Share |

The Taste of Bread

Island Life

Certain items will assist you in making bread, though few of them are strictly necessary.
from the Utensils section of the Tassajara Bread Book- Edward Espe Brown


Recently, when I walked into Bill Freese’s backyard bakery, I was faced with a minor dilemma. While it is a spacious place with ample room to move around and lots of light over everything, I looked around for a place to set down my camera case while I was shooting and realized that every open space had the potential for being otherwise used or passed through. My suspicions were confirmed when I asked Bill where my stuff would be out of his way and it took a while before a bit of shelf space on a rack was allotted to my equipment. As it turned out, once the bread-making flow had begun, even that stash had to be slightly rearranged so that the process would continue without blockage to the clockwork movement of things.

There was another smallish conundrum to be faced in the all-of-this of talking about and observing bread making, and that was the basic question of where does one start? In sitting down to talk with Bill about his involvement with bread during his coffee break at Café Luna the other day, his question for me was whether I wanted to hear the chronology of the steps for creating a loaf, or loaves, of bread, or the steps he takes from early morning to evening to change flour and water (and a few other things) into the portable, chewable, edible version of what some call the staff of life. This question of where to begin was something I found myself asking myself when I sat down to the editing space with hours of video footage and the realization that this bread process was indeed a circular flow of events that, once set in motion, could truly be entered into at any point.

After a bit of thought wrangling I decided upon fire as a beginning because it is, after all, fire- and in the entire gamut of heat sources from a solar oven to an all electric Kenmore powered by wall socket energy from a coal fired power plant, something had to be burned to bake the bread. In Bill’s case, a large thermal mass of bricks and mortar sits in the corner of his bakery, and it is warmed to operating temperature on baking days with the burning of wood. The grand cycle of things is at play here again, as the day’s baking is done on the heat from a fire made the day before. During the week’s baking cycle, radiant oven heat from the day before helps to further dry the current day’s firing load as it is left stacked and unlit in the closed oven for a few hours before its ignition and burn sequence. There is something magical about witnessing bread bake, during brief glimpses as the oven door is quickly swung open and shut, on a surface now swept clean of wood coals and ash that nearly twenty hours before had been brightly burning with maple and madrona.

As the circle and cycle of bread-making spun around me I was reminded of my time at a crafts school in North Carolina many years ago, and how I was drawn to watch the potters and glass-blowers ply there craft in their respective studios. There was of course the utilitarian concrete floors and the open spaces with ample light. But there was also the skill and dexterity and economy of motion that was on display that drew me in and kept my attention through what might otherwise have been perceived as rather boring operations of spinning clay on a wheel or twirling molten glass on the end of a blowpipe. What I was there to see was the craft of nearly automatic hand-eye coordination as a piece was formed into being. This is what I also saw as I watched Bill transform lumps of sourdough and multigrain amalgams into what could easily be termed edible art. There was an ease and a surety of motion to the kneading and the folding that brought all those studio hours of observation back to mind. It was interesting to note that as I ran back through the footage, the hand motions Bill used to describe the process at our interview at Luna were basically the same as the ones where he was working the dough. It should probably be mentioned that Bill’s Bread is every bit as good even if you don’t get to watch him make it- my new favorite is the multigrain. You can find his bread at Thriftway and a few other places around town. My video of his craft can be seen on Vimeo here:

And for whatever reason, I can be contacted here: