April 30, 2010

The Smell of Baking Bread

"No yoga exercise, no meditation in a chapel filled with music, will rid you of your blues better than the humble task of making your own bread." - M.F.K. Fisher

Surveys often list the smell of baking bread in the top 3 of respondent's olfactory preferences. I enjoy this smell often while I bake all our bread products at home.

The Smell Report states, "Our olfactory receptors are directly connected to the limbic system, the most ancient and primitive part of the brain, which is thought to be the seat of emotion."

The smell of baking triggers pleasant emotional responses. I always think of my grandmother, herself a baker extraordinaire, who was as warm, comfortable, and life-giving as rising dough. Feelings of comfort and security wash over me every time I smell freshly baked bread.

Realtors have been known to advise house sellers to bake bread before showing their home to prospective buyers. It makes a house feel more like a home.

Baking is one way we can learn to participate more fully in the preparation of the food we eat. The satisfaction of developing self-reliance is a fringe benefit, and it saves us money. It is also nice having a very short ingredient list consisting of things that are wholesome.

I kept track of my last bag of whole wheat flour in order to record everything that I made from it. I currently pay about $6.00 for 10kg of flour. The products I prepared would be worth well over $100.00 if purchased at the store.

Some will point out that this is not as cost effective as it seems because you have to figure in the price of your labour. I disagree with the need to put a dollar figure on every micro-second of our time. It may be costing me time to bake my own breads, but it pays dividends in so many other ways. If my home baked bread were costing me the same as store bought I would still bake at home.

It takes a vigorous kneading to convert that flour into dough, and this repetitive exercise can be very meditative. The divine smells linger long after the bread is done, as does the calm, centered feeling. A day of baking forces one to be mindful throughout as there can be several stages that need to be timed. It is an excellent excuse to slow down and attend to this enjoyable single purpose for a morning or afternoon.

Today I am making pita bread to eat with Mediterranean dishes. Also known as Arab bread, pita is fun and easy to make. In the oven it puffs up into pillow-y perfection in about 5 minutes. Pita is great warm and fresh when ripped apart for dipping into hummus with olives. We will also use some to make pockets to fill with falafel, pickles, onions and lettuce.

Goods I Baked With 10kg of Flour

14 loaves of bread
2 dozen green onion cakes
3 dozen tortillas
12 servings pancakes
3 dozen spice cookies
2 pizza crusts
1 chocolate cake
12 chapatis
13 samosas

There is a net benefit in undertaking this basic and ancient activity, and I highly recommend it. It is a skill worthwhile learning, and the independence you gain is guaranteed to reduce the angst you may be feeling in troubled times. Your taste buds, digestive system, and emotional state will all be better off.

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