Since the pandemic began I’ve been baking a lot of sourdough.
In fact, on my way home over a year ago from my last day in the office and even as we transitioned into working-from-home mode, I stopped at the grocery store and restocked my flour supply. Then as I checked into my kitchen and fed my starter, I kicked off the first of what now accounts for almost two hundred loaves of bread.
All of it was practical. All of it was a kind of food security during a time of uncertainty. All of it was for ourselves.
And then about a month ago as we were passing through on our way to the mountains and stopping for a brief puppy-pee-break at the in-laws house, I had bagged a loaf of fresh-from-the-oven sourdough and handed it off to my mother-in-law.
A gift of bread.
The practicality of that gesture was simply that a loaf of bread was best eaten fresh by someone who would enjoy it, rather than left on our counter while we spent the weekend on mini-holiday.
The emotional aspect was that my mother-in-law had been halfway teasing that I should stop bragging about all my bread and posting photos of it on the socials if I wasn’t going to start offering to deliver to their house (an hour and a half drive away!)
So I delivered.
And this resulted in a text message the next day thanking us for the short visit and the gift, and suggesting it was probably the best bread she’d had in about a year. Great!
Food of any kind, but particularly food one has personally made, is linked to a long history of human gift giving. It is probably one of the most foundationally human things we do: make something worth eating, then give it our family, friends, or… everyone.
I had been baking bread casually in the years leading into the pandemic, and often the loaves I created were shortcuts to contributing to communal meals: something to bring to a gathering or a picnic or a thanksgiving dinner. And apart from a few gluten-adverse acquaintances, sourdough is simple enough to satisfy almost anyone, like the friend who cannot eat eggs, or my vegan pals, or even the picky folks who don’t like spicy food. Sourdough is just so basic… and yet robust enough to hold its own in that long human tradition of sharing your food with others.
There is both a universality to bread and an implied effort with sourdough. Almost everyone’s eyes light with an “Oh! You brought fresh bread!?” as you pull it from a bag and start slicing it up.
That same mother-in-law (though I only have one) put in a request earlier this week. One of our extended family just got some sad medical news (details redacted) and she was hoping we could make a delivery this weekend.
A gift of bread.
Of course we can.