There is an art to making bread.
It’s in the flour and the water. It’s in the yeast and the honey. It’s in the push and pull of how you knead the dough, in the waiting for the bread to rise, in the patience required for such a simple skill.
It is an art that I learned from my mother, and one that she learned from her mother, learned from by her mother. One of my earliest memories is baking bread with my mother. I say ‘with’ using the loosest definition of the term. She’d do all the work, all the mixing and making, and only call us when it was time to knead. Then she’d give us each a little piece of dough to make our own loaf with. Kneading was the first part of baking that I learnt, through Mum’s way of distracting us. She gave us such small tasks and yet it felt like we’d accomplished so much. I can still remember standing on a stool to reach the kitchen bench, kneading the do. Push it out. Fold it in. Turn it around. Again. My brother, my sister, and I, all standing side by side, kneading our little loaves. It’s one of my fonder memories and I keep it packaged carefully, wrapped up in tissue paper and bubble wrap. I take it out now and again to gaze upon it fondly, but it feels too precious to display. Even now kneading is my favourite part of making bread. Apart from eating it, of course.
There are only a few ingredients needed for bread. The most important one? Time. Time to let the dough rise, to let the yeast work its magic. Time was the second lesson I learned, and it was one of the harder ones. The art of being patient. Of waiting. It was so frustrating, when I was younger, to have to let the dough rise again and again and again. Surely once was enough, I thought. Like all good things, bread needs time. I’ve learnt to appreciate that time now. Bread is not something that needs to be rushed. So take your time. Read a book. Watch a movie. Treasure the time that baking bread allows you to have.
It’s been a long time now since I’ve made bread with my mother. We used to make it very often when we lived in Barbados. It was a common occurrence, one that I took simple pleasure from. Then we moved to New Zealand. We don’t bake bread so often now. It tastes different here than it did there. In my memories I’ve spread nostalgia across my bread, making it taste beautifully bittersweet. Here I have nothing except reality. It still tastes nice. It’s not the same.
Six years on and everything still feels different here. The air bites more than it should, the accent is still grating on my ears. I do like it here- this country has grown on me despite my best efforts- but it's different. Barbados is different too. It hasn't changed, but I have. When I moved country I gave up my 'home', my solid sense of identity. Home for me is no longer a location. It can't be a location any more. Where my home was is halfway across the world and about seven years back from where I am now.
I had to make a new life when I came here, and it was a little like baking bread. First I mixed together what I had. My family. My memories. And of course the yeast- this new world surrounding me. Knead it together. Push and pull and turn and repeat. Then the most important ingredient. It took me a long time to make a new life. At times I was impatient, angry, emotional. Sometimes it was hard for me to knead the dough in between the intervals of rising. Sometimes I didn't want to make this bread, to create this new life. All I wanted was to be young again, in our kitchen with my mother.
Time did its job in the end, and I managed to make a new life. It wasn't perfect. It was a little burnt, and it didn't taste how I thought it would but I liked it all the same. My life in New Zealand has been bumpy, strange, unexpected, and entirely different. I've cried. I've laughed. I still don't feel as though I have a physical home. I've changed too much to fit into Barbados and New Zealand is too different for me to fit in here. However, I do have a home. My home is my family. It's in my brother, my sister, my father, and my mother. I can't go back to those precious memories of making bread with my mother but I still have the ability to make bread with my mother. We can and do still share that art together. Baking together and eating together is something that brings us together. Home is where the heart is, after all, and I've always loved baking bread for my family.