Saturday, March 13, 2010

Division of (household) labor - baking bread edition

I baked bread today - three loaves (from the Little House on the Prairie Cookbook). Start-to-finish, it took about 6 hours, though only really only one hour of that was me interacting with the materials.

So, at around 0830, I mixed the ingredients for the sponge (warm water, yeast. Stir. More water. Stir. 4 cups of flour. Stir. Cover and set in a warm place for about an hour). After it was covered and set in a warm place, I tidied up a bit and Mr. Spock made breakfast (pancakes). We cleaned up the kitchen together.

That took us to 9:30, whereupon I mixed milk, "drippings" from a pot roast MS had cooked (we cooled down the gravy in a container on the back porch back when it was freezing out, pried off the layer of fat that rose to the top, and stored it separately from the gravy in the freezer), sugar, salt, and a cup of flour together. Then I added the sponge, kept mixing. Added more flour, kept mixing. Then I turned it all out onto a cutting board and pounded it with graceless abandon (my knuckles are still sore). Three minutes kneading, three minutes resting, three kneading, three resting, three kneading. Then I put the whole thing into a bowl greased with more "drippings" and covered it with a towel. And I greased the pans.

I was exhausted. I don't know how Laura did that and milked the cows and whatnot.

MS cleaned up the kitchen.

We played a game of Bananagrams, we argued over whether "zot" is a word (it's not. We checked). Ninety minutes passed. I punched down the dough, divided it in three (relatively) equal pieces, put them in the greased baking pans and set them to rise for another 2 hours.

Then I took a shower while MS made lunch. We ate, we watched a bit of TV, we played Set. I called my grandma.

I put the bread in a preheated oven and baked them for 30 minutes. Decided they could brown up a bit and gave em another 5 minutes. Then another 5. Took them out of the oven. Left them to cool.

Went to do some phone-banking for Cesar del Aguila. Ran some errands, and ate dinner out (MM loooooooves that Sushi!). And then came home to freeze two loaves and put the other one in the breadbox (well, it's a cupboard, but we call it the breadbox).

I was thinking about all this in the context of the post at Global Comment by Sarah Jaffe on "Rethinking Work: Cooking as Labor. And how I would probably NOT baked bread today if I'd been responsible for all the other cooking, or if I'd been responsible for the cleanup of the mixing bowl. How grateful I am that I have a spouse who a) likes to cook and b) doesn't wait to be asked to clean the mixing bowl.

Add to that, the context of Laura Ingalls Wilder. How grateful I am to have ingredients to hand that require very little work on my part. I did not have to grind the wheat into flour. In fact, I had white flour in great quantities. I didn't have to twist hay to make enough burnable sticks to both heat the house and bake the bread. Baking bread is a leisure activity for me, not a necessity.

All of this is bubbling in my head, while I nurse my sore knuckles.


Jenn said...

I love making my own bread, but I'll be very honest here: I use that thar machine in the pantry.

Add stuff.

Hit button.

Let it make the dough.

Put dough in tins and bake in real oven so I can claim the glory!!!

It seems like such a funny distinction, yet the machine is the difference between me making bread and me *thinking about* making bread.

Magpie said...

How'd it taste? The beef fat is interesting.

My husband has taken over the bread duties - he's been making baguettes using the Artisan Bread In Five Minutes A Day book, and they are excellent. We also make a basic sandwich bread, using the machine like Jenn does - i.e. just for the knead and first rise. I make up four or five batches of the dry ingredients at a time, so it is very fast and easy.

Anonymous said...


Jenn... Magpie...

You guys need to spend some time in a Zen monastery.

Bread is not to be made by pushing a button or starting a stopwatch. Bread is made by kneading it. With our hands.


And not because hard work is good for the soul, nor because we were made to suffer, nor any other Calvinist self-flagellatory nonsense. Rather, it is because sifting flour, preparing yeast, and kneading dough are a combination that opens the bank vault of life itself.

Baking a loaf is a chance to slow down for a bit. To look at my wife and son from across the room. To say to myself, "Hey, this ain't bad." With all the guff and noise there is in the rest of the world, I could almost feel guilty over the self-indulgence of spending half an hour baking something in the kitchen.

Or, heck, even over cleaning up the kitchen after a better baker makes the bread herself.


liz said...

MS, the point is that the time to bake is a luxury.

Using the bread machine is fine, no judgy!!!

liz said...

After all, most times we just buy ours!

ccw said...

I have never made bread, with the exception of one loaf in the machine. Mr. MFBA on the other hand loves to make bread and he has a pretzel thing. I just don't have the patience but I love to eat what he makes.

Zot should be word. It could be some type of cleaner like Zout.