In Defence of Baking Newbies
This is a post I originally published on my crystalsmith.ca blog.
Twitter is an exhausting place at the best of times, but in these, the worst of times, its tendency toward ridiculous nitpicking and making mountains out of molehills has intensified. One of the silliest things to emerge is the debate over pandemic baking, especially that which involves sourdough bread. To wit:
“Oh god just shag your sourdough starter why don’t you.”
“Every photo of a rustic loaf of sourdough bread should be accompanied by a $5 donation to a local food bank”
“Leave the flour for those of us who have been doing it before it was ‘Corona-cool.’”
Some people are so very extra in their presentations on social media that I can see how they would annoy others, prickly from what already seems like an eternity of self-isolation and social distancing. But as someone who has been baking bread for years–French, rye, bagels, ciabatta, and, yes, sourdough–I say cut the newbies some slack. There are all kinds of reasons a person might try baking bread, or anything else, when forced into isolation and discouraged from making regular trips to the grocery store.
One, of course, is basic necessity. Bread is a food that humans have all depended on for centuries, the latter-day anti-carb movement notwithstanding. If you want something filling, bread is a good option. And if you are being responsible and staying at home, why not bake it yourself?
Another reason? The sense of control and stability that comes from providing for yourself or your family. These are very uncertain times. We don’t know when social distancing will end or whether we will ever succeed in flattening the curve. Some of us have lost loved ones. Some of us have lost jobs. And all of us have missed out on things that, in the grand scheme of things seem trivial, but still hurt to lose: weddings, graduations, vacations, school, sports or pastimes that connect us to others. Knowing we have the ability to create from scratch something that provides sustenance–or even just happiness–can feel pretty great.
People who have lost jobs or feel lost in general can also derive a renewed sense of confidence from succeeding at something new. Yes, that sounds really treacly, but think about it. When you lose your livelihood or the structure that used to guide your life–even temporarily–you feel out of sorts, directionless, or at a loss for what to do all day. The problems of the world are magnified and you cannot lose yourself in work or feel the sense of purpose you once had. So why not learn something new and reassure yourself that you are still capable and can do something meaningful?
There’s also the simple fact that baking is a really enjoyable hobby. It’s great to do with kids if you happen to be home with little ones all day. For some of us, it is also a callback to when we were younger, learning how to bake with our mothers or grandmothers or just indulging in all the treats they made. (I’m not trying to exclude fathers and I am dating myself here, but men just didn’t do this kind of thing when I was little). Sometimes rituals from the past provide comfort. Having the time now to pass them onto the next generation is something that a lot of us are keen to do.
And, seriously, who doesn’t crave carbs in times like these?
To all you new bakers, I say, ignore the Twitter haters. Bake to your heart’s content and share your experiences. We’re going to be in isolation mode for a long time, so enjoy the output of your oven and the bonds you forge with other bakers.