Bread #2 and my inspiration for the following (some might say fictional) conversation about what constitutes being a bread-baking artisan in our modern age: No-Knead Overnight Artisan Bread.
Following the link you’ll find the recipe and what it looks like cooked to perfection. Below you’ll see what I have baked which, though not as pretty, is still pretty damn tasty. I highly recommend it.
It is also excellent in a Tomato Zucchini Strata.
Now, onto what transpired as a result. For the sake of being as thorough as possible, I went about stealing a cryogenically frozen 19th Century artisan (curiously tattooed with some sort of black-and-white striped octagon) from an abandoned lab not too far from the Bermuda Triangle and brought him back to life in order to interview him about his past existence. Your welcome. He told me his name is of no concern to me but, for the sake of this interview, he’s agreed to go by Ferdinand. This is the transcription.
Me: So, Ferdinand, now that you’ve calmed a bit and are no longer threatening me with a bread knife, I want to ask, what do you last remember before waking up here?
Ferdinand: Where’s Alexander?
Me: I’m sorry?
Ferdinand: He was supposed to find me after the market closed.
Me: Alexander is your employee?
Ferdinand: My apprentice and tenant of sorts but, he’s more like a son I’d say… I think they might have taken him too.
Ferdinand: Who, you know who. The people in the black coats and strange pale pants that stretch over their whole body. Those sterile shop people.
Me: I really don’t know…where were you last?
Ferdinand: At the bakery, preparing the dough for the next day. Alexander is usually with me when I do that but I wanted to give it a longer rise this time around. And he works so hard, that boy, I thought he deserved a bit of time to himself. Always willing to put in the extra time, that one. Always willing to learn. Only fifteen and already he’s master in the kitchen. I’d place my bet it rivals that of the best bakers in London, maybe even France. A true artist that one. His way of kneading is like that of the angels rolling rain from clouds.
Me: You must have taught him well. How long has he been your apprentice?
Ferdinand: About seven years now but I’ve known him since he was about four. I used to work under his family. By that I mean their living quarters used to be just above my work space. Every day I’d deliver a fresh loaf to them, right to their door and his mum always give me a flower to slip into my lapel before paying. Just like a true gentlemen, she’d say. I’d smiled at that. They were a happy sort of family for a while. Then when he was eight his father lost all their living wages on a gamble and then some. They sent the boy out to beg for the debt money and he’d earn just enough for maybe a few loaves a week from me. I had enough of that pretty quick. Said I needed the extra hand in the early mornings to late afternoons, baking and selling and all that. Then when they kept sending him to beg in the evening, I offered that he’d stay with me as an apprentice. Said he had a gift and he did too. His dad put up a bit of a fight on this but his mum knew it was best. The dad, anyway, was killed shortly after on an unlit street past midnight. Thieves the papers said, but he didn’t have a cent he didn’t owe. His mum died of a sickness a year after that and Alexander, I suppose, was bound to my care from then on. I don’t mind it though. It feels good to build someone up like that and he’s a big help to me, anyway.
Me: It sounds like he owes you great debt of gratitude.
Ferdinand: No, I wouldn’t say that. It’s a sad fate to live like you’ve always got something to owe. I’ve seen what becomes of a life like that. But living like you’ve got something to give? That’s the way. That’s the better way in my book. When Alexander first came on he worked the dough with that kind of mind. He didn’t force his hands like some novices do—as if tied to a whip. Didn’t reject them as his own. He let his hand be a gift to him. That’s the trick of it, really. Getting a feel for the natural gift running from the forearm to the fingertips then learning how to pass it on through to what you make. Most people don’t understand that. Least of all those sterile shop people.
Me: Explain to me what you mean by sterile shop people? I still don’t understand.
Ferdinand: They say they’re friends of the same trade but that’s not the kind of business I do and I won’t align myself with anyone who thinks it is. I’d never been to a shop as cold and sterile as where they took me. A white barren box with steel veins is was. Not good at all for bread-making. A well cared for dough is something warmth hugs onto and cultures thrive in. It’s best not to mess with an environment as natural as that. I asked these people, what kind of bread comes from these conditions? I couldn’t think of any that’d be worth taking in for nourishment. It’d take an impossibly skilled hand. They corrected me on that. They said there are no hands involved in the bread they bake. It’s all done by magnificent miracle-working machines, they said. But what miracle doesn’t come from hands? The best way to heal, to create, to bring life into the world is with your God-given hands. So’s the same with bread. I told them nothing that comes from that Pandora’s box of a contraption could ever be considered even a cousin of bread. And then they said something terrifying. They said we’d just walked the dark path to the future and all I’d seen is how it’s done here and I’m to be the bringer of the newest of flavors reminiscent of a forgotten past because of how well that sells. I gather they want to bottle my hands, squeeze the God-given gift from them. It’s what I owe them for being brought here to witness the wonders of the universe, they said.
Me: That’s an interesting proposition but hearing you speak about your past life, I’d say they owe you a great deal more than you owe them and probably more then they can repay. Still, have you thought at all about what this future could offer you? How they might make up for bringing you here against your will?
Ferdinand: No, I don’t want to start on that thought. As I said before, it’s a sad life that only thinks of what they owe or what other people owe them. In fact, I’d gladly and freely give them my gift. I made the option clear that I could teach them to find it in their own fingers and let it flow into the natural course of things. But all they seemed to want to do is to extract and inject and create something that endures all of time, no matter what identity is lost in doing so. No matter the undernourishment it may inflict on the mind, body, and soul in the process. And I’m afraid, well, this is my future, isn’t it? Maybe even my present if I can’t get back. You know this world more than I, yes? So what do you make of it? Is it all as I’ve seen and said?
Me: Large parts of it. The most visible parts often. But there are some trying to recapture the essence of your craft. There are many who try to keep their loved ones around this way, attempting over and over again to replicate the recipes they left behind so they can pass it on down a line. In far corners of world, there are places where the old art is still the main one and there are people that travel to those parts of the world to gain access to their long held secrets and to rediscover their own past life. And then there are the small, sometimes overlooked, ways people try to find their roots in the midst of so much progression and change. Often it’s not enough. More often they’re overshadowed by what you say, but it exists. That’s mostly how it is now.
Ferdinand: And how did the world change to what it is now? Was I involved? Is that why I’m here? Why exactly was I the one chosen to be here?
Me: I don’t know…I’m sorry, I really don’t know how to explain what’s happened.
Ferdinand: Just tell me, what’s become of Alexander? Please, just tell me.
Me: I’m sorry. I honestly don’t know. I really am sorry.
Ferdinand: And all the other artisans? All the other bread makers and clay sculptors and tea blenders, what’s become of them? Do you really not know? And what, after you’ve gotten all the information you care to get, is to become of me?
–End of interview—