The other day I went to the UPS store to collect a package that the email message said was waiting there for me. It wasn’t. This package (in name only) was, I suspect, the same package that three weeks ago was reported via email to be waiting for me at the UPS store. It wasn’t either.
I am resigned to package delivery disappointment. I have tried but failed to outsmart the gremlin who is screwing around with my supply lines. Lurking at the PO as dawn breaks, lurking at the mailbox at the end of the road to have a friendly chat with the postman who is smilingly sympathetic but doesn’t have my package, changing my address from my house to the UPS store, haunting those obliging folks at the UPS store who assure me it’s the delivery company’s computers that are responsible, and who can do anything to fix computers with minds of their own – nothing works.
It Happened Just Like This
Still, there are moments that light a spark in these otherwise dreary days. I was third in line on a blisteringly hot day to get into the UPS store. A handsome, casually dressed woman, dark hair with just a suggestion of grey, was first. I put her down as a longtime West Tisbury-ite with maybe a touch of latter day hippy in her. Second was a natty forty-five year old bicyclist, impatient and very important. He and his wife were dressed for sport, but he had a letter to mail overnight. He left his wife with his bike to hurry up to the door, where he learned he was Number Two and would have to wait. He muttered his disgruntlement. Number One, hearing him grumble, suggested that maybe Martha’s Vineyard wasn’t for him and that he shouldn’t have come. He rose to the challenge. “I’ve been coming here for thirty-three years,” he said, supplementing his testimony with a sneer. Number One let her own sneer do the talking. I thought, maybe we’re not all in this together.
By Bread, but Not Alone
My Moll has hurled herself, and of course me, into sourdough bread baking. I’d say she’s turned out about three loaves a day for three months. However you tote it up, that’s an awful lot of bread. We haven’t eaten it all ourselves. Her goal is to feed the world, or at least our world of friends and virally tortured. Each loaf is a simple message, or rather a hug in these strange times when all you want to do is hug your friends and family but can’t.
But an investment of this seriousness by Moll is seriously involving for me too. Not just the eating, not just fresh out of the oven with Irish butter slathered on it, or jam, or unheard of soft goat cheeses, or (forgive me) peanut butter, or dipped in soup – no, there is the array of specialized equipment for sourdough bread making. There’s the cast iron pot that, at 500 degrees, the bread likes for its early baking, and then when the cover is removed, oversees the bread’s browning and peaking. There are the specialized baskets to hold the rising dough, the smooth plastic shapers, the uniquely weird whisk to work the dough early on.
It’s not about yeast, by the way. It’s about starter. The starter is the mother culture, a sort of organism that you get from a learned bread baker of your acquaintance. Given a bit of it, you feed it up and make it your own so that you can use a slice of it – instead of yeast which for some reason is too brutal for sourdough bread making – for each loaf you bake, and you keep feeding its perpetual fermentation for the next, and the next. It’s like a stranger has taken up residence in your house and intends to make a life for himself with you.
Then there’s the vocabulary. Folding the dough. Kneading the dough. Stretching the dough. That’s all because you want holes in the crumb, which is what you spread the butter over, not the crust and someone untutored in the art might think. It’s a matter of texture. You want elasticity and chewiness.
There’s even hooch which is a layer of water that may form over the starter. And there’s spring or the final rise of the bread to its finished height, also called proofing. Oh, and slashing, which is done with a razor and results in the decorative peaking and curling of the finished bread’s top.
Everyone has a favored antidote to viral lockdown anxiety. Moll has made sourdough bread baking the tasty covid sequestration therapy that’s pulling us through.