This week I went with friends on a day course to a craft bakery, to learn how to make bread. With a flick of a dirty t-towel and a wipe of his nose the baker, Aidan, demonstrated how to mix dough, in a plastic box, from a pound shop. The word ‘roughly’ was used a lot; ‘roughly a third’, ‘roughly half a jug’, ‘roughly five minutes’. There were no recipe notes, no scales and no rulers.
My friends and I started the day fussing a bit over quantities and questioning why we were slopping in water from a cracked plastic bucket and not adding careful measures of hand-hot water. Aidan was very polite but his message was clear, ‘relax, this is not brain surgery, no one is going to die from lack of precision here’.
We learnt to make a sourdough mix by (gasp) leaving a flour and water mix …… open to the AIR ….. FOR TEN DAYS. We made white bread, foccaccia, soda bread and pizza, all were phenomenal.
Relaxing over that day, learning to slop in a bit of this and a bit of that into my plastic box, I thought about the 1950s housewife, cup cakey thing, which this experience was so far removed from. She has been stealthily worming her way into our psyches, drugging us with her over-sweetened baking and her sage green vases of pink roses, her spotty table cloths and her well-executed crafts. She whispers into our ears that only perfection in the home is acceptable, that anything less is failure. She drains away our confidence with her bossy cookery books and sets us one against another with her smug high standards. Her influence was evident in the final of The Great British Bake Off last night. It was all dainty cakes, piping bags and rulers. Mary Ann may have a name from the fifties but with her experimental ways and hands like shovels, she was never going to win. She was way too wholesome and well …… confident. Holly is the spawn of the 1950s housewife, all precision, perfection, practice and homework. And the winner Jo was suitably meek, selfless and grateful to win. This was the first thing she had done ‘just for me’ in probably twenty years. She is a great cook, no doubt, but the praise served up was patronising to her and the rest of us. The 1950s were singing in our ears, luring us away from the boardroom and into the kitchen.
My day with Aidan the baker has changed my life a little bit. Not only did I learn to make the best bread I’ve ever tasted, with the minimum of fuss, I’ve chased away the 1950s housewife for good. If she tries to get me again I’m going to smother her with dirty t-towels and drown her in a bucket from the pound shop.
I know exactly what you mean. It’s all so pretty and aluring, easy to get drawn in, but actually this fashion is yet another pressure on women to be perfect. Not only do we have to have a career, bring up perfect children, have great figures, perfect hair, beautiful homes, now we should be crafting as well. I admire these people’s talents and precision but wonder do they ever roll their sleeves up and get dirty, or go in the sea in November when the waves are at their best? What ever happened to the motto ‘one life, live it!’ – I guess that’s old fashioned now.
Yes and yes! I guess the rest of us have to be confident enough to keep it a bit more real, to stop apologising and cease trying to aim for something which is so out of reach. Let’s be shameless and loud. We have wrinkles and wobbles and cupboards of baked beans and children with empty pants drawers. (Or is that just me?)
not just you! although ‘where are my socks?’ is the more ususal cry in our house
Thank goodness I am not alone. I despair of the ‘perfection’. And I’m someone who loves patchwork, knitting, baking etc. Bring back fairy cakes and banish cupcakes forever.
Yes, sometimes I wonder what happened to the 1960s and flapjacks. The strive for perfection is often masking something though. There could be a whole other blog post there….. Thanks for you interesting comment quilting Victoria.
Another great post. I like how you have managed to take a life lesson from a baking course! I think with more money and leisure time for our pursuits people are able to become really good at what they enjoy. And the mass media means that they can publicise it. It creates the illusion that everyone is a gastronomic genius, with a perfectly decorated house, with precocious children and a flourishing career. Few people manage all these things. And cameras are so good now that static snapshots make lives seem picture perfect. No-one sees the chaos or the stress behind it all.
Blogs give the illusion of looking into people’s ‘real lives’ but they are not necessarily more real than the magazines which we all know are aspirational.
Maybe this is a good allegory for our lives. Sod the perfection. We are not going to be the ones with perfectly polished children, full time job, all ironing done, kids impeccably behaved, academically excelling and modestly delighted with their Grade 5 violin exam. What’s so awful is you could go on and on adding detail in that portrait with no effort – it is pushed through so much that surrounds us.
Hurrah for cracked buckets, slopping it in, fun, mess, chaos, making the best of it, keeping it real.