from BARDO

The stars are in our belly; the Milky Way our umbilicus.

Is it a consolation that the stuff of which we’re made

is star-stuff too?

– That wherever you go you can never fully disappear –

dispersal only: carbon, hydrogen, nitrogen, oxygen.

Tree, rain, coal, glow-worm, horse, gnat, rock.

Roselle Angwin

Sunday, 27 May 2012


Travelling back across Dartmoor on a stunning May day with summer having suddenly hatched from spring and all the pony foals well-grown already, I switch on BBC Radio 4, a luxury for me these days.

A voice I recognise, albeit not named, is speaking about bread. I didn't copy this down so it's a paraphrase, but it's pretty close to Satish Kumar's* original words:

'Bread is the macrocosm's micro-. The sun is in bread. The moon is in bread. The rain is in bread. The soil is in bread. The farmer, the baker, the eater are all in bread. Bread contains all the elements, and for that reason it's the macrocosm in miniature.'

After that a Frenchman is speaking about the significance of bread; and how until, I believe, the late 1980s bread was deemed sufficiently important to have its price capped by the government.

I love the fundamental simplicity of all this; the stapleness of bread.

In our household we usually make bread in the machine; we only eat our own bread, and we don't live close to shops so homemade bread is a genuine staple. This way we know that the bread we eat is wholesome organic wholemeal, with no rubbish added.

I use spelt flour, the 'neolithic' flour, a genuinely ancient variety, as I seem to have a sensitivity to ordinary wheat, which is a (relatively) late addition to the British diet. I've found out recently that a wheat intolerance is common among the Celtic peoples: our local grain would have been barley, oats or rye, as ordinary wheat doesn't grow so well in the Celtic fringes (presumably spelt was a much earlier introduction to the British Isles).

There's friendly rivalry between TM and I. Even using a machine the results are not foolproof. In my mind an ideal loaf is high and domed. Usually, although I get the height I don't get the dome; and if I do the bread crumbles too easily. I like to add eg onions and fresh herbs, or olives and sundried tomatoes, or flax seed, pumpkin seed and walnut; or raisins and berries.

TM's loaves until recently didn't rise much and were, for my taste, a little damp and holey. He's snotty about adding anything except walnuts or maybe pumpkin seeds. Recently, however, he's cracked it: his loaves are domed (tick) but quite dense and low (hmmm) – but taste completely delicious. What's more, they hold together for sandwiches and toast.

Occasionally, though, I still make bread by hand. However delicious the machine-made bread is, it's nothing compared with the 'real thing', and shop-bought bread is so often almost a travesty (though I'm aware there's a flush of artisan bakers now in Britain).

Making bread by hand is almost a meditation; and the result extraordinarily satisfying. There truly is nothing like it. Try it, if you don't already. I promise it'll add all the baked-in elements – earth water air and fire – to your table. Share it with friends – that's the true meaning of 'companion': 'com pane', those with whom we share bread. Seems to me you could call breadmaking an act of love...

* Satish Kumar is an ex-Jain monk; the founder-editor of 'Resurgence' magazine, and the visionary behind Schumacher College.


  1. I read your post with rising excitement - when will she talk about making bread by hand? I knew you would though. I too use a bread machine and make all my own bread with it. But I have in the past, and still sometimes do, made bread by hand and yes - kneading the dough is a meditation. There is something that seems to speak of the deep past, something truly creative, in feeling
    the dough change from a bunch of ingredients into an elastic, living thing. You can only feel this with your hands. Someone once said that if you want to be a gardener you need to get your hands into the soil. It's a similar thing I think.

  2. We usually make our own bread too, and we have recently bought a small electric mill to grind the grains. Now that is Fresh! And I do the 'sponge' method which doesn't require much kneading. But I like to give it a good old knead. The table squeaks and groans.
    And then there's the smell as it cooks. Finally, a naughty slice while it's still warm, with butter and honey melting into my hand....

  3. Hi Angie - thank you - and yes, I love what you say about the transformation from simply ingredients to something alive!

    Veronica, interested to hear you mill your own. That IS fresh! Been thinking about that myself; and wondering how much land it might take to grow enough grain to mill one's own crop, and whether it is a real possibility on a very small scale without being utterly impractical...

  4. When I was a young single parent moving fairly frequently the first thing I'd do when we went to a new place was make bread (by hand of course, no machines then).It was a way of grounding and consecrating the place as a home - based purely on instinct rather than conscious ritual. As a symbol it goes deep into our psyche, as a food it's basic as well as delicious and nutritious... I still have a very old and stained copy of The Tassajara Bread Book by Edward Espe Brown which has the dedication:

    with respect and appreciation
    to all my teachers
    past, present and future:
    gods, men and demons;
    beings, animate and inanimate
    living and dead, alive and dying.

    Rock and Water
    Wind and Tree
    Bread Dough Rising

    Vastly all
    are patient with me.

    ... umm, think I'll go and make some ;-)

  5. Ah - Hilaire - that made me smile in recognition. Yes, when my daughter was young (and I was for much of her life with me a single parent) I too made all our bread by hand, rising it above the wonderful Rayburn which ran on fallen wood we dragged in from the surrounding woodland and I sawed up; and which warmed our house, heated our water, dried our clothes and cooked our food. Mmmm nostalgia.

    AND! - thanks so much for that lovely quote/dedication. It moves me all over again - I'd forgotten it. I've lost his bread book en route somewhere, but I do have The Tassajara Cook Book still!

    Thank you.


    Oh and yes I relate also to the frequent moving! And yes bread indeed is one of those archetypal symbols, like mother/father, moon or stone or water...

  6. Your comments about wheat intolerance and its avoidance could not have come at a more opportune time for me. For the last two weeks, I've been on a bread (granary, wholemeal - but not hand made, I'm afraid) free diet, to see if I could do anything for myself to combat the fairly miserable IBS from which I've suffered for many years, getting progressively worse. It has been wonderful - symptoms much abated (i.e. gone!) - but I do so miss eating bread (it's been rice cakes for me..)
    Your post has inspired me to try alternatives to wheat based flours - to get my bread machine in the corner out and start to make my own at least in there.
    Thank you particularly for the interesting information that 'I've found out recently that a wheat intolerance is common among the Celtic peoples' - I have a long Welsh ancestry, so this additional knowledgehelps my understanding and future actions even more.
    Thank you so much for this motivating, informative posting!

  7. Hi Roz lovely to hear from you, and I do empathise! It may not be a cure-all; but given that there's a difference between gluten allergy/Coeliac disease and simply an intolerance to wheat (bear in mind the chemicals in non-organic flour/bread of course too) it's worth trying.

    I've suffered from really chronic and actually almost immobilising (really painful to eat) serious mouth ulcers for decades, almost continuously. Of course stress plays a part, and a compromised immune system - stress, environmental toxins, etc etc - throws up all sorts of symptoms.

    Nonetheless dietary factors have made the difference for me: cutting out dairy (as a lacto-veggie I SO loved cheese - craving of course often being an indicator of intolerance, as I imagine you might know), and changing to spelt (or rye). I can hardly believe this but the mouth ulcers are significantly better, and the whites of my eyes a bit clearer. I revert when I eat cheese or wheat.

    The oatcakes with no wheat in them - perhaps Nairns? - are good; I like the herby and red pepper ones.

    Good luck, Roz. Oh and btw I use Dove's organic spelt wholegrain (3 cups) to one-third cup ditto but white (helps it holds together).

    With love


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