Do you long for us the way we long for you? Are you a million ghosts that want to become alive again? That beg our fingers to put you in motion? Maybe this spiritual begging is material, taking the shape of the microbes that are in a sourdough starter. The twinkling bits of seeming magic that are waiting for the right moments to be assembled so that by seeming coincidence the right things line up to make you? Do you crave being same as we crave making you?
I thought of this the other day as I was transcribing a recipe. As I was dictating the instructions into a voice-to-text program, I was struck at how I itched to bake! The words struck a neurological bell. I felt a keen yen to handle dough, a loud and clear sensation running along my arms and into my hands.
This made me review other baking motions, to see if I feel similar physical cravings. If I think about pie, the part of the process my hands miss is rolling out the dough. I love watching pastry flatten into a fabric, thick enough to line a pie pan.
For biscuits, the want is more in my head than in my hands. That’s because I’m intrigued by several mysteries, mostly historical. Old recipes for biscuits, like the one below from Mrs. Parloa’s Kitchen use far less fat than contemporary ones. Sometimes a tablespoon of fat was used with a quart of flour. And the recipe might just say fat, because the presence of butter was not a given.
So, when I make biscuits, I fully indulge my improvisational impulses. (For those who don’t know me, I bake like I cook.) Even if I look at a recipe for biscuits, I can’t stick to it. I juggle questions: how much liquid is enough? How much mixing is too much? How much butter do I want to add for this batch? I am always hovering on that wonder.
Author Laura Shapiro wrote about Mrs. Parloa in her excellent book, Perfection Salad, and I’m excited to listen to her tonight in conversation with Marion Nestle, whose memoir Slow Cooked: An Unexpected Life in Food Politics is now in the world. These women are way up there in food thinking, and if you get a chance, please join me in watching them, or the replay of their talk.
Wonder is a great ingredient, and I hope you are finding plenty, or even a pinch of it in your days.
I really enjoy your descriptive writing style. That's exactly what I feel when I get to make sourdough. I typically don't bake every day (although I could) but try to keep things in perspective. I don't want to overindulge or overstuff my neighbors with sourdough either. ;) I never stick to recipes; I love my sourdough with beer & spent grain, I put cheese on top and red pepper and homemade Sauerkraut - it's my relationship with my bread and my food overall that gives me this warm and fuzzy feeling - we're alive.
The biscuit recipe was very interesting as well; I don't make biscuits very often, and I have never added that much cream of tartar! That gets the baking gears going in my head; I might have to do some math to put it in my terms and see what comes out. I deal in grams only; so -- a "quart of flour" confuses me. :) Thanks for the inspiration!