(note: as a follow-on from last week’s entry, another look at the visit to Turkey)
Fresh-baked bread smells good in any language, so when Yeliz invited us to observe her techniques on a farm in west Turkey, my wife and I jumped at the chance. I’m a baking illiterate, but it is a tradition in our Iowa farm family, so I was anxious to see how this Turkish farm wife’s methods compared to the process my folks still use during their weekly ritual back home.
The first difference was quite striking—Yeliz handles a hatchet like a Canadian lumberjack. She pulled large olive branches from a pile in front of her house and quickly turned them into pieces that fed the fire in the dome-shaped clay oven. While the inside walls grew hot, she showed us the rising loaves of bread on her living room floor. An industrial-strength kneading machine has made life easier for her, but the process is still long and demanding—she makes ten or twelve loaves a week.
I didn’t need to ask her why. “Of course I bake. For family, for friends, for tradition.” The answer seems similar to what my parents say. “We like the rewards of doing something useful with our hands. Something we can produce that gives pleasure to others.”
Yeliz calls us back when the oven is glowing on the inside; she removes charred sticks and cinders, then swabs it out with a wet towel to settle the ashes and even out the temperature. Like a pizza paddle expert, she positions the loaves in the oven and seals it for two hours.
On another continent, my 89-year-old parents follow a similar “zen baking routine” during their weekly bread-making days. Mom is the master baker—from decades of developing her techniques gathered intuitively from her mother’s skills and directly from advice neighbors passed on in the old-style farming community.
Dad may not be “Top Chef,” but he has become a full partner since he has pulled back on some of his farm duties. “We make a team effort. Your mom still kneads the dough, but I gather the equipment and do the heavy lifting. The pay isn’t great, but it’s satisfying work.”
Yeliz usually bakes the large, wheel-shaped loaves that add to Turkish meals when diners dip portions into olive oil or hummus. During our visit, she also made several deep-fried sweet dough pieces. Mom and Dad occasionally still make cinnamon rolls, but as with Yeliz, the main product is the historical “staff of life.”
Bread has been a staple since before Biblical times, and bread making is an art—a way to create and give. A famous quote states, “The smell of good bread baking, like the sound of lightly flowing water, is indescribable in its evocation of innocence and delight.” Philosophy aside–it just tastes so much better than store-bought loaves.
by dan gogerty (quote from M.F.K. Fisher)