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.