A digression on the downside of being rather more opinionated than is good for me. I’ve always been something of a fundamentalist – in the traditional sense of needing always to go back to basics. So there’s an instinctive progression of thoughts and ideas with me that functions like a microclimate. Here’s an instance.
I’ve been baking bread on and off since we were first married so that’s fifty two years give or take. My first port of call whenever I want to do something or learn a new skill is to read everything I can get my hands on. But not for me the exotic and elaborate confections that please the eye and get photographed in the Sunday supplements . I want to dig down to the simplest instance of my quarry. For years it was a cottage loaf like the ones my mother would occasionally buy at the bakery. It took me about ten years to learn that bread dough positively thrives on a bit of neglect. I was always fiddling, prodding, turning and looking for the trick that would yield the Ur Loaf, the Dead Sea Scroll of the living bread. Eventually I forgot to fiddle, got too busy to prod and neglected a loaf. It was the best I’d ever managed.
But somehow I’d slipped into a puritanical fundamentalism that forbade me even to glimpse at a different way of doing things, or using a new ingredient. I suppose if you’ve ever been forced to eat half-mouldy, wholemeal onion bread (“I’ve never tried this before”) and attempted to control your gag reflex while smiling weakly and saying “mm delicious” you might be suspicious of novelty. But that’s a cop-out, it was me really, clinging to the raft of certainty in a roaring sea of possibilities and ingredients. I wanted a monogamous relationship with the loaf I’d always longed for and only found after a perilous journey through hardship and loss.
Some time ago, because there was nothing else left on the shelf, I bought a sliced loaf (mea culpa) of Bertinet’s sourdough, malted, multi-seeded Notting Hill Carnival bread (I made some of that up!) It was delicious. So I bought a bag of the same sort of flour and baked a loaf in a bread machine. I felt like a complete culinary slapper , but it was good. As Robin (my psychotherapist) would often say to me “what on earth is wrong with that?”. “Never let the perfect drive out the best” – exceptionally good advice for me. My parents abandoned my sister and me to a Primitive Methodist Sunday School when we were young and impressionable, hence the psychoanalytic psychotherapy to help me out of the shackles I was dragging around, like Mendoza dragging his armour and weapons around in “The Mission”.
Last year I was very much looking forward to the arrival of the Katz book since I became inflamed with the thought of fermenting things. When it arrived I read Michael Pollan’s foreword, and skimmed through the text. Suddenly I was back in the world of the Whole Earth Catalogue and it felt good that in the midst of the madness of Brexit and Trump there are other voices not yet surpassed and crushed by neoliberal orthodoxy. We shall push back with pickled gherkins and sauerkraut!