Three years back, we gave it all up; I reckoned we had paid our karmic debt. We’d baked 250,000 loaves. It was enough. I would write stories and draw maps to try and make sense of the world in another way. Then, after the bushfires, we followed the news of a virus spreading from China, and hospital wards and makeshift reception rooms full of people gasping for breath. When the plague reached our own shores, no one knew where it would lead, how many lives it could take, what disruption it might bring. Even out here, over the dividing range in Australia, there is a feeling of panic. Food is rationed in the supermarket: you can only buy one packet of pasta, one small bag of rice. Toilet paper has disappeared.
Our small community in the hills is independently minded, but wholly plugged into global food supplies and a fluctuating market. What will become of us when the pantry shelves empty? We’re not preppers, we’re not survivalists, but we are practical people. If we go down, I like to think we’d choose to go down together. A community making the slowest of descents from the great Western dream.
What else is there to do but to fire up the oven and set the millstones grinding, to feed a population when maybe the supermarkets can’t?
Kate, my wife, sends out the first email:
MILKWOOD BREAD IS GETTING BACK IN THE SWING.
Seems an obvious response to the current situation. The bakery is registered again, and we have been able to source organic flour but only conventional grain.
Due to the unique circumstances we all find ourselves in, to support physical distancing, we are OFFERING TO DELIVER to mailboxes on the Tableland and deliver to other areas by arrangement. We are looking to bake once a week while social distancing etc. continues.
After this week, Fridays will be baking/delivery day …Hot bread in your mailbox from 4pm. Loaf types will vary each week.
Baking will be on FRIDAY 10th …Delivery 4pm onwards.
As well as cash we welcome home-grown poetry scrawled on anything virus-free, small garlands of flowers, unusually shaped vegetables, drawings, weavings, or any other form of creatively being grateful for another day on this wonderful planet.
We also accept needed expression of grief, sadness, loneliness, howling, nail-biting, etc. We generally don’t accept creative expression in lieu of cash …but …well, blow our minds and it could be a very fair trade.
ORGANIC WHITE SOURDOUGH $6.50
TWICE PUMPKIN SOURDOUGH $6.50
SOURDOUGH HOT CROSS BUNS 6 for $8 or 12 for $16
ORDERS TO BE IN BY 9AM THURSDAY 9TH.
This is a work in progress in response to the needs of community etc.
Email me, Kate, Baker’s Wife (a hard-earned, initiated title!)
Cheers, and hope you are all tending your mental health. It’s not easy times! Give someone a ring who you haven’t seen for a while and organise a local walk …even five metres apart is easy up here!
Kate and Sim.
And out the loaves go again, sprung from the hearth, sprung from the heart. We loaded 120 loaves into the old Subaru that first week and received some beautiful handwritten thanks, some lovely emails, some new stitches into the weave of community. As well as sealed envelopes of washed coins or direct debits or promissory notes.
It is the first of a series of lockdowns in Victoria, a government making hard decisions in the face of many unknowns. The plague is out there, moving unseen through the shadows. No one knows how it will metamorphise, where it will manifest. So, we are asked to stay at home. To minimise infection, we are called to make our lives smaller.
The next week, Kate sends an email out on Monday night: breads made, details of exchange, drop-off times. She begins to include notes on her love of the natural world, the seasonal rhythms and thoughts on community. She begins to spin stories into our little web of bread.
Bread creativity this week will be producing:
SPROUTED WHEAT AND RYE $6.50
STONEGROUND WHOLEMEAL $6.50
OLIVE AND ROASTED GARLIC $6.50
In the early days of Milkwood bread, we planted 500 head of garlic for the bakery. We used to make a herb and garlic focaccia. We did it all with the very generous help of an old Clydesdale called Princey.
For opening the soil with the plough, we called in the help of a neighbour’s mare – Blossom, I think her name was – and the two pulled the plough together.
Princey only had experience in the tourist industry, but he was quick to learn to walk the rows, though a good few head of garlic got weeded out with the scuffler on account of my slow instructions.
I’m sorry that this week’s garlic has nothing of the praise song of hoof beat, chain clank, straw-and-leather collar, as my next Clydesdale, Spring, she would do everything I asked to grow garlic, but I had come to care about her opinion, and as it turns out, she is more of a philosopher than farmer.
I could not bear to see those vacant eyes as she rested at the end of a row, a look that reminded me of my schooling days: bored, resentful jaw set to endurance mode, ugh! Spring does other things now, so this week’s garlic comes from a shop.
Orders in by Thursday midday, and if you are new to the bread run, please add where you are collecting the bread from.
In its own time our routine begins to take shape, a long firing of the old brick oven, the mother starter brought out of hibernation and fed three times. We are greeting the pre-dawn once more, saying praise words to the dimming fire in the oven, setting our friendly bacteria to work. With the mixing and kneading, the at first unruly mess is brought together into an unexpected conversation. With the encouragement of hands, or mixer, slowly a dough begins to take shape. Stretching gluten into long elasticated fingers. Making space for multiplying, rising, filling that works gluten with CO2 produced by the yeasts. If a loaf of bread were a country the size of the Pitcairn Islands, then its population of wild yeast should be at least that of half the world, four billion tiny people crammed together, raising caverns and curved structures of protein.
The year turns, the lockdowns continue. A strange thing happens when life is reduced to a smaller radius, when the focus settles on the immediate. The quality of observation and imagination grows larger. We begin to see patterns of growth and decay, of budding and nesting, birdsong and fledgling grows louder. The world of weather patterns and life cycles moves to the foreground.
This week the three heron chicks took to their wings, legs dangling askew, finally bursting through the canopy into the big blue forever.
No more hopping practices between the branches!
Done and dusted. Preened. Self-initiated into the next phase.
And me grinning ear to ear watching them return and navigate back in amongst the branches to roost. Not dissimilar to watching our kids when little, trying to figure out how to stop the bike, having just done a majestical, wobbly first flight down the driveway …
There are many herons flying overhead and nesting in the peppermint gums, I feel held inside their dome of life, as it arcs overhead: feeding to the east, feeding to the south, feeding to the north and roosting and nesting and feeding chicks to the west, and circling the house peering down with the grumpy old man voices I have come to love.
They stitch the sky with their flight. Maybe they are darning the thing. Holding it all together. Holding me in my right place.
Oh! Sorry, it’s a bread orders email!!!
Three loaves of interesting bread, not three interesting herons.
This week (the same week the heron chicks flew!!) we offer:
SOURDOUGH BARMBRACK $7.50
ELVEN BREAD SOURDOUGH $7.00
TWICE PUMPKIN SOURDOUGH $6.50
Orders in by Thursday midday.
Delivered Friday from 3pm.
After that first good knead, we place the dough in bowls and allow a slow four-hour ferment. It’s time for coffee and breakfast, it’s time to put our feet up for a while. Then we take down the bowls, and with a curved scraper turn these heaving masses of life out onto the bench. A small miracle has happened: life multiplies in the bowl, everything is on the increase, just like the old prayer. The sweet off-gassing as the doughs are opened and divided, the impressive worlds within of tunnels and caverns filling, expanding, reaching into every space.
Then they’re dusted with flour, divided, weighed, and shaped and shaped again and laid out on proving cloths or in tins. Another three hours for the alchemy of wild yeast and protein, of wheat and rye and spelt and whatever else we could imagine adding to the mix, the magic.
Over time a strange thing begins to happen. On delivery, Kate and I find little bunches of flowers, a jar of olives, a bar of chocolate, or a bunch of rainbow chard, a dozen eggs, a good homemade Shiraz waiting to meet us. There are lovely notes of appreciation.
I think again about community, about who we are, and who we could be. About how these strange times we are experiencing – and the unknowns we may face in the future – do not need to divide us.
I think again about community, about who we are, and who we could be. About how these strange times we are experiencing – and the unknowns we may face in the future – do not need to divide us. How we are all in this together and the change that we want in the world needs to come from ourselves. How gratitude doesn’t necessarily come after the act of giving but is rather the attention paid to the precious lives we live. It’s like the earth beneath our feet, always there, whether we choose to notice or not.
ORGANIC WHITE SOURDOUGH $6.50
POTATO AND SESAME SEED SOURDOUGH $6.50
SPELT SOURDOUGH $7.00
This seasonal change, this Springing, that has an all-around effect on the running of the bakery. For one, the Bakers don’t huddle so close to the oven heat … they take their coffee out to the Paulownia tree, next to the old dog’s grave, and watch the nesting herons.
But more than that, it’s a transitional time. The finely choreographed dance that takes place between the rising dough and the falling temperature of the oven is held by the musical tempo of Winter.
There is a weakness to the yeast’s enthusiasm to rise in the Cold, like our fingers on a frosty morning. And a strength to the Cold that saps heat from the oven.
Sim senses, and works with, these characteristics: using a little more wood, drawing the dough a little closer to the oven heat, starting the dough 15 mins earlier. He tinkers (quite the hardest thing to develop as an apprentice: The Feel of Things) and we settle into the Winter melody, a distinct familiar rhythm …
Then suddenly *#!SPRING!#* leaps up, cavorting a strange carnival energy into the yeasts who rise and bulge, fast and giggling against an oven fire that sweats and roars too hot, not tempered by Winter’s Cold anymore. And everyone is out of sync.
All is well, if Sim is waiting for the change, sniffing the wind, listening to the birds starting a little earlier than yesterday morning, pausing …
‘Feel’ is a fine thing to witness in a person’s skill set. I’m watching to see which week this seasonal tempo is going to speed up and how the orchestra of everything that plays a part in a loaf of bread will manage.
If we do a fine job, you’ll not notice a thing, but if we miss the small signs and Spring leaps in and cranks up the tempo, and we are a step behind…well, then your bread might be below par … We call those loaves Spring Lurch loaves and I don’t think the supermarket sells them.
Enjoy the arriving warmth,
Loaves always talk as they are brought from the oven, they pop and crackle, they cackle with excitement, if you care to listen. I always wonder at this journey of the humble grains, how the process of grinding, kneading and fire ends in this partnership, the baker’s offering to the world, a crust of gold, a waxy uneven crumb, an aroma fit for the halls of heaven and for the sod-roofed croft. A small offering to the gods, to the grain, to the people. Finally, the loaves are bagged and labelled, ready to be delivered on these quiet country roads. We might only know some of these customers through their mailboxes and by their first names, their return emails carrying an order, and an appreciation, and maybe some words describing their world and their experience of it.
If you were lucky though, and there are many who were, the walk to your mailbox on a Friday afternoon would be akin to a prayer. You would find waiting for you a still-warm loaf, and you might just hold the bread to your face and breathe in the lingering aroma of roasted grain. You might hold the loaf close to your body as you returned to your home, seeking the last of its fading heat. You might try to resist sharing a slice or two with butter immediately, but you would, of course, be excused for your lack of resistance. We hope you would say some small words of praise on eating, that your tongue would fatten and salivate, that your waiting belly would rumble words of encouragement, that you would recognise the miraculous journey of transformation that we, like the grain, are all embarked upon.
Edible Seeds and Grains
Collected on a trip through Colorado, Texas, California and Utah
Left to right, from top: sunflower; wild carrots; curly dock; nettles; wild rye; Rocky Mountain bee plant; longleaf plantain; Johnson grass; orache. Plates made from local clay and recycled rust from old cans found in the desert to colour the clay.
A sourdough culture is actually quite complex, it’s not just composed of yeast but also contains lactobacteria. I kick off the fermentation process by adding berries with a bloom and some brine from a lacto-ferment (sauerkraut, kimchi etc.). Over time and use, local bacteria will eventually make unique sourdough flavours. I store it in the fridge and feed it with a fresh mix of flour/water around once a month. Sometimes, I take my sourdough in the jeep and travel with it while the jar is open so I can collect bacteria from the mountains and forests
Pascal Baudar has written multiple books on foraging and fermentation including The New Wildcrafted Cuisine, The Wildcrafting Brewer, Wildcrafted Fermentation and Wildcrafted Vinegars. He is also exploring local clay and pottery as an extension to his traditional food preservation and wild food work. His next book will be on seeds.
You can read more about Pascal Baudar’ work in the story ‘The Past Comes Crashing In’ by Randall Green in Dark Kitchen.
Do join us for an online launch of Dark Mountain: Issue 23 tonight Thursday 20th April 2023 starting at 7pm (BST) to see and hear contributions from the book’s writers, artists and editors from around the world. Hope to see you there!