“A companion is literally ‘a person who you eat bread with’. The word comes from Old French compaignon.” The Oxford Dictionary of Origin Words, Julia Cresswell
This is not where I live. The light is different. This light comes from a north-facing window, with the edge of a neglected plant poking into the frame. Can you tell it’s by the sea? I know by the shape of the loaf that it is some loaves back, when I was using lots of seeds, soaking them for hours; sesame, both black and white and pumpkin seeds. There will be some stoneground flour in there but it is before my Ancient Grains period. It looks like a good-enough loaf; a batard. I make two at a time – a boule and then this one. I have to decide who would benefit from which shape. I have decided my mum prefers the batard for ease of cutting.
I make them to give away. Our kitchen has become a tiny bakery, producing two loaves every couple of days or so. Sometimes, we have a loaf left over or an urge to hold on to one overtakes me and it hangs in a (cotton!) bag at the back of the kitchen door. I have become wedded to the smell of rising dough, hot but not quite baked, and the turn around when the lid is removed from the oven 20 minutes in. The fact that it is a process measured out in minutes, a stop watch handy so I can get on with something else in the meantime. I have moved beyond just sitting there staring at the blackened window of the oven.
I like the clank of clay, the different vessels I use for the purpose. The oily fist of flour (einkorn does this best – gathers itself into silky clumps). The best bit is when the bread is baked and it makes minute sounds, bubbling and popping in the ear, like a tiny river of lava. Also, there are the bronzed sesame seeds on the loaf itself and how the bread has torn in the oven, torn and risen and the ‘ear’ has scorched.
But mostly it is the smell. I always wish my mum could receive the bread still hot; the feel of warm bread in her hands, turned out of its pot, parchment paper ripped off, the bottom rapped to check for a healthy hollowness. As a potter she will know the feeling. I sometimes can’t bear that it will go cold – will ‘die’ in some way – and in those moments I might give it to a startled neighbour. I sometimes cycle it over to a friend’s house and leave it among the pots outside or sitting on the mat.
But it has been mostly bundled into a jiffy bag along with a book (Elisabeth Luard at the moment), and sent down to Sussex to my mum, where it might arrive the next day or it might not. From the beginning of lockdown, I took the parcel to my local post office, and before dropping it into the mail sack, the postmaster would cradle the package in his arms. He would lift it to his face, and rock the bread back and forth, smiling. He did this every time; stand in silence with the fragrant parcel held in his arms like a baby, smelling the warmth while I tried to smile through my mask. I imagined the bread slowly cooling until it arrived stone cold on my mum’s doorstep. He got the best part.
Here is the bread on her counter top. It has had at least two days in transit. It is apparently better for it, the flavours having somehow developed. But I know that nothing will feel as good as that moment in the postmaster’s arms, not even half an hour after baking.
There are some good einkorn bread recipes here at The Perfect Loaf as well as really good beginner loaves. I have yet to feel sufficiently ‘proper’ in the sourdough stakes to include my own formula here. Maybe one day.
Thank you, Pippa, for the info about the origins of the word ‘companion’.