Time and Warmth

Posted December 17, 1998

While doing a bit of Christmas shopping in a bookstore recently, I somehow found myself in the cooking section, a fact that some of those close to me might find amusing. Crammed into a corner on the second floor, the cooking section also featured a single chair, occupied by a woman whose right foot bobbed up and down as she read with her legs crossed at the knees, and a ladder. A latecomer to the section suggested I step aside so that he, too, could browse the section. The holiday spirit prevailed.

Undeterred, I continued to peruse the shelves until they yielded the prize I thought I might as well seek, as long as I was there: English Bread and Yeast Cookery by Elizabeth David. You see, there had been a time — perhaps before daughters, although I find those two thirds of my life difficult to reconstruct — that I had baked bread, and the Elizabeth David book was my guide. Nothing fancy, of course. Indeed, English Bread and Yeast Cookery dubbed my favorite recipe "A Basic Loaf." The U.S. equivalents asked for three cups ("or so") of unbleached flour and three-quarters of a cup of whole-wheat flour, a half ounce of yeast, three teaspoons of sea salt, and about a cup and a half of water ("at body heat"). "Stone-ground flours with germ intact," of course, "are to be preferred."

Without the time to search the basement for the tins I had relied on in my baking, to shop for the proper flours (with germ intact), and to give an afternoon over to the rising and knocking back of the dough, I contented myself one evening with the reading of the recipe chapter entitled, appropriately enough, "Bread."

The chapter opens with a lengthy section from M. Vivian Hughes' A London Home in the Nineties. It reads, in part:

I remembered how often mother used to send me out when I was a little child to buy a pennyworth of yeast at the baker's, for her saffron cake. So I sent Emma out on a like errand. She had never made bread, but recalled a saying of her mother's — "All that bread wants is time and warmth."

The section continues, People dislike the idea of trying this for themselves because of the "time it takes." The bread certainly wants time, I assure them, but not their time; it doesn't asked to be watched, and can be trusted alone in the house; the actual labour in making a batch takes about six minutes from start to finish.

At this holiday time, let me suggest to you that the shared enterprise in which we are engaged has much in common with the breads destined for British ovens — and my oven, too, if the break offers me the opportunities I hope it does. All that children want is time and warmth. While they may take watching, and cannot always be trusted alone in the house, and all too often require more than six minutes from start to finish, ultimately all they want is time and warmth.

May this season of Christmas and Hanukkah and Kwanzaa offer all of you, and especially your children, that time and warmth.

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