For those who mark the day of the Holy Week leading up to Easter Sunday, today is Maundy Thursday or Holy Thursday.
This day commemorates the day, according to the accounts of the life of Christ found in the Bible, that Christ gathered his apostles in an upper room just outside the city walls of old Jerusalem and instead of celebrating the Passover, He instituted what is now called the Lord’s Supper.
He blessed and broke bread and wine, and ate and drank with his apostles.
Christ had earlier taught his disciples, “I am the bread of life.” However, I believe the symbolism of bread as the “staff of life” can be recognized by the non-religious.
The entry for “staff of life” on the Free Dictionary on the internet lists “bread, considered as the mainstay of the human diet.”
Some historians correlate the cultivation of wheat for the making of bread with the dawn of civilization itself.
The tickle of my olfactory senses by the aroma of fresh bread baking in an oven brings early primal memories to mind.
One whiff of a baking loaf and I’m immediately 3 years old again and standing in my mother’s kitchen anticipating her pulling fresh, hot bread from the oven.
The dreamy flashback continues. I have to wait what seems like an inordinate amount of time before the loaf cools enough to slice. My mom and I slather our slices with butter — actually we used margarine — that instantly melts and then we partake of the slices.
My youthful wonder over bread [see what I did there, wonder … bread] was not just due to the taste and smell of the bread, but also the miracle that transforms the wet gooey sponge of dough into a light, airy, and very edible loaf.
My mother was a schoolteacher. She didn’t have time to bake a lot of bread except during holidays.
Perhaps that’s why I associate fresh bread with holidays, like Christmas and Easter.
Years later in college, I took a class titled “The Scientific Foundation of Food Preparation” as part of my major in health education.
For one of our food lab experiences, we baked bread. My childhood memories came flooding back as I learned that I could make bread myself.
I was managing a residence hall on campus at the time. My apartment had a kitchen. With long Friday nights on duty in my apartment, I bought a bread recipe book from the campus bookstore and decided to make baking bread my Friday night hobby.
Baking bread in the residence hall not only helped me pass time on Friday nights, the aroma attracted people to my apartment. The informal gatherings struck up many interesting conversations.
When I returned home after graduation, I baked bread for my mother and stepfather in their kitchen. Occasionally I would share a loaf with my father.
My father’s favorite loaf was Russian Black Rye Bread.
I ground a combination of caraway and fennel seed by hand with a mortar and pestle for the Russian rye bread.
The recipe called for the addition of cocoa powder, molasses, and instant coffee powder — I substituted pero.
The seeds and other unusual ingredients imparted a smoky flavor and dark color to the loaves of rye bread in an effort to mimic the loaves that Russian peasants used to bake on shovels over an open fire.
I think my father not only liked the taste of the Russian Black Rye Bread, but as a left leaning Democrat who passionately took up the causes of society’s forgotten people, the peasant nature of the bread was a social statement.
My father did like homemade bread.
One day he took me to his favorite bakery. It was located off the highway and just out of town at bottom of a hill in a tidal flat area aptly named Mud Bay.
“Blue Heron Bakery,” I think was the bakery’s name.
He picked out a loaf of sourdough bread. The baker asked him if he wanted it sliced.
My father very politely denied the offer to slice the bread. He pointed out to me the automatic slicing machine, something I had never seen.
It never crossed my mind to think of how bread became sliced before it arrived at the grocery store.
All the loaves in this bakery were unsliced. Slicing was optional.
After 20 years as a schoolteacher and 15 years as a research analyst for the Washington State Public Disclosure Commission, my father retired and took up writing poetry.
A few years after the experience in the bakery on Mud Bay, I understood my father’s request for unsliced bread when I read one of his poems.
“The Greatest Thing Since Sliced Bread is Unsliced Bread”
I select a warm fresh loaf, sourdough wheat this time,
And the baker always offers, “Want this sliced?”
He hears my refusal and ignores the scorn that carries it.
Unsliced is the way I always want my loaf of bread,
let me be the one to decide how thick or thin each piece must be,
few enough the vital choices one gets to make alone.
A slice that’s only average is never just right —
uniform width computed no doubt to please the greatest number
and yield the highest profit per shelf space unit —
and if I wanted only average I’d take the Safe way.
But, Mr. Baker, your lovely unsliced loaf I’ll carve
into thick chewy slabs to go with a bowl of soup
or make cracker-thin slices just enough to keep my hands
off the ham, tomatoes, peanut butter or jelly I’d rather taste
than the mess of paste that grocers call bread, sliced.
No thank you. No wonder bread for me, no bull and barns
books either. As with my friends, I want my slices all unlike
and out of uniform.
Tomorrow is Good Friday, it is my day off from work. I’m going to attempt to make Tsoureki for some Greek Orthodox friends. Tsoureki is Greek Easter bread, made with milk, eggs, and butter. It is braided and adorned with scarlet red dyed eggs.
I will give it to them, unsliced of course.