My husband comes home from the grocery store and tells me that everyone’s baking bread these days, why is everyone baking bread? All his friends are swapping pictures of baking bread and these friends are males in their early 30s and they are all home, quarantined, baking bread. I tell him that yes, I’ve seen the photos too of everyone baking bread and reading The Essential Guide to Baking Bread and I’ve considered baking us some bread, but we don’t have the pantry staples that everyone says we should already have on hand in our pantry in case of emergencies like global pandemics where everyone’s home for days, weeks, months maybe, baking bread. We’re missing the flour, missing the baking soda, missing the patience to wait for anything to rise.
Was there a shortage of bread at the store? I ask. No, I bought us a loaf of bread right here. I tell him that people probably just have more time right now, more time to bake their own bread, something they always said they’d get around to one day, and that day is today, this carpe diem day. Before all this, my mom wanted to pass on a bread maker for me to keep in the large walk-in pantry in our new home, the bread maker we used when I was a kid at our lake house in North Carolina because, in the summers, we had three months off of school to bake and break bread with our family at the lake house, so why wouldn’t we bake our little hearts out, a saying I never did quite understand.
My husband tells me he has a friend who has waited three days for some kind of sourdough starter yeast to rise before he can bake his bread. Why would anyone wait that long? he asks. I have friends baking banana bread, chai banana bread, coconut banana bread, chocolate chip banana bread, the solution to the age-old problem of things going bad before you’re ready.
I decide it’s time to read a brief history of bread. Did you know that bread is the most widely consumed food in the world? I wonder how we could possibly know such a thing like that when no one has ever once asked me if I like eating bread to add a tally mark to a map of the world charting all the people who like to eat bread. Scholars believe that people started baking bread 30,000 years ago, cooked on heated rocks. In the nineteenth and 20th centuries, women and children were to eat bread thinly sliced with the crust removed, while thicker slices with crust were reserved for the workers. Wonder Bread, the greatest thing since sliced bread, as they say, sold pre-sliced bread to the U.S. in 1930, back when it all began, this whole decline of staying home to bake our own bread. Is that really when it all began, or when it all ended, should we say? Is that when we all got too busy or felt too bothered to combine the essentials and wait for it to rise? And I would actually like to know, when exactly did the women start eating the crust? I don’t know. I have a friend who says you should just feed your child the crust instead of cutting it off and making it into cute shapes, the kid will never know the difference, she says, and I wonder what kind of mom I’ll be, the kind that cuts the crusts off and uses metallic cookie cutters to make cute hearts and dinosaurs with peanut butter and jelly squirting out the sides, or will I be the mom who tells my kid to just be a worker already, eat the crust, Kid. I don’t know what I’ll do about what everyone else is doing, about the cutting crusts or the dinosaurs or the waiting or the baking bread.