It’s what we bring to the table
“My first encounter with a baguette, torn still warm from its paper sheathing, shattered and sighed on contact. The sound stopped me in my tracks, the way a crackling branch gives deer pause; that’s what good crust does. Once I began to chew, the flavor unfolded, deep with yeast and salt, the warm humidity of the tender crumb almost breathing against my lips.” ― Sasha Martin, Life from Scratch: A Memoir of Food, Family, and Forgiveness
In searching for a quote to introduce readers to The Baker’s Table, I came across this one by Sasha Martin. It immediately caught my attention because it’s about memory. Memory and food are convivial partners for many of our stories. Think about your favorite family stories, and I’ll bet, at least one of them, happened around the dining room table. For me, it’s when I reach in the pantry for bay leaves to make stock for a soup. Every time I bring my nose to the jar, I am transported to that warm sunny day in Yosemite National Park. As we hiked along, we would brush up against these enormous Umbellularia californica only to be overwhelmed by its “bay-ness.” And to think that I can conjure this memory just with the twist of a wrist!
Our sense of smell is one sensual slice of how we take in our experiences. Somehow it becomes a part of us, embodied as an olfactory “soundtrack” just waiting to animate any number of our memories. Some playback as unpleasant and others are totally euphoric. It’s hardwired, lodged somewhere in our collective memory, ready to be opened like a jar. Food is like that and for me, baking bread has been particularly so. It’s what we bring to the table that matters. The stories, tasty dishes, recipes, all gathered around–to be shared as one, flavorful feast.
I’ll use some of these column inches to share my thoughts and report on the books that I’ve been reading (and yes, even some baking tips!) as they gather around my baker’s table. For example: shaping bread happens on a table and the table acts as your “third hand”(more on that later), and I know that community happens when bread happens. Over the twenty years, I’ve had the pleasure of witnessing this in my bakery. There’s a poster I tote around, and hang on the wall of every bakery space I’ve ever worked in, and at the top it says, “a gentle manifesto” and it concludes by stating, “Bread is ONLY Bread.” I believe this means that bread remains simple, thankful, humble, positive, nourishing, and it becomes the catalyst for what is ever more compelling, a loving community.
Marc Jalbert is the former owner of the Gettysburg Baking Company. While he continues to bake for the Baking Company, he is the founding director of Bakewell Farm, a 501c3 non-profit whose mission is to introduce “bread-centric” education as a means for building community while engaging in public service. Please visit us at www.bakewellfarm.org