredient, I think. Apricots?"
I nod toward the other table. "Scott's going sweet already. I'll stay savory for contrast. Sun-dried tomato?"
"Meh. Expected.”
Christa Parrish, Stones for Bread
“I shape the dough, all of these boules. The plain Wild Rise sourdough, though nothing about it can be considered plain- it's simply unadorned to spotlight the complex flavors- is left to proof in bannetons, the coiled willow of the basket leaving its distinctive pattern on the crust even after baking. The dark, earthy Farmhouse miche is freestanding boule, nearly four pounds, formed and left on linen 'couches.' I chop ripe pears and knead those into the third dough, along with cardamom and fresh ginger, to make the Spiced Anjou. Tomorrow I'll add a candied pear slice to the top, to bake into the crust- Xavier's idea. And finally the Sweet Chèvre, with its sharp goat cheese and fig filling.”
Christa Parrish, Stones for Bread
“Yeast. The word comes to us through Old English, from the Indo-European root 'yes'- meaning boil, foam, bubble. It does all those things, and more. And would it not be the Egyptians, who construct the largest, most sophisticated buildings in the land, to also harness the tiniest microbe?
Of course, they know nothing of yeast. To them, it is magic.
They are called the 'bread eaters.' "Dough they knead with their feet, but clay with their hands," Herodotus wrote with derision. The Egyptians do not care. They understand their bread is from the gods, for king and peasant alike. They invent ovens to bake this new, breath-filled dough because it cannot be cooked like the flat breads they know first. They construct clay vessels to hold it. They watch it rise in the heat. They add butter and eggs and honey and coriander, and save soured dough from one batch to add to the next. They eat.
They live.”
Christa Parrish, Stones for Bread
“I am not Seamus, who tacks emotions to the outside of his skin and whose words charge from his mouth on horseback. No one sees through me, except Xavier, and he does so not because I choose to give him access but because he knows himself. I will have to offer myself to Seamus, if I want something 'more' with him. Part of me can't believe I'd contemplate it, even for a moment. What do I have in common with an oversized, yarn-spinning, bread-mauling, divorced deliveryman attached to a seven-year-old? The rest of me doesn't know if I remember how to be close to another person. I practice mimicry, a Viceroy butterfly masquerading as a Monarch, a Superb Lyrebird echoing the calls of everything from chickadees to chain saws. I practice stories of my past, telling this sad memory or that scary one, and people feel I'm confiding in them because the words touch their deepest wounds, not because the tales hold any emotional resonance for me. My intimacies, the ones that have become my Sisyphus stones, long-term romantic relationships, the college one, ended with the nice young man shocked when I said I didn't love him and we had nothing in common. "We've spent two years talking about everything," he said.
Yes, mimicry.”
Christa Parrish, Stones for Bread
“He halves fresh Brussels sprouts and tosses them in a pan of butter and garlic, squeezes the juice of a lemon over them. He thinly slices two sweet potatoes, setting them to boil. When they're soft, he mashes and seasons them. Another pan heating on the gas burner, this one for rounds of filet mignon, seared and drizzled with a red wine reduction.”
Christa Parrish, Stones for Bread
“Tee gives her the milk so dark it looks like the Mississippi flooded into the cup. I can't imagine Tee using any sort of bottled Hershey's or Nesquik, and I'm right. She makes her own syrup, whisking Dutch-process cocoa and home-brewed vanilla extract with sugar and salt and water.”
Christa Parrish, Stones for Bread
“Bread plays favorites.
From the earliest times, it acts as a social marker, sifting the poor from the wealthy, the cereal from the chaff.
The exceptional from the mediocre.
Wheat becomes more acceptable than rye; farmers talk of losing their 'rye teeth' as their economic status improves. Barley is for the most destitute, the coarse grain grinding down molars until the nerves are exposed. Breads with the added richness of eggs and milk and butter become the luxuries of princes. Only paupers eat dark bread adulterated with peas and left to sour, or purchase horse-bread instead of man-bread, often baked with the floor sweepings, because it costs a third less than the cheapest whole-meal loaves. When brown bread makes it to the tables of the prosperous, it is as trenchers- plates- stacked high with fish and meat and vegetables and soaked with gravy. The trenchers are then thrown outside, where the dogs and beggars fight over them. Crusts are chipped off the rolls of the rich, both to make it easier to chew and to aid in digestion. Peasants must work all the more to eat, even in the act of eating itself, jaws exhausted from biting through thick crusts and heavy crumb. There is no lightness for them. No whiteness at all.
And it is the whiteness every man wants. Pure, white flour. Only white bread blooms when baked, opening to the heat like a rose. Only a king should be allowed such beauty, because he has been blessed by his God. So wouldn't he be surprised- no, filled with horror- to find white bread the food of all men today, and even more so the food of the common people. It is the least expensive on the shelf at the supermarket, ninety-nine cents a loaf for the storebrand. It is smeared with sweetened fruit and devoured by schoolchildren, used for tea sandwiches by the affluent, donated to soup kitchens for the needy, and shunned by the artisan. Yes, the irony of all ironies, the hearty, dark bread once considered fit only for thieves and livestock is now some of the most prized of all.”
Christa Parrish, Stones for Bread
“The Hebrews come into the bread eaters' land with no bread of their own. It's famine, and Jacob's sons travel to Egypt in hopes of finding something to save their families. They find not only grain but forgiveness. Joseph is there, whom God takes from them so he can later deliver them. They find a new home. And they, too, find the miracle of yeast.
Surely the descendants of Abraham bake their grains, mixing flour and oil and kneading it to dough. But this is 'uggah'- a flat cake baked on hot stones or in the ashes, the same given to the Lord by Abraham when he visits and pronounces Isaac's birth. Nomads have no time for fermentation, for waiting for dough to ripen. They have enough to carry from place to place. And they have no ovens, probably have never conceived of such a thing. Again, too heavy to move.
So what must it have been like for them to see these risen loaves come from strange Egyptian baking containers? It becomes part of them, the first thing they cry out for in the wilderness, not any bread but that of those who enslaved them. The Hebrews have freedom. Instead, they want food, their bellies filled with the earthly comfort they know. And God, the heavenly Comforter, sends bread of a different kind.
'What is it?'
They call it 'manna'. And it's given 'to' the wandering children of Israel, but not only 'for' them. For us. For all who brush away the veil and will one day lay eyes on the true manna, a child they do not yet know will be born in Beth-lehem, the house of bread.”
Christa Parrish, Stones for Bread